Mission Centered Auction Items

Mission-centered live auction items are great because they will remind your gala guests about the amazing work your organization does and they will raise a ton of money. | Sarah Knox: Fun female auctioneer for fundraising, benefit and charity events

Today, I am going to cover one of my favorite things to talk about: Mission-centered Live Auction Items.

What is a mission-centered live auction item?

A mission-centered live auction items is an item that you curate through your organization that represents the work you do. 

Why are these items important? 

Integrating Mission-Centered items into your live auction, creates momentum around the work you do. The live auction can get a little off track from your mission. As an auctioneer, I have phrases and tools to remind people about the purpose of the night, but I have yet to find a tool as powerful as adding in one or two (or 5) mission-centered items into the live auction.

Also, if you've build meaningful connections with many of the guests in your room, they are interested in the work that you do and these items have a broad appeal, meaning that there are a lot of people in your audience who will likely be willing to bid on them. This bids the price up, raising you a lot of money.

This is a great opportunity for you to show off some lesser known areas of your organization. I know that you have so many different programs going on within your organization, but your guests may not know that. This is an opportunity to talk them up and support them in a festive way.

BONUS: Usually these items cost you absolutely nothing to pull together, but they tend to cultivate competitive bidding and raise a ton of money.

Here are some examples of Mission-Centered items I've sold:

VIP High School Theater Experience

I loved this one! This was for a local high school. We were doing an auction for their performing arts programs and only had 4 live auction items, so they needed to ensure they picked items that would sell competitively. For this item they sold:

  • 2 Front row tickets to their annual HIGH SCHOOL musical
  • They provided valet parking
  • They recruited a well loved local restaurant to not only donate a dinner, but also provide them with a reservation so they could make the show on time. This may not seem like a big deal, but to this community it was a HUGE gesture because this restaurant is a neighborhood favorite and NEVER takes reservations.

This was such a fun one to sell. It cost the school $14 total (the opportunity cost of 2 tickets), but raised a whopping $2,100! Every single person in the crowd was there to support the high school's performing arts program, so it started off with a lot of competitive bidding due to it's broad appeal. Then it was able to sell high for it's exclusive experiences, including valet parking (important at a school where there is primarily limited street parking available) and the dinner reservation.

Sponsor a refugee business idea

I work with an international refugee relief organization who ran with the idea to have an entirely mission-centered live auction (which paid off so well), but I am just going to share one of their items. 

They work with a refugee camp and one of their ideas to improve the lives of the refugees was to ask the youth/young adults to share an idea that would serve the people around them. They received 800 ideas from young adults in this camp alone, flooding them with ideas for businesses and ways to bring joy to the people in their communities. For their auction, they selected 3 ideas and gave their guests the opportunity to sponsor them.

  • One person wanted to start a poultry farm so they could provide a larger variety of food and train others to make a living off raising live stock
  • Another person wanted to open a salon where they could train other young adults to make a living as a stylist and then go forward and provide a service to the people in the camp that will make them feel beautiful
  • The last idea was a language center so young adults could come together and teach each other their languages so that they could have the best opportunities for success

Each of these ideas were going to cost between $500-$800 to fund and make happen, so the organization was hoping to see them sell for $1,000 a piece. I sold this "auction chicken" style where I had everyone stand up and bid $0, then raised it to $25, $50, $100, $200 up to $1,000 where there were still about 30 people standing in the room. We kept going until there were only 3 people standing. Each opportunity selling for $5,000. We raised $15,000 in 5 minutes without a physical item. It was all about helping these young adults make their community a more joyful and beautiful place.

Private Facility Tour

I've mentioned before my work with The Wildcat Sanctuary. I like to reference them because put on a very mission-centered gala that has so much energy and support for the work they do. Their facility is not open to the public because that is what they believe is best for the animals they rescue, so at their auction they had several different items revolving around a private tour of the facility and their opportunity to see the cats up close

One of the opportunities was to tour their sanctuary in the winter when it is covered in a gorgeous blanket of snow and enjoy a beautiful dinner with a couple friends. Then you would get to watch one of their White Tigers paint a picture with their beautiful paws which the winner would get to keep.

