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Everything You Need to Know to Raise Money (and Have Fun) with a Charity Auction

Everything You Need to Know to Raise Money (and Have Fun) with a Charity Auction

Robert Baird

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Everything You Need to Know to Raise Money (and Have Fun) with a Charity Auction
An Insider's Guide to the Ins, Outs, Ups and Downs of a Profitable Event

by Robert Baird, 141 pp.

In easy, understandable language, Robert Baird walks you sequentially through each step you need to follow to carry off a rousingly successful charity auction.

From the first chapter, “Is a Charity Auction Right for You?” to the last, “The Big Night,” Baird securely holds your hand to make sure you know what to do at every juncture. But Baird doesn’t stop there. He wants to absolutely assure your success, so he offers a 54-page appendix that provides samples of every single thing you need. A sampling of the items: 11 checklists for everything from room setup to the sound system to cleanup; four pages of gift ideas; a sample financial statement; a sample invitation; and a sample check-in sheet to use as guests arrive.

With this book as your blueprint your event, like the bids you attract, will soar beyond your expectations.

About the Author

Robert Baird, as an organizer, volunteer, and board member, has been intimately involved with fundraising charity auctions for the past three decades.

Table of Contents

  1. Is a Charity Auction Right for You?
  2. Getting Started
  3. Committees
  4. Setting Your Budget
  5. Publicity
  6. The Timeline
  7. How It All Works
  8. The Auction Catalog
  9. The Auction Program
  10. Checking In
  11. The Silent Auction
  12. The Live Auction
  13. Additional Revenue Sources
  14. The Big Night
  15. Auction Software and Online Auctions      

A Last Word


This article is excerpted from Robert Baird's Everything You Need to Know to Raise Money (and Have Fun) with a Charity Auction, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email us.

Is a Charity Auction Right for You?

It was Francis Bacon who said, “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”

With that in mind, let’s start with the most basic of queries: Why hold a fundraising auction?

Well, maybe a board member suggested it at the last meeting. Or perhaps a group on the other side of town raises gazillions with their auction, or so you hear. Or maybe you’re just plain tired of Hopscotch for Health (or whatever your long-standing annual event is called).

I don’t have to tell you that these are all weak reasons to forge ahead. In my experience, most, or at least far too many, organizations plan an auction without asking themselves three essential questions:

- “Do we have enough time to prepare?” The absolute minimum is nine months; a year is better.

- “Can we recruit sufficient volunteers?” You’ll need dozens, even for a small auction. 

- “Does an auction make sense for us?” That depends on your answers to the preceding
questions, the Rolodexes of your board, and the health of the economy in your area.

Some public elementary schools raise more than $10,000 with auctions (about 200 attendees and 200 to 300 items). Private schools use auctions, raising $50,000 to $150,000 per year. And organizations of all stripes – from museums to hospitals to YMCAs – have enjoyed different levels of success.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your auction will do as well, especially if it’s your first attempt. But with a can-do attitude, some common sense, a few hearty laughs, and taking to heart the tips offered in this book, your event, just like the bids, will soar beyond your expectations.

How a fundraising auction works (in a nutshell)

If you’ve attended an auction, you know it can be a great social event – sometimes dinner is even included. Usually the auction has a theme and most last three to four hours.
Generally, there are two components: a silent auction and a live auction.

The silent auction is held first and serves as a “warm up.” It’s where you sell donated goods that aren’t expected to fetch large sums of money. The live auction is the main event where high-value gifts are auctioned to the highest bidder. 

Approximately one year before the big night, an auction committee is formed and a chair is named. If you’re lucky enough to be this individual, hang on to your hat – your mettle will soon be tested.

Working with the leadership of your organization, you’ll pick a date, place, and theme. You’ll name members to chair the major committees such as acquisition, decoration, and finance and in turn they’ll recruit volunteers to fill their committees.

The number of volunteers you’ll need depends on the size of your auction. But don’t be fooled: even a small auction can require a small army of 20 to 30 volunteers. Not everyone will have major roles or formally serve on a committee, but your volunteer base should have tentacles so that it’s able to accomplish tasks small and large.

If you don’t feel you and your committee can recruit these kinds of numbers, better to beg off now and opt for a different event.

Volunteers serving on the Acquisition Committee canvass the area in search of gifts from local businesses and residents. The gifts are catalogued, stored, valued, and ultimately transported to the event. Meanwhile, other volunteers are preparing invitations, flyers, welcome packets, and devising plans for decorating the auction venue.

Once the big night arrives, guests will check in and receive a registration packet containing the auction catalog, door-prize tickets, and other miscellaneous items. They’ll enter and find a beautifully decorated room overflowing with gifts on which they can bid during the silent auction. They’ll spend much of their time socializing and tracking the progress of their bids.

Once the silent auction is closed, the guests will be seated and the real fun will begin. The live auction will last one to two hours and a professional auctioneer or a volunteer from your organization will auction off approximately 25 to 75 items. If you’ve done your work, most of them will be irresistible to the bidders.

After the live auction is finished, your guests will proceed to the checkout tables, unless you’ve implemented an automatic payment system. They’ll pay for and pick up their items, and leave with a smile on their face, assuming your committee has done a good job.

What should your goal be?

That all depends, of course, on factors such as your experience, the size of your organization, the affluence of your membership, the state of the economy, not to mention how well you’ve planned the event. Any and all of these will determine your potential profits.

If you’ve held auctions before, you already have a sense of how much you can raise. Perhaps your goal will be an amount slightly larger than last year’s. But beware of limiting yourself this way, especially if you have a good volunteer crew. Maybe you’ve been under-achieving without realizing it!

If this is your very first auction, I’d follow the advice of Olympian Peggy Fleming: “The ultimate goal should be doing your best and enjoying it.” In other words, forget about setting a dollar goal.

If you haven’t tried the techniques discussed in this book, you can’t really estimate how well you’ll do. So don’t even try. Simply have fun and get the experience of running an auction under your belt. Then, the next time out, you’ll have a pretty good idea of your potential to raise $10,000 or $100,000.

Now let’s move on specifically to Step One...