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. 

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!