Robertson’s events aren’t about unloading an estate or clearing abandoned storage units or helping bargain hunters find their treasures. No, the auctions he calls are all about raising money for nonprofit organizations. He’s one of only about 160 people in the country certified by the National Auctioneers Association as a benefit auction specialist, someone who focuses strictly on using auctions as a means of raising money for public good.
And Robertson raises a lot.
Last year, his auctions generated million. He’s on tap to beat that this year; as of September, he had already raised .38 million.
“Enthusiasm is contagious,” he says. “You’ve got to keep that energy and enthusiasm through the whole thing.”
It may be impossible to feel apathetic when Robertson is in the room – whether he’s working an auction or talking about one.
“I eat, breathe and sleep charity auctions. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife,” he says.
Yup, agrees his wife, it’s true.
“It’s pretty much 24/7,” says Mary Robertson, an Edison State College professor and her husband’s frequent assistant. “I have to remind him that I also have a full-time job … and he still has to take out the trash.”
Scott Robertson had previous careers, in real estate and education, and he flung himself into those jobs, too. But auctioneering, it seems, is where his true passion lies.
“You can see his face light up every time he talks about it,” Mary Robertson says.
For Robertson, the role of a benefit auctioneer means far more than just showing up and calling bids. He’ll walk nonprofits through the entire process – from collecting and organizing items to ensuring they understand the “golden hour” of auctioneering when guests are primed and ready to buy. He discusses fundraising trends – such as today’s recessionary caution – and encourages nonprofits to reinvent their events every few years to keep people coming back.
But what really sets him apart is the pre-research he does on each organization.
He wants to know everything about these nonprofit groups – how they work, who they benefit. He wants to make participants understand who will benefit from their generosity.
“People give to people. They don’t give to causes,” Robertson says.
So, if he’s running an auction for, say, the neonatal intensive care unit at The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, he’ll go visit those tiny babies hooked up to all those wires and understand the technology that helps keep them alive, and meet the nurses and doctors working miracles. Then, he can carry that experience into the banquet room and help attendees understand just how critical their contributions are.
Bob Jones, the Collier County president of Edison State College, remembers Robertson visiting him one year in preparation for the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, which was to benefit Edison’s nursing program.
“What impressed me was how many questions he asked me about the nursing programs,” Jones says.
Robertson’s knowledge was evident as he worked the event, Jones says. “It’s not just fundraising. It seems like it’s almost community building to me.”
In some ways, Robertson is just getting started, even though he’s been calling auctions for 19 years. It was only three years ago that he gave up all other employment and started focusing exclusively on benefit auctions. He did 62 charity events last season and is scheduled for 70 this one.
He works primarily in Florida but has also done events in cities ranging from New York to Atlanta to San Diego.
Life on the charity scene is never dull, he says.
“(The auctions) are fun, exciting, and I get to meet incredibly wonderful people.”