How many live auction items should you have at your fundraising auction?

Ever wonder how many live auction items you should have at your fundraiser? This many | Sarah Knox Fundraising Auctioneer

Today, I want to focus on something easy. I am often asked how many live auction items you should have in your live auction. 

In the past, auctioneers recommended having 8-12 auction items, but over the past couple years the intrigue of the live auction has faded and with the rise of the Fund-A-Need, it has become the primary source of revenue for most of my clients. 

The number of Live Auction items I recommend having in your Live Auction:



Because your guests don't have the attention span for any more than that.  

I have found that after 6 items, you begin to lose your audience's attention. You may engage the few people interested in those last items on your list, but other than that your guests are tapped out. 

Why this is important? 

For most of my clients, the Fund-A-Need is conducted after the live auction. And you want everything in your program to support your Fund-A-Need. Sometimes it is even more profitable to have the Fund-A-Need before the Live Auction, which is a topic for another day. For today, I want to focus on how the live auction can build momentum up to the Fund-A-Need.

What's the big deal about the fund-a-need? 

The fund-a-need is where most of my clients bring in the majority of their revenue. It is when they can involve everyone in the audience and welcome them to join in on the incredible work their organization does. If you want to learn more about that, please watch my videos from last week and the week before to get a very thorough overview of how to have a profitable fund-a-need.  

You actually lose money by having too many live auction items

You do not want the live auction to run too long because it will only engage a small percentage of your audience, and the rest of your crowd will eventually tune out and you will have lost their attention for the Fund-A-Need where they are mostly likely to give.

While I make sure my live auctions are fun and exciting and that everyone is in on the fun by making jokes and playing with the audience, after a while it becomes a lot of the same. You do not want your auctioneer to take away from the work your organization does.  

By including 4-6 live auction items in your program you will: 

Cultivate Competative Bidding

By having fewer items in your live auction (this is actually true of your silent auction too), the few items you have will go for more than they would have if you had more items in play. I have many clients who cut their live auctions in half and made the same amount of revenue (if not more) in the live auction and made even more in the Fund-A-Need. 

Create Momentum

This is a stop while you are ahead mentality. The live auction is fun and exciting and I get everyone laughing and playing along. You want to stop at the height of your energy and conduct the fundraising appeal or Fund-A-Need. People become swept up in the energy and are ready to give at this time. 

Build Trust

This is probably the strongest argument for having the live auction before the Fund-A-Need (again, you do not have to do it this way). As the auctioneer, I am an outsider. Your audience does not know me, and therefore they don't trust me. I have no credibility with them at the beginning of an event and therefore no authority to ask them to give money. After about four or five live auction items, we've gotten to know each other pretty well. I approach every auction with authenticity and quickly build a rapport with my audience. This means when it is time to do the ask, they trust and respect me and are more comfortable opening up their pocketbooks when I tell them to. 

Ever wonder how many live auction items you should have at your fundraiser? This many | Sarah Knox Fundraising Auctioneer



How to Pick a "Need" For your Fundraising Appeal

How to pick a need for your Fundraising Appeal at your fundraising gala | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

Today we are going to cover How to Pick a "Need" for your fundraising appeal

This is often why we call it a "Fund-A-Need" at events. 

First, let me do a super brief history of the fund-a-need: 

Once upon a time, people had fancy pants galas and they brought in an auctioneer with a cowboy hat and bow tie who looked sharp as hell who sold 10-12 auction items. This meant 10-12 people got to be donors for the evening, and the other 478 people were chumps who just got to eat a chicken dinner and enjoy the open bar. Then one day, the auctioneers said, "hey, we're missing out on some money here, because the losing bidders still have some cash in their pockets." So after their auction, they would say something like, "hey, if you didn't win anything, you can still give money." And the fund-a-need was born. Fast forward 10-15ish years, the fund-a-need is the bread and butter of every event.  

Now, you should also know MY personal fundraising philosophy.

I believe that every single person wants to feel impactful. They want to know that at the end of their life, their existence made a lasting difference in our world. I believe it is our job as fundraisers to give them that opportunity. The opportunity to make a meaningful difference. When we begin to look at fundraising through this lense, it becomes just as important as the work you do directly through your organization, because it allows us not only to serve the people (or animals, or environment, or whatever it is you serve), but it also allows us to serve your donors, but giving them a genuine opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

With that in mind, why should you pick a "need" in the first place? Why can't you just raise "as much money as you can" towards your general fund? 

