Thursday, September 17, 2009

Running a Charity Auction

I was horrified today when I realized it's been a month since I blogged. My only excuse is that the Grace Hopper Celebration is looming and I have a boat load of deliverables - more about that when they are delivered, and I was also spending my evenings and weekends working on a charity auction I did up in Lake Tahoe last weekend.

On the way home tonight I was thinking about how to break down the auction into its component parts and I think I found it. So here goes.

Running a successful auction involves 4 key components:

1. The audience - you need to fill the audience with people who have a passion - either for the objects you are selling or the charity you are supporting. I was lucky - I was doing the auction at a fan convention so the audience was pre filled with enthusiastic fans who were eager to see just what kind of memorabilia we had collected. The other important part was that if you are doing the auction as part of a larger event, make sure you don't have competition for the audience's attention. I would have been doomed if there had been a panel against me . But since there was no competition even non bidders came in to see what was being offered. The more people the more pressure is being applied for someone to bid. And some of those non bidders will often bid just to fill a void.

2. The Auction Items - you need a wide range of things to fill an auction. If you only have high ticket items you lose your audience except for those with deep pockets. You want people to win and get excited about a perceived bargain. I saw people ecstatic over winning a $10 item and others thrilled about a $1700 item. Our auction was great because it had a mix of memorabilia, paintings, and some new items - specifically some beautiful quilts and wall hangings made by one of the attendees. I think each of those items (there were 4) each brought in more than $700. There was one I just adored but I had promised myself no more big items.

3. The Team - an auctioneer can not manage an auction alone. The convention leadership supported me by soliciting donations. I put together the auction form and sorted the items in order. My friend Marina (who loves it when I give her shout outs in the blog) spent an evening with me writing up the index cards for all the items. Then I had my intake buddy - Carla - who helped me collect all the donated items, the team who helped bring everything down from my room and setup for the auction; the runners during the auction who showed the items to the audience and delivered the winning cards; and then the team who helped distribute the items. But I will say the most critical person was my facilitator Susan who kept me running during the auction. She was the one who would hand me the card for each item - made sure the runners had it and generally kept everything moving. I know she did a great job because the auction was flawless - we finished on time and broke all our previous records. And we both missed the cruise on the Lake the next morning because we were both physically exhausted. Without Susan the auction would have been a disaster and I thank her for it.

4. The Energy - I used to be a trainer and I always believed that as a speaker of any kind you have to emit energy to the audience in order to engage and hold their attention. I have always chosen to do this with humor. I love it when the energy is there - and it was on Saturday - people responded from the very first and that made it incredible. The only rough part was at the end of the auction when all the energy was used up. I ended up flat on my back with one of our convention director's giving me a Reiki massage - which by the way worked wonders. Pat - I thank you so much.

So the stats- we raised $15,500 in the auction - selling 108 items in exactly 120 minutes of auction time. The next day we raised another roughly $300 with a mini auction which was great fun as well. Our highest ticket item was $1700. The lowest were I think $5. We even had one person bid on something that somehow we had managed to lose track of - it had literally disappeared. The woman very kindly bid to save us the embarrassment of dealing with the seller. When we found the item she kept the item and frankly what an incredibly generous thing to do. The money raised went to several very deserving charities.

So that was my 4th time calling a charity auction - hey I'm from New Jersey - I talk fast. I know this was our last gathering with this group but so many people came up to me afterwards and assumed I was a professional auctioneer I must admit I'd like to do more. Not every day- I don't think I'd survive it - but if you know a charity that needs an auctioneer - well give me a call.

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