I believe this item sold for $1,600, but then they offered two more opportunities, which trippled their revenue on this item to $4,800. Nearly $5,000 for an item that cost them close to nothing to offer! 

This is why I am so passionate about these items!

You do such amazing work and when I work with my clients, I just want to scream their efforts from the mountain tops, or in my case, the stage. These items give me this opportunity! You would be surprised how generous your guests can be. They want to know their donation is making a difference and this is the perfect way to provide them that opportunity.

Mission-centered live auction items are great because they will remind your gala guests about the amazing work your organization does and they will raise a ton of money. | Sarah Knox: Fun female auctioneer for fundraising, benefit and charity events

How to come up with mission-centered items?

Visit this post and as you go through each question, ask yourself "how can I find an experience within my organization that fits in this category?" This will help you brainstorm so many items. 

The 5 Items You Need on Your Live Auction

5 items you need on the live auction at your fundraising gala | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

It's important that your Live Auction has variety

If your live auction is all trips, they will not sell well. If you have 6 trips, it is unlikely there are 7-12 people in that audience who want them enough to bid them up. It's basic supply and demand. Not to mention it gets super boring for everyone involved

Here are the 5 items you should include in your live auction (in order of importance) 

1. Unique Experience

This is something they can't get anywhere else. This is super important for any crowd, but especially if you are hosting an auction for millennials because research shows (and in my experience), they are more likely to bid on an experience than on a physical item. The great part of this is that most of the experiences you can offer, require creativity and not money to produce. A couple examples that I have sold are: 

Sleepover/Lock-in at the Children's Museum. Opportunity to conduct the professional Orchestra. Unlimited access to 30+ collector cars for an entire summer. A tour of Jay Leno's private garage. Tour of a Private Wildcat Sanctuary. The opportunity to fund a refugee business. Beekeeper for a day.

2. Dining Experience

These sell so so well! People love great dining experiences. Usually the actual retail value of these are under a thousand, but they usually sell for several thousand dollars. 

You can approach this several ways. 

A Chef dinner in-restaurant experience. This is really amazing if you have a new and hot restaurant that has been getting rave reviews and reservations are hard to come by. A Chef dinner for 8-12 with wine pairings. This should a special menu created for this experience, interactions with the chef and be a very special experience. I have sold several where the guests would be in the kitchen or the wine cellar for the meal. This is a several thousand dollar item

Dinner in a prominent person's home. This experience would be if your founder or a public figure wanted to host a dinner party in their home. They could cook themselves or bring in a chef of some sort to their home. Guests love getting quality time with people who are usually quite hard to get an audience with.  

Dinner Party in the winner's home with a personal chef. This is where a chef (professional or a passionate amateur) would come to the winners home with all the food and prepare a meal for 8-12, including adult beverages, and then they would clean up. I have seen this go for thousands of dollars at small events where a teacher or board member is the chef for the night. It doesn't need to be a professional. It just needs to be a likable personality who can cook a good meal.

5 items you need on the live auction at your fundraising gala. You MUST read this before securing live auction items for your fundraiser! | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

3. Trip

This could be a local trip or a fabulous dream destination. Either way, people love a get-a-way. Truth be told, local trips have been selling much better over the past couple of years. I'm based in Minneapolis and it is not uncommon for a cabin on the North Shore for a weekend to sell for more than a week long trip at a luxury villa in Mexico. 

Donated airfare is hard to come by these days, so don't let that hold you back from putting up a great trip. In my experience, the airfare doesn't bring much more revenue to an item, so go ahead and sell the trip without airfare.

My only rules for selling trips:

Must have open availability or at least flexible availability. Meaning, it is available for more than just one week out of the year. 

No Time Shares.  This falls in the same spirit as the first rule, but also they are just a pain in the neck to coordinate. No one wants to buy your timeshare. It's not a good donation. Just don't do it.