This is a great question that I get all of the time. So let me address it.  

Your guests are more likely to give if they can tangibly understand who or what they are helping. You may do great and amazing world-changing work, but if your guests do not understand what they are funding, they will not give. It's that simple.  

Let's simplify it for them so they don't have to think about it. All they have to do is raise their hand. 

Select a "need" that is inspirational.

If you can make them cry, that's perfect. Inspirational may seem obvious, but it is a key characteristic to conducting a successful fund-a-need. If your need, isn't that "sexy" try looking at it from a different angle. I had a client two years ago, who had to build a bathroom facility in a Haitian Village they serve. Toilets are definitely not sexy, but rather than focusing on all of that crap, we focused on human dignity. We focused on the jobs it would create to build these bathrooms. They shared stories of what it was like to go to the bathroom in that village. Using a toilet in private is something we all take for granted here in the US, but they showed their audience that they could provide a sense of dignity to the people of Haiti. Because of this inspirational take on the least sexy subject ever, they were able to build the bathrooms. And when the hurricane hit the following fall, it was the only facility left standing, which was a testament to the heart and quality they put in to this project, which made it even easier the following year when we had to rebuild the dormitories for this community.

Fund-A-Need Basics: How to pick a "need" for your fundraising appeal at your charity auction. Connect better with donors by finding a need that meets this criteria

Give them a "need" that is financially transparent.

They should understand where their money is going and that it is going to directly impact lives or make this world the kind of place they want to live in. The majority of your guests have a limited amount of resources. If this is not you, you are #blessed. But for most nonprofits, you know that charitable giving is competitive, and you have to prove to your guests that you are going to use their funds wisely.  I'll use the potty example again. This organization is 100% volunteer run out of someone's home, so they were able to share that. The donors knew that all of their money would be an act of love as they provided a sense of dignity to this Haitian Community. You are probably not a volunteer-run organization and that's okay, because you are able to commit more time and energy to the work you do. I encourage you to find a project or a need that will use 100% of their gift towards affecting change or solving a problem. Then reassure them that their money will be going directly to this project. It doesn't take much here other than something like, "100% of the money you give tonight will go directly to fund scholarships for young women in the Congo." And then follow up with them with updates about the young women they impacted. This is their reminder that they did well and that their contribution made a difference.

Your "Need" should be achievable.

This means that you need to fund it in completion that evening. Assuming the number of attendees you plan to have stays the same year over year, shoot for a project that is approximately 10-20% more than you raised last year. I will circle back to the bathroom example. They decided to fund it by breaking down the costs of the facility. I don't always recommend it, but with building projects it makes the giving super tangible. The frame and roof will cost $10,000, the labor will cost $5000, the sheetrock will cost $2500, the tile costs $1,000, a toilet costs $100, etc. For this group, since they did not have a "momentum donor" which I will talk more about in detail next week, I would try to find 10 people to fund the frame and roof at $1000 a piece and go from there. It works for this group. What I would generally recommend is being clear about the cost of the project as a whole and starting higher at $5,000 and go all the way down to $25 explaining that $25 will fund a day of work for one person, so that those $25 donors know how impactful their donation is.

I bet you didn't think I'd use a bathroom project as a good "need" to select. I'd love to hear what you have funded in the past! Let me know in the comments. Also, if you are working on framing your fundraising appeal right now and are trying to decide which way to go, share that and we can work as a community to give you feedback and ideas! It's all about how to inspire your donors this year! 

Market your Live Auction Items before the Event

You must absolutely market your Live Auction items before the event. 

This may be obvious to some of you, but you'd be surprised how many events I've shown up at where the guests had no idea what was on the Live Auction that night. 

Start Soliciting your items early

One reason most organizations don't market their items is because until the last minute, they have no idea what they are. As soon as you think about planning your event and setting a date, start talking about live auction items. Brainstorm them with your team and take action on pursuing the items. 

Get firm commitments and all the details from your item donors ASAP

As soon as you think you have an item. Close the deal. As soon as you have the firm (hopefully written) commitment from the donor, get all of the details including pictures, dates, etc so you can start an item write up early on in the event planning process. The more you know ahead of time, the more effectively you'll be able to market your items during the planning process. 

Feature the items in the Save-The-Date

Because we are focusing on spectacular items that are exclusive and offer a broad appeal (see my video from Monday if you aren't sure what I'm talking about), you are going to want to tease your guests with these items from the moment they think about the event. This will help them to prepare accordingly. If they are already thinking about taking a trip in the next year, they can plan to bid on the trip in your auction.

