school fundraiser

What To Do With Great Items That Don't Make The Cut for Live Auction

Last week I talked about how cutting your number of live auction items in half will actually bring in more revenue. Even though you are only going to have 5-6 live auction items, chances are that you will bring in more than 6 great donations in the process.

What to do with the other amazing items. 

Items that don't "make the cut" for the live auction, will naturally go in the silent auction, right? Wrong. There are a couple of things You can do with these big ticket items. 

1. Use it as a prize in Heads & Tails or for a raffle. Back before everyone had an iPad, organizations were getting these as donations and the auction committee always wanted the iPad on the live auction. Here's the deal though. The iPad only would sell for retail value or a couple hundred dollars over. I guess it was exiting to get $700 for a $500 item, but know what is more exciting? Getting $2000 for a $500 item. By using an item with a broad appeal as a raffle or Heads & Tails prize, it was easy to engage donors to participate. Not everyone would drop $700 for an item valued at $500, but it is easy to sell 200 raffle tickets or Heads & Tails beads at $10 a piece. 

2. Have a SUPER SILENT Auction. Whoa! This one is exciting. A Super Silent Auction is run by the auctioneer (cough*Sarah Knox*cough) during the silent auction. Rather than bidders writing their number on bid cards or bidding electronically, they would call out their bidder number and bid amount to the facilitator to write on a white board. It gains quite a bit of attention in the last 5 minutes of the bidding. This is set up in the same room as the silent auction. It is a lot of fun. 

3. Set up a display for "Almost Live" or "Premier Auction" Items in the center of the silent auction area, or right near check in so it's the first thing guests see. This is good because it honors the generous donors of the items ensuring they get a lot of recognition for the items. If using electronic bidding, have this as it's own category so bidders can easily find these items. 

How to determine which items make the cut for Live Auction or not.

For this, I will refer you to my blog series I did last fall on the 5 types of items you should include to create a dynamic live auction.  Just because an item has the highest value, doesn't mean it should automatically be in the live auction. A live auction lineup needs to be curated with careful thought and strategy in order to bring in the most revenue.

If you have want to engage bidders during your live auction and throughout the rest of your event, contact me via the form in my sidebar --> 

Must Have Live Auction Item #2: Meal/Dinner Party

These are one of my favorite things to sell ever and every auction should have one. What I like about this item is that you don't have to be well connected to have this item. You don't even need to know a chef, you just need to have someone who is willing to host a dinner party for 6-10 people and cook food and provide wine. This could be hosted at a popular restaurant or even in someone's home.

Criteria For a Successful Meal/Dinner Party Item:

Hosted by a likable person. Not necessarily a famous person. Just someone that people enjoy being around.  If you have a willing participant, but their personality is just a little choppy or hard to be around, no one will bid. 

Multiple Courses. Hors d'oeuvres, salad, dinner and dessert would be enough, but if your chef can do other courses (soup, cheese, whatever else all those extra forks are for type courses) , that makes the meal stand out more.

Wine. Must I say more? Wine or beer pairings included are a must!

6-10 people. I have found that this is the sweet spot for number of people included in successfully selling an item of this type. 4 people is too few and 12 can be too difficult to coordinate with guests.  

An Expiration Date. This is important so people actually claim their meal with the donor. Usually one year from the date of the event is a good expiration. This is also out of respect for the donor and their time. 


  • Chef's dinner at a highly anticipated new restaurant prior to the restaurant opening. 
  • Meal prepared by a chef featured on the Food Network (seriously, there is probably someone in your area featured on the food network) 
  • Meal prepared in YOUR home by the principal of the school. 
  • Meal in the home of a CEO of a fortune 100 company in your area with the CEO and spouse. Meal prepared by catering company. 
  • Authentic Italian dinner prepared by someone closely associated by the organization who grew up in Italy - secret family recipes. 
  • Dinner prepared by a well known local chef. 