4. Sports Experience

This could be a wide variety of things. Great seats to a highly anticipated game. Meet and greet with players. If you received a ton of random sports tickets, you could package them all together in a "Year of Minnesota Sports" package. If you have signed items, make sure they are from athletes people care about. Michael Phelps signed photo = Great! A B-String Athlete who no one has ever heard of = Bad.

5. Alcohol Experience

This usually hits a broad appeal. This can also tie in with the meal experience. Brewing or winemaking experiences are fun. I've also sold many "Walls of Wine" where the board members and liquor stores all come together and donate a bottle of wine and you can sell it as a collection to the winning bidder. It offers a broad appeal which makes this a good item to start or end the Live Auction with.

DISCLAIMER: If your organization has any affiliation with addiction or you are a religious organization that does not condone alcohol consumption, this item is NOT for your group. There are so many more amazing items you can add to your live auction to ensure it is varied and engaging without including an alcohol-related item.

What do you think?

How does your current Live Auction line up compare? 

I hope this gets your juices flowing so that you can be ready for brainstorming some great ideas for your event!

Revenue Generating Game: Heads & Tails

If you've been in the gala game for a while, you may know about this game. Heads and tails is a game of chance that is great for a couple reasons.

1. You will make money!
2. It is a great way to get everyone's attention before the program begins or give them a motivation to stay around until the end (depending on when you decide to play)!

What you need to play Heads & Tails

1. Someone who can flip a coin
2. A Quarter
3. Necklaces (usually Mardi Gras Beads)

How to play Heads & Tails

1. Determine A Prize

This is a good place to use a donation that has broad appeal, but may not be exclusive enough for the live auction. Things that go well are overnights at a local B&B, sports tickets, concert tickets, jewelry, popular electronics (for a while iPads or apple watches were the hot item), etc.

Or you can do a 50% cash out. This is appealing to most people. If you get 100 people to participate at $20 each, you get $1000 and the winner gets $1000. In my experience, about half the time, the winner donates their portion back to the organization. It makes them look incredibly generous while they are really only out $20. This is a win/win.

2. Sell necklaces.

Usually mardi gras beads because they are inexpensive, but sometimes it's fun to sell something that lights up because people notice it which helps advertise the game. 

Sell them for any amount. $10-$100 is common. Every necklace they purchase is a chance to play the game. Limit each person to 3 necklaces total. This is so important because it may seem that you'll raise more money if you let people buy as many as they want. You will actually lose money. There are always 2-5 people who know that statistics will be in their favor so they purchase 20+ necklaces and the game will last 30 minutes or more. At this point, you will lose the attention of the rest of your audience (and risk them actually leaving) and you will miss out on their larger donation amounts in the live auction. I will not do this game for clients unless they limit it to 3 necklaces because I want them to be successful. Please learn from my experience with this. It is so painful if you do not limit it.

3. Decide When To Play The Game

This game can be done at any part of the program, but it offers the unique ability to get everyone on their feet, energized and attentive. 

While every program is a little different, usually the best time is just after everyone finished dinner and just before you move into the live auction or speaker part of the program. During a dinner, you tend to lose the attention of your guests because they've been eating and talking and enjoying themselves, and this game is a good way to get them back on their feet and paying attention.

Another good time is at the end of the event because they've paid to play and most people are willing to stay around at their chance to win.

4. Introduce the game

I usually do this for my clients, but it by no means requires a professional. A toddler could probably effectively run this game if they could resist the temptation to put the quarter in their mouth. With that being said, you should probably use an adult. Below is the general scripting I use:

Ladies and gentlemen, who here purchased beads to play "Heads & Tails" tonight? That is great. Before I start, is there anyone who did not get a chance to purchase a necklace for your chance to play? Raise your hand and our volunteers will come around so you can purchase a necklace. Tonight the winner will receive a __________. Here's how you play. If you purchased, a necklace, you will stand up. Now, I am going to flip a quarter and I need you to predict whether it will fall "Heads or Tails" (hence the name of the game "Heads & Tails"). You will make your prediction public by placing your hands on your head or your hands on your tails (aka, your booty). Once I announce the results, if you were correct you will keep standing, but if you are wrong you are out and must sit down. If, however, you purchased more than 1 necklace that means you have an extra chance, so just take one necklace off and keep playing. Are you ready? Everyone with necklaces stand up!

