Usually the question goes like this, "Sherry, how many items do you recommend we sell in our auction fundraiser's live auction?"
Oh, if I had a dollar for each time someone has asked me that. Many people contemplate that question in the same way they think about prunes: "I wonder if eight is too many? ... Will three get the job done?"
Here's what I've learned: If the fund raising gala's timeline has already been determined, my recommendation doesn't matter. A specific amount of time ... 20 minutes ... 45 minutes ... 70 minutes ... has already been allotted. Now, I need to work with the client to choose the items because we must match a timeframe. So now I respond to that question with, "How much time have you set aside for the live charity auction?" If they haven't yet set the timeline, we've got flexibility. We look at other factors (like those below).
I know how long it takes on average to sell different items. Front-row seats at a high-school graduation will take a different length of time than a private concert with Grammy award-winner Emmanuel Ax. By knowing what they have to sell and how much time they've allotted, I can tell whether we need to cut the number of auction items — or find more time in the program. We've sold anywhere from two items to 40 items.
So what's the answer? What's the perfect number for your non profit or school auction? Truth be told, there is no exact number which works for everyone. But here are five pointers to keep in mind.
1. Are you using a professional charity auctioneer? A professional auctioneer will be able to sell more items in any given timeframe than someone who is not a professional. First, we're in front of people asking for money all the time. We can read faces, and know when to push. Second, the entire reason "the chant" (the fast talk) was developed oh-so-long-ago was to sell items quickly. Although a fundraising auctioneer will not chant as quickly at your gala as would be heard at, say, a livestock sale, it does speed the sale along.
A good auctioneer will want to say a few brief remarks on stage. She'll introduce her team; he'll thank the committee. Trust me, you want me to do this, even though it might take 2 or 3 minutes. This is the time when the audience begins to experience my personality. Later, when the bidding is underway, people will give more money to someone they like than someone who only asks them for money.
Isn't the same true for you? If a development officer cold calls someone to ask for $10,000, what are the odds she'll get the donation? Isn't it nicer to have a warm lead? The same is true for an auctioneer. Opening remarks help.
When I was less experienced, I let a client dictate my performance on stage. Because she had scheduled the event too tightly, she didn't want me to say anything - not even my name. "Just go on stage and say, "The first item is X" and sell it," she said. Ugh! That auction was such a disaster.
It hurts me to type these words and remember that experience. I eliminated all of my opening remarks, had no rapport with the audience, and because there were so few items to sell, it was hard to build rapport through the sale itself. NEVER again. In short, the auctioneer's experience and the chant pay dividends when determining how many items you can sell and getting top dollar for your stuff!
2. Do you have good / exciting charity auction items? If you're selling exciting items with a wide-appeal, you can sell more items in the live auction. If you are selling run-of-the-mill items ... ordinary baskets, most gift certificates, generic items ... you will lose your audience unless you can structure the event to keep them in their seats
3. Is the crowd standing or sitting? This is a pretty simple concept. Seated guests will be more comfortable than standing guests, and you can sell more items in the live auction.
You can even take this a step further and analyze the comfort of the chairs. I used to do some marketing work for a small church. When planning workshops, we would take into consideration the uncomfortable chairs that (at the time) the church used. We knew that an all-day workshop would be a harder sell because anyone who was familiar with the church's chairs wouldn't be inclined to pay for a full-day of learning. Those chairs were just too uncomfortable!
4. What else will the crowd enjoy (or endure)? In addition to the live auction, will your guests be seated through 30 minutes of presentations? Or a 45-minute choral concert?
Maybe you've heard this phrase: The mind can stand only what the butt can endure. At some point, we humans need to stand up and walk. In my work, I'll talk with clients about their schedule. We might move the live auction to a different part of the program once I know the other elements of the gala. I might recommend that the live auction might be the first activity of the program ... the last activity ... or in the middle.
5. What's your financial goal for the live auction? Whatever I sell in the live auction will bring in more money than if that same item is sold in the silent auction. It's a fact. So if there is a specific financial goal to hit in the live auction — and we don't have the right items or enough items to hit that goal — we need to add auction items.
Your "perfect" number may be adjusted to reach your financial goal. Whether you sell five charity auction items or forty items, it might be right for your group.
Copyright (c) 2010 Red Apple Auctions LLC
Award-winning fundraising auctioneer Sherry Truhlar, CMP, BAS runs Red Apple Auctions, a firm specializing in teaching non-profits the techniques proven to grow auction profitability. She offers a number of FREE auction ideas on her website, including the popular Auction Item Guide, a meaty compilation of best-selling auction items . Sign-up for the Guide at Red Apple Auctions.