At The Event
General Questions and Issues
Q: I am starting the planning for a benefit auction. How much lead time should I allow for?
A: There is no proven minimum amount of time, but keep in mind that there are many facets to putting on a successful auction, and the less time you allow yourself for planning, the more stressful the process will be. Also, if you don't allow enough time, potential guests will not be able to arrange the event into their schedules.
Q: I don't have a lot of money to put up front for expenses. Can I just put on a free auction?
A: Every auction costs money, and you can cover your costs by charging people to get into the event. If you advertise a "free" event you will get shoppers looking to "get a good deal" not people attending to support your cause. Finding an event sponsor is a great way to get money up front to help you cover those initial costs.
Q: I have a friend who has a great stage personality. Would he (or she) be a good candidate to be our auctioneer instead of having to pay someone?
A: A benefit auctioneer is a special breed of auctioneer. The people that can interact with your guests are generally great candidates for announcers, but if you really want get as much money out of the room as you possibly can, a benefit auctioneer knows the finer points of making the most of the items you procure.
Q: My child's school has a great big auditorium that would be great for a big event like an auction, and it's free...is this a good idea to use it?
A: "Because it's free" is rarely a good reason for picking one location over another, nor do your guests think they are being shown a good time if you have the event in a gym or auditorium. If parents are going to pay to attend an event they want to be shown a good time at a nice location.
On Item Procurement
Q: I am supposed to procure $______ worth of items for the Auction. I don't know where to start! Any ideas?
A: Start with yourself. What can you donate? Start by asking your friends, neighbors and relatives. Clients and vendors are always a good source; they all want you to succeed. It's easier to ask others to help if you have already contributed yourself.
Q: I do know a lot of people, but I just don't feel right asking them for something. How do I approach them without imposing?
A: You are not imposing. Remember, your friends and associates want to help you. They just need to be shown how they can do that. Most work for companies that donate on a regular basis as part of their philanthropic mission in the community. They just need to be shown where the need is. Make it easy to them by asking for something specific! You will be amazed at the success you will have when people can just give you what you ask for and not have to decide what would be appropriate. Most people will just say yes or offer an alternative idea.
Q: Most of my associates are Attorneys or Accountants. Should I be asking for legal assistance or tax help to be donated?
A: While both of these ideas will sell, they will have to be put in the silent auction because people won't bid on them in the live. As an alternative, ask them what they do for fun. Do they have a condo, a boat, do they fish? These items can all be donated or great packages can be made from them. Don't lock in on the profession; most good items come from what people do in their spare time.
Q: I have a friend who has a great item and he only wants $500 back if it sells for more than that at the auction. Should I take it?
A: This is called a "consignment" item. Generally, consignments are a bad idea for your organization. Here's a different perspective, if the item sells for $600, and you give your friend $500, the organization made $100. However, $600 of "bidding power" was taken out of the auction. The person who benefits most from this arrangement is your friend. Thank him for his generosity and ask him to let you have the item at no cost. Reserve items work the same way.
Q: My next door neighbor has a great lawn mower that is about 10 years old and would like to get rid of it. Should we take it for our auction?
A: Generally, you should accept only new merchandise for your auction. You don't want your guests feeling that they are attending a "garage sale". Exceptions to this rule would be genuine antiques, sports memorabilia, and other such unique items.
Q: Some of the people I talk to don't really want to donate any tangible items. Should we take a cash donation?
A: Absolutely. Cash is always good. There are expenses for decorations, mailings and other "out of pocket" expenses. Cash underwriting is an excellent donation. Also, cash can be used to "purchase" or underwrite items for the auction which will sell for more than the underwriting value.
Q: Some of the people I talk to want to know if they can write off their donation against their taxes. How do they do that?
A: They need to talk to their accountants. However, if they qualify, the "Fair Market Value" of an item is generally the amount taken as a write off. In most cases, the value is what the item would sell for in a store. In the case of items not available in stores, the amount the item sold for at the auction may possibly determine the value. Be sure to advise them to check with an accountant since all situations are different.
Q: People are asking if they can attend the Silent Auction for free and just not eat dinner. Should I have a "Silent Only" level of entry?