Again, these are all just examples, but the possibilities are endless here. Just start brain storming with your auction committee and pick whatever sounds most fun to you. Contact me if you want to my professional feedback. I will be honest, because I want your even to be as successful as possible.

Must Have Live Auction Item #1: Trip

In previous posts, I have offered the importance of including a variety of types of items in your live auction and listed 5 that should be included to create a well rounded live auction. Now, I am going to go through each category in more detail with the goal of inspiring you and your auction committee as you solicit items for your live auction.

The first item we will focus on in detail is Trips.

When looking for a trip to include in your live auction, you can include a local destination (something in your home state or a close state that bidders could access by driving), a non local destination (someplace to which they would need to fly), or both. For the most part, I would not include more than one of each in the same auction line up.

Things Good Trips Have: 

Open availability. Meaning the winning bidder can plan their trips selecting from a wide variety of dates throughout the next year.  It's okay to have 3 or 4 weeks through out the year blocked off, but other than that they dates should be relatively open.

WOW Factor. People aren't going to pay top dollar (or likely even bid) on something that doesn't have a special appeal to it. Some WOW factor examples:

  • Home owned by a celebrity  
  • Home on Ocean with gourmet outdoor kitchen
  • Home in Central America which included full staff of maids, personal chef and butler for the week
  • Unique home such as a treehouse
  • Resort which is frequented by known celebrities

Experience is included. The trip includes more than just a place to stay. Examples I've sold:

  • Napa trip which includes wine tastings at several vineyards
  • Trip to New York with the opportunity to see a late night show and have a meet & greet with the host. 
  • Travel to an out of state professional sports game on the team's airplane with the team.

Things Bad Trips Have: 

Limited availability. Want to make sure no one bids on your trip? Offer it for one week out of the entire year. Just because an item has a high "value" does not merit it to be on the live auction. We are looking for items with a broad appeal, one week out of the year is not a broad appeal. I would allow certain exceptions like if somehow you got a box with Madona AND Prince at the Kentucky Derby and it is obviously only available the week of the Derby. Otherwise, I would recommend taking your week in Florida through aunt Cindy's timeshare off the live auction. It doesn't belong there.

Off Season Availability. You will find many donors who are willing to give you donations for their off season. Win for them because it's a tax write off for the time a year they won't be filling their spaces anyway. No one wants a ski trip between April and August.  

What about airfare?

You may notice that I didn't mention anything about airfare in either section. I'll follow up with another post in the future about this topic in more detail, but the short: including airfare does not bring you it's value in revenue nor does it hurt an item's popularity if you don't include airfare in the package. Look back later for deets on this or just email me your specific question regarding this and I'll be happy to give you more insight. 

Additional Fundraising Idea: PUNCH BOARD

I met with a client earlier this week who reminded me of one of my favorite additional fundraising activities for a fundraising gala: The Punch Board. 

I first saw one of these at one of my events a couple years ago. They had a giant board with about 50 holes in it. Each hole was covered by some tissue paper and had a special prize behind each piece of paper. Guests paid $25 to "punch" the paper and claim their prize. Prizes can include anything from a bottle of wine to a $50 restaurant gift card to a Kindle to a light up necklace. You really don't know what you are going to find. This punch board sold out in less than 30 minutes. Do the math: 50 holes at $25 a piece = $1250 in less than a half hour. The next year they raised their prices to $50 which allowed the board to be available a little longer throughout the cocktail hour, but it still sold out before the sit down program started and they raised twice as much money. 

Other clients I've worked with have had similar experiences with this game. It sells out fast! Some choose to have certain holes for different amounts and it will up your prize. You could select $25, $50 or $100 and know that the more you give the better your prize will be.

If you have a crowd that is competitive and loves games and activities, this may be a great option for you. Some event production companies have these available for their clients but it can be replicated by anyone who has a tiny handy bone in their body. 

For other great fundraising activities, contact me today!