Image courtesy of the National Auctioneers Association
This article was originally written by James Myers and published on Sept 4, 2015 at Auctioneers.org and republished on 10/2/15 at USAToday.com.
Nonprofits think they will make more by spending less (or none) on an auction professional. That’s wrong.
Most nonprofit organizations are in a constant struggle to stay within their budgets as they focus on their cause.
Fundraising events are paramount to the success of most a charity organizations, but is it fiscally responsible to hire someone to organize and manage fundraisers? When partnered with an experienced Benefit Auctioneer, the answer is a definite “yes.”
Scott Robertson, CAI, BAS, has experience with organizations that aren’t sure if they should bring in an auction professional for their event. If he feels Scott Robertson Auctioneers are a good fit, he’ll bring up his company’s track record as proof that it is advantageous to bring in an auction professional.
“The primary reason I see charity auctions fail to achieve expectations is they simply refuse to get out of their own way,” Robertson said. “They focus on the costs of hosting the event instead of the return on investment. Also, they are often more concerned with throwing a party than hosting a fundraising event.”
Kathy Kingston, BAS, is also a Benefit Auction Specialist and has actually written the book on the subject, “A Higher Bid: How to Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Auctions.” She knows skilled Benefit Auctioneers add value, but can back it up with facts – an NAA-sponsored study published a few years ago reveals that Auctioneers with the BAS designation raise about twice as much money for their clients compared to the auction outcomes where the BAS credential was absent.
“It’s imperative that professional benefit auctioneers not only sell items,” Kingston said, “but they have to sell the mission of the organization.”
Benefit Auctioneers often begin working a benefit auction months before the night of the event. If it’s done right, their work continues to pay off long after the auction event has ended.
“Asking ‘how can I raise money?’ is the wrong question,” Kingston said. “How can we have more fun? How can we create excitement? How can we create a dynamic culture of giving that engages your guest at your auction and beyond?”
Benefit Auction Strategy
The benefit auction, like any other auction, involves strategy. Robertson compares his events to snowflakes – “no two are alike.” He approaches every client with open and honest communication. They work together to establish goals, financial and otherwise, through an auction committee. The committee should also be focused on audience development and quality item procurement, he said.
“Audience development is a 365-day priority for successful not-for-profit organizations,” Robertson said, “not just something to focus on the last 30 days before the auction.”
Furthermore, Robertson said society today is constantly plugged in, always feeling the need to be entertained (“i.e. checking Facebook at a red light”), which is why the auction gala needs to proceed without delays.
“They can never drag,” he said. “So, an efficient timeline is more important than ever.”
Kingston’s strategy these days weighs heavily on something called “fund-a-need.” She refers to it as the “most powerful” way to raise money. Essentially, auction participants aren’t bidding on a tangible item in a “fund-a-need” auction. Rather, they are moved to give to the cause and go home with a good feeling rather than an item.
“It’s an opportunity for every single guest to raise their bid card to give a straight donation to the cause at a level that is meaningful to them,” Kingston said.
The fund-a-need portion of the benefit auction has been an “epic success,” Kingston said. However, when it comes to strategy, a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist. In some auctions there is no silent or live auction, just a fund-a-need. In others, the fund-a-need will become before the live auction, while in others it comes after. However, one thing she knows no Benefit Auctioneer should do is put the fundraising portion of the event at the end of the night.
“It’s financial suicide,” she said. “Do it much earlier than you’ve ever done it in the past.”
Robertson and Kingston both agree that Benefit Auctioneers will do themselves a great service when they invest the energy into earning the BAS designation. However, it takes more than a week or so of coursework to become a successful benefit auction professional. Both agree that becoming literate in the terminology of non-profits is extremely important.
“Learn as much as you possibly can about every charity you work for,” Robertson advises. “So, when you’re on stage, you are the goodwill ambassador for the charity that evening.”
Kingston believes an effort should be made to attend the annual BAS summit, look into the various national and international organizations related to fundraising, go to local and regional meetings, and get motivated to learn and stay fresh on benefit auction techniques.
“Work collaboratively with Auctioneers who are accomplished Benefit Auctioneers,” she said. “I think it’s one of the most powerful ways they show their leadership skills in the industry.
“Auctioneers are leaders. Here’s another whole facet (of their abilities) that Auctioneers can showcase.”