Help them remember the items are 100% for a good cause

I welcome you to use tag lines like: 

"A trip that's for the kids, except you don't have to bring your own." 

"A dinner experience that feels as good as it tastes." 

Ths is a playful way to remind them that while they are getting amazing items, they are also supporting your organization. It's more than a large purchase. 

Share the items in your email and social media communications leading up to the event

The two weeks or so before the event, send out emails and social media posts featuring the items. You want your bidders to be thinking about these as they plan the budget for the evening. Whether you like it or not, everyone comes to your event with a budget in mind, but you can help them determine whether they will spend their $5,000 at your event or at the one the following night, by letting them know what you have to offer.

If you are sending things via social media, share it multiple times because everything moves so fast online and you don't want anyone to miss it. 

Feature them online through your mobile bidding website

Even though bidding is not available online for the live auction items, you should still list it on your mobile bidding website. Most companies allow you to have items that aren't open, but you can list a picture, description and all the nitty gritty details for your guests to view before they arrive. 

Some organizations mail out programs in advance. This can get expensive because most people forget to bring the program to your event, so you have to print twice as many. This is a great alternative.  

Keep marketing them the night of the event

Most of you know to have a clearly marked display of the live auction items where everyone can view them. While this is so necessary it still doesn't give people all the time they need to read all the details they need to make an informed decision. All of the items should be listed and described with all the details in the program as well. 

Get creative

I recommend printing the live auction items and putting them on the doors of the bathroom stalls and by the line at the bar. This is a perfect place where you have a captive audience to view the items.

Hosting a fundraising auction? Market your live auction items before your event with these tips | Sarah Knox: Fun female auctioneer for fundraising, benefit and charity events

Why this is so important: 

You want your guests to come to your event with the decision to bid so that you can leave it up to your auctioneer to get them to give beyond their budget.  

It is much more impactful to get more money out of a guest who already decided they wanted the item. They've been thinking about it for weeks and will be disappointed if they don't win it. Compare this to springing live auction items on your guests and expecting them to drop $1,000 let alone $10,000+ without any prior thought.  

Get those live auction items out there before the event, so that your guests come to the event ready and excited to bid. 

2 questions to ask before you put an item on the Live Auction

2 questions you need to ask before you put an item on the live auction | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

I want to introduce the 2 questions you need to ask before you place an item on the live auction.

Hopefully you have gone through my posts from last week featuring how many Live Auction Items you should have, the 5 live auction items you should look for and mission-centered live auction items. Now, once you have identified items that would be great options for the live auction, there are 2 questions I want you to ask yourself:

1. Is this item exclusive?

Meaning could your guests get this item anywhere else?  

This is honestly one of the biggest issues I see with selling vacations on the Live Auction. Most vacation packages offered are nothing special. With the internet, most people can easily curate their own dream vacations for way less money than the "estimated value" of the trips on the auction. 

Make sure the items on your live auction have a sense of exlusivity because that will encourage quick and competative bidding. They need to know that they have to raise their hand to bid or they will actually miss out on this item.  This is why meal experiences tend to be some of the highest selling items.

If you are worrying about having the right connections to obtain "exlusive" live auction items, refer to my post on mission-centered Live Auction items to find some inspiration. I passionately believe that most "exlusive" items are the ones that will cost you nothing to obtain. I'll get into my beef with consignment live auction items another day, but just know that I'm not a huge supporter.

2. Does this item have a broad appeal? 

Does this item interest many people in your audience?  

Technically, you only need 2 people in your audience interested in your items to make it an auction, but the more you have the faster and higher those bids go up.  

This is important for a couple reasons

It creates competitive bidding

The more people that the item appeals to, the more people will bid. It's as easy as that. Supply and demand.  

It keeps more people engaged

If you have been following me for a while, you know how I love to use the live auction to build momentum up to the Fund-A-Need, and if you can curate a live auction lineup that appeals to as many people as possible in your audience, the more effective you will be at engaging your guests and building that momentum.

When the answer is "yes" 

If you create a live auction lineup that is both exclusive and has a broad appeal, you will see record breaking numbers in your live auction. This is a simple but effective tool that will increase revenue at your fundraising event.

2 questions you need to ask before you put an item on the live auction | Sarah Knox Fundraising Event Auctioneer

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.