live auction ideas

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!

Biggest Fundraising Auction Trend of 2016

What is the biggest trend?

The biggest trend I've encouraged this year has been (drumroll please)...

Fewer live auction items.

What's happening?

For years I've been consulting my clients that that the sweet spot for number of items in a live auction has been 6-12. Usually organizations have fallen closer to 10-12 items, but this year I've changed my tune. While up to 12 live auction items may have been beneficial for raising money in the past, now the donor climate is changing.  

Over the past several years, we've seen a rise in the success of conducting a Fund-A-Need at each event. The Fund-A-Need is a sort of live crowdfunding where everyone in the room gets the opportunity to make a difference by giving what they can. Usually (not always) the Fund-A-Need happens after the Live Auction. While Live Auctions can be fun, if they run too long, they get old and you lose donors' attention. The handful of bidders interested in the items will stay engaged, but the other 95% of the potential donors in the room will be distracted and become mentally "over it." 

While you are gaining a couple thousand extra dollars by adding additional live auction items, you are sacrificing potentially tens of thousands of dollars in the fund-a-need.  This is one of those cases where time is money, almost literally.

In a time where crowdfunding is wildly popular and effective, especially with the ever growing millennial donors, it is important to do everything in our power to engage the majority of donors when conducting the Fund-A-Need.

What is the right number of items? 

This year I have been encouraging my clients to stick with 4-6 items in their live auction. This is the perfect amount to get the audience's attention and raise some big bucks with out it going too long and loosing the attention of donors who aren't bidding but could be potential Fund-A-Need donors.

My clients have seen tremendous success with cutting their number of live auction items in half. Even with only half of the live auction items, this spring has been full of record-breaking events. Fewer items means they become more competitive so the items that ARE in the live auction tend to bring in more revenue than they would have otherwise. Plus donors are still fully mentally engaged during the Fund-A-Need which means more people participate. More participating donors means more revenue for your organization. 

If you'd like to learn how to make more money at your next fundraising event, contact me via the form in my sidebar ->

Selling Vacations at a Fundraising Auction – Success!

 I’ve talked about things to avoid when selling vacations at your fundraising auction, but there are things you can do to enhance the item:

  • Advertise –This goes for most items actually. If you have anything awesome that you plan to sell, put it in your email blasts, save-the-dates, website, twitter, facebook, and even your formal invite if you wish. This will allow people to anticipate some of the "hot" items and be prepared to bid on them night of. With Vacations, you will have several people looking for a reason to go to Hawaii, and they are looking forward to winning it at the auction. This will getting them bidding against each other, pushing the price up. I am able to get people to bid higher than they initially set out to, but it helps when they had an interest in the item to start.
  • Get airfare –This is IDEAL, but not necessary. It used to be expected when you bought a vacation at a fundraiser that airfare was included. Now, with the airlines tightening their budgets in every corner, it is nearly impossible to get a donation from them. Nearly impossible, not actually impossible. There are also other ways of getting airfare that just require creativity and asking the right people. Frequent Flyer Miles, finding a sponsor to donate them, Credit Card Rewards points, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask people!
  • Local Trips –With the infrequency in airfare donations, local vacations have been increasing in value. Trips to people’s cabins or northern resorts (during peak season) often go for just as much as a trip to Florida or Colorado. It’s more manageable for people, especially families, to wrap their minds around in the speed of an auction.
  • Double up - When a donor gives a vacation to their vacation home, always ask, "If this item starts to bring in a lot of money, would you be willing to donate 2?" In the middle of the benefit auction, it looks like it’s a last minute thing where we double it and bring in twice as much money (applause please), but it’s important to ask because you never want to put someone on the spot - trust me, I’ve know this from experience.