You’ve agreed to chair the Gala Committee for a charity in your hometown. You’re excited because you have a lot of new ideas, but you also feel overwhelmed. You’ve heard that many benefit auctioneers are booked months in advance, so you’ve decided to call a few today to get an idea of their styles.
Stop. Don’t pick up the phone until you’re clear about one point. You’ll save yourself and the auctioneer a lot of time if you answer this question first.
What is primary reason this auction is being held?
When an organization calls me to inquire about services, I have a series of questions I ask to better understand the event. If the person calling me is knowledgeable about past fundraisers, our talk takes around 40 minutes. One question I ask is why the group is conducting this event.
“To raise money for XYZ,” is the common response, but a deeper dive into that response will reveal other reasons as to why an auction is being held. As an auctioneer, I know it’s important to understand why the fundraiser is taking place because it will determine how I work with my client.
If the goal is first and foremost to raise $100,000, then a group is usually focused on implementing step-by-step, time-tested strategies to ensure they silent auction ideas achieve their goal. They will re-arrange the schedule, change the menu, and refuse to let anyone of importance on stage if they feel it detracts from raising that $100,000.
But if the goal is to honor a local hero, the auction proceeds are secondary. At that point, I know that if I suggest anything which might be perceived to conflict with the hero ceremony, I will lose that discussion! At this type of gala, the primary goal is to honor the hero – not raise cash. The auction takes second billing, and that is OK. I will suggest appropriate ideas in relation to the goal of the event.
So what are the motives for hosting a benefit auction? Here are some of the (paraphrased) reasons I have heard:
Pressure from a donor
“We had one exceptionally nice item donated this year, and the donor refuses to let it be sold in a silent auction so we need to have a live auction.”
Honor a local hero
“It is is important for us to honor our Volunteer of the Year, so we’re going to have 90 minutes of speeches honoring him, and then the live auction will follow at 10:30 PM.” (Gosh, get me out of that room!)
“This is a social function. Any money raised is secondary. Our guests have donated a lot of money throughout the course of the year, so we don’t want to appear to pull it out of them on stage.”
“Auctions are fun, and we thought this would be a good way to raise a little money, meet others in our church, and have some entertainment.”
“Everybody in town attends this event. An auction has always been part of our evening so we always have it, but people will come whether there is a benefit auction or not.”
Being honest with your auctioneer as to the primary goal of your gala will go a long way in building your relationship. Your auctioneer will be able to suggest ideas appropriate to your gala and gracefully complement your mission.