A: Except for volunteers working the event that night, it is counter-productive to allow people to attend the event for free, but not eat dinner. It is unfair to those who have paid to attend the event, and if they cannot afford to attend the event, how much bidding power will they really bring to the process?
Q: My auction committee is thinking of saving money by having a potluck buffet dinner at our auction, do you think this will increase our income?
A: First of all, you cannot "save" your way to your goal. Secondly, a buffet dinner is not a good idea whether or not it is a potluck. You want people's attention to be focused on the auction sitting in their seats, and if they are constantly getting up to get more food at the buffet line, their attention will be broken, and they will not be bidding.
Q: How many people should I plan to have attend the event if I want to make $50,000?
A: There are formulas that can help you plan to make a certain amount of money. For more information on these and other formulas, please contact an auction representative at Northwest Benefit Auctions, Inc.
Q: I want to have a raffle at my event. What do I need to know?
A: Everything you need to know about having a raffle or other gaming at your event in Washington State or California can be found on their respective state government websites. For Washington State visit: http://www.wsgc.wa.gov/default.htm, or for California visit: http://caag.state.ca.us/gambling/index.htm.
Q: Is my auction also a place where people can make cash donations?
A: An auction is the perfect opportunity to ask for cash donations from your guests. We call this the "Fund-an-Item". There will be people at your event that will have been outbid on items. They have been in the philanthropic environment of your event all evening, and in the mood to give. Pick a specific need that your organization may have, and ask people to donate specifically to that need.
Q: My organization has done a raffle for years. I am afraid that my guests are getting bored of just the normal raffle. Do you have ideas to help me spice up my raffle and give my guests renewed interest in the process?
A: Our consultants have many ideas to help you spice up your event and give it a new face, depending on the specific theme or the set-up of your event.
Q: We seem to do fine with procurement, but we get so many small gift certificates that just take up valuable table space on our Silent Auction tables. Is there anywhere else I can put these gift certificates in the event where they will possibly make more money?
A: There are several-revenue enhancing places for these items. It really depends upon your event. You can either choose to sell balloons with those small gift certificates in them, or you can have a small Bidding Frenzy in your Live Auction.
At The Event
Q: Every year there is a very long line of people at the end of the evening. Is there any way to avoid this?
A: There are many steps that you can take to avoid that congestion as people leave the event. From capturing guests' credit card information at the beginning of the evening to delivering receipts and gift certificates to guests at their tables. Our Consultants at Northwest Benefit Auctions can help your guests have a better event experience and ensure that they return in future years.
Q: Is there a way to increase income in our Silent Auction?
A: Our philosophy is to make it as easy for guests to bid in the Silent Auction as possible. Don't make the guests do any math to figure out the next increment, don't make them write their name and phone number on the form. If you pre-set your bid increments, allow people to "guarantee purchase" the items for more than the Fair Market Value, and only ask them to write their bid number it will be easier for guests to spend money at your event. More information about the Northwest Benefit Auction bidding system is available by contacting us.
Q: Is there any way to make printing all the auction materials easier and less stressful? It just takes so long to create, type, and print out the catalog, gift certificates, table tents, and bid sheets.
A: In addition Northwest Benefit Auctions, Inc. can make your forms printing even easier with pre-printed forms and bid cards. The forms themselves are already on 3-part NCR and will work for either continuous feed, inkjet, or laser formats. They are also 1/2 page forms that are already perforated for your convenience. All you have to do is load the paper into your printer and print the information directly from your Maestrosoft database. You are also able to hand-write or type the information directly onto the form if you choose.
Bid cards are used during the Live Auction to indicate to the auctioneer that you want to purchase that item. Our cards are printed on high-quality cardstock with the number on the front and back of the card. They come in packages of 100 numbers with two cards per number. If you want, we can do custom printing so your organization's logo -- or even a corporate logo -- can be printed on the back of the card for advertising revenue.
Q: I have never run a benefit auction before. Will you come out to my event and help?
A: One of our primary goals is the success of your event. If you just need an auctioneer we can provide that, but if you need our complete service we can provide people to run your event to maximize your guests' enjoyment and to help the auction committee enjoy the fruits of their labor. Whatever your needs, please don't hesitate to contact us.