5. Play the game

It helps to have two people running the game because it's annoyingly difficult to hold a microphone and flip a coin at the same time. You can have someone before hand or select a volunteer to flip. 

As stated in the directions after a few rounds, most people will be sitting down. Once there are about 10 people standing, welcome them to the front of the stage to play so that the rest of the audience is still captivated and engaged in the game by watching. 

Pretty soon, you'll be down to two players and finally a winner. 

Thank everyone for playing and move right into whatever you have next.

Have you tried this game before? How did it go for your event?

How To Have A Successful Fundraising Gala Without Planning an Auction

Did you know this is possible? I know, it pains me to say it as an auctioneer, but you can have a successful Fundraising Gala without having any auction. I know what you are thinking! Surely, she can't mean NO auction. She must be talking about Silent Auctions. Nope. I mean NO auctions. No silent auction. No Live Auction. You can just have a Fund-A-Need (sometimes called a special appeal/cash auction/giving moment) and have a very successful gala.

When auctioneers started conducting Fund-A-Needs, it was because they noticed that after their live auction of 8-12 items, there were some bidders who bid thousands of dollars, but because they didn't win the auction item, that money was lost. So instead of losing that revenue, they would do a catch all ask to try to capture that money from donors. 

Fast forward 10 years.

Now, the Fundraising Appeal/Fund-A-Need portion is the highest revenue generator for most of my events. In fact, I have clients that don't have an auction at all, they just have a Fund-A-Need and it is wildly successful. 

With the right strategic preparation and planning, your organization can have a Fund-A-Need or Special Appeal that will engage the majority of your audience and allow them to partner financially with your organization in the amazing work that you are doing. 

How to make your Fund-A-Need successful: 

1. Pick a specific need within your organization

This is important because it helps you set a specific goal for your fund-a-need and it allows your guests to have something tangible that their funds will be going towards.   I know your organization does many wonderful things to further your mission, but your donors want to be inspired and given a specific way that they can help your organization. 

2. Work your program around the need you are addressing that night

I am a fan of keeping programs short and sweet, but making sure every minute of the program is focused and intentional so that you can keep your guests' attention the entire time and ensure that they are fully engaged when we present the Fund-A-Need.

A program formula I like is:

  1. Welcome (by emcee, president or board chair)  2-5 minutes
  2. Brief Overview of Organization and Mission for new guests 2-5 minutes
  3. Brief overview of what has been accomplished in the past because of the donors in the room and an introduction of what is next for your organization (the need of the night)  10 minutes
  4. Brief Testimonial of someone your organization has helped  (ideally a video testimonial so you can control the time and the attention of the audience) 2-5 minutes
  5. Fund-A-Need/Special Appeal by auctioneer 10-15 minutes
  6. Thank you to all the donors in the room and the specific Sponsors by President/Executive Director/Board Chair/Etc 10 minutes
  7. Entertainment/Raffles/Housekeeping Announcements

This all takes less than an hour and you should start the program as soon as the salad is cleared so that people can eat dinner while listening. If people are eating, they won't be as tempted to talk to those around them and you will have their full attention

Every event and organization is different, so this formula is just a guide to get you started. Schedule a consultation with me to discuss how you need to order your program for optimal success. 

3. Tell a story behind your need

Storytelling in nonprofits is widely talked about these days. We all (hopefully) know that storytelling is important and that is because stories emotionally engage potential donors. 


If you are raising money for medical research, don't bore your guests with statistics and science. While, I think that stuff is super interesting, it takes a lot of energy to listen to and process. Instead, tell a story about someone everyone in your audience can relate to. Perhaps a mother, or a child. A story humanize the need which inspires action.

If your school is raising money for technology, don't talk about the apps and programs (no one cares or understands), instead talk about the teacher who was able to make a breakthrough with a struggling student because she integrated technology into her lesson plan. Every parent can remember a time when their student struggled with something and would give anything to help them get it. 

Brainstorm this. There are so many great resources on nonprofit storytelling. As a part of my tailored consultation, I can help you decide what stories will make the biggest impact on your Fund-A-Need. 

4. Inform your donors before the event

Some of the most successful Fund-A-Needs I've conducted have engaged the donors before the event. The invitation featured a story of someone impacted by their organization (specifically the cause at hand). Their email reminders had another success story. They shared videos on their social media feeds. So when the donors showed up that night, it was not their first time being exposed to the need or the organization's capabilities. They had been courted and prepped and were ready to be invited to partner in helping with the organization's mission. 

If you want to see if dropping your auction is the right choice for your fundraising gala or you want your event to be more focused and engaging in general, schedule a Call with me. 

4 Reasons You Have a Chatty Audience at Your Fundraising Gala

How do I deal with a chatty crowd?

This is one of the number one questions I get. The truth is that some crowds are just chatty, but in my consulting I help organizations do everything they can to prevent the distracting noise and work with them so that their program is engaging and captivating so we can prevent the chattiness in the first place. There are a couple reasons why an organization may have a chatty crowd at your fundraiser.

1. The sound in the venue is awful.

This is a real problem. In fact, I won't work with an organization that is unwilling to ensure that the sound in the room is good. If your crowd can't hear the program properly, they will not be engaged and therefore they will talk and then they won't give their money.

2. You are waiting too late to engage them.

Cocktail hours are very common and have a bit of necessity as far as logistics are concerned. Allowing people to mingle with a drink and maybe some hors d'oeuvres while everyone arrives and gets checked in and has a chance to look at the silent auction. Then you welcome them in to have the dining room and wait until every single person has eaten dinner to start the program. That is too late. You have lost your audience. They are full, drunk and ready to leave to just totally distracted.

3. They aren't your target audience.

Repeat after me: Quality over Quantity. Now, when I say "quality" guests I don't mean every donor has to be a $1,000+ donor. I mean that you should not try to fill seats for the sake of filling seats. You want everyone in the room to have some sort of connection with your organization. I recently sat in a meeting with a client and they said "...and that's why we don't give away tickets or our gala on the radio anymore." No Kidding! Your event can be a place to raise awareness for your organization, but you do not want guest who are just there for your open bar. You may not be giving tickets away to strangers on the radio, but maybe you are giving tickets away to corporate sponsors who then send their administrative staff to your event as their "appreciation" token. So, now, your front reserved table that you held for executives that you assumed had more than enough money to go around, is now full of interns and customer service representatives who just are excited to tweet a picture in font of your photo wall.

4. You are an elementary school.

This is not a problem. I actually love this. Elementary school parents tend to be very chatty. They are using their very valuable babysitter to come out an support the school where they are twice a day already to drop off and pick up their kids. They get to have adult conversations with people they are friends with and since the event is likely near their neighborhood, they plan to walk or take an Uber home. I actually use this energy and sense of community and play off it to engage the whole crowd. Yes, they may be chatty, but for the most part the crowd all knows each other and want to be in on the party. I still would work with you in advance to make sure we can engage them at the best time and ensure that your sound is loud and clear in your venue, but frankly, elementary school parents are talkers, so at that point we just need to lean into it.

Your organization's mission is so important which is why you work tirelessly to support it. I want to welcome your guests and attendees to partner with you in your mission. The first step is to get them to listen so we can engage them in your mission. If this sounds like your crowd, I would love to help you make an impactful difference towards your mission. To schedule a call to talk about how to better engage your audience, go ahead and fill out the contact form on the side bar today.