Meeting with a benefit auctioneer


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February 9, 2018 Seven Things to Look for When Seeking a Charity Auctioneer

So, you’ve decided to incorporate a live auction into your fundraising event. Or maybe you are making a change from your current auctioneer. Let’s explore what type of auctioneer you should be looking for.

The best way I know to help you understand the different types of auctioneers is to relate them to physicians. Some doctors are general practitioners, others specialize in particular fields of medicine.  If you are having problems with your gall bladder, you wouldn’t want a general practitioner performing any necessary surgery, right? Instead, you would choose a doctor who specializes in surgical procedures on the gall bladder to get you back on the road to good health.

Most auctioneer professionals also practice in a particular area of auction specialty.

Some “general” auctioneers sell at most any and every type of auction – personal property, collectables, farms, livestock, equipment, automobiles, charity auctions, etc. These men and women know something about everything.

There are also auctioneers who specialize in a particular segment of the auction industry. This might be real estate, automobiles, livestock and yes, fundraising, among others.  While professional fundraising auctioneers have been around for decades, only in the past 10 to 15 years has this field become an area of focus for many auctioneers, including myself.

Let me share my personal story with you.

Because I grew up in a family auction business which offers high-end real estate, I didn’t have the opportunity to sell and gain experience as many auctioneers do.  Most auctioneers start out selling pots and pans and general merchandise under the guidance of their sponsoring auctioneer. Instead of that beginning for myself, I decided over 30 years ago that I would volunteer my time to conduct a charity auction so that I could gain auction experience.  As I reflect back, I have to tell you that I am MORTIFIED that I did this. In essence, I was “practicing” on this nonprofit’s largest revenue-generating event, which was tied directly to their operating budget. This was NOT the time for an amateur or a volunteer or celebrity auctioneer to help this group. They needed to partner with a professional fundraising auctioneer.

Here are seven points I suggest you consider when hiring an auctioneer for your charity auction:

Seek someone who has charity auction experience – You should start with an auctioneer who has earned the Benefit Auctioneer Specialist (BAS) designation. Why? Because an individual with the BAS designation, issued by the National Auctioneers Association, has received targeted education to help their nonprofit clients generate more revenue. The BAS designation course teaches charity auctioneers how to think outside of the box and on the fly. There are only a few hundred fundraising professionals who hold this designation nationwide.  These benefit auctioneers really are in a league of their own when it comes to charity auctions. An auctioneer should do so much more than simply sell a few items during your live auction. Any auctioneer can do that. A Benefit Auctioneer Specialist has a slower chant the guests can understand and they will interact and entertain your guests, encouraging the bidders to bid one more time for the cause. They will make a point to thank your guests for bidding/giving.

Find an auctioneer who consults with staff and volunteers prior to the event – You never have to go it alone when you hire a Benefit Auctioneer Specialist. Because they conduct charity auctions specifically, they participate in dozens or even hundreds of charity events each year. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and they share that knowledge with you and your nonprofit.  They can guide you regarding which items sell best during a live auction, including how to double your revenue by selling more than one of the same item in certain circumstances. A BAS is able to help you find high-end, unique auction items. They can assist you with planning the evening’s timeline in a way that will maximize the fundraising. These are only a few of the ways a benefit auction professional will prove valuable to your event.

Research the auctioneers’ experience in conducting a Fund-A-Need/Special Appeal/Paddle Raise – A Fund-A-Need has many names but accomplishes the same purpose – it’s simply an opportunity for guests to give to your mission, sometimes funding a specific need, without receiving anything in return. The auctioneer that you seek to employ should be a professional who has experience with this portion of the event. Not only will this auctioneer conduct the Fund-A-Need activity on event night, they will also guide you with the length, delivery and placement of the message, the levels of ask, and advise you on pre-commitments and matches.  Ask your auctioneer candidates about their experience with Fund-A-Need. Find out how much money they’ve raised with this fundraising activity. Experience in this area is a must if you are going to meet or exceed your event night goals.

Pursue an auctioneer who keeps up with changing trends within the charity auction industry – There are new ideas being born every day to raise money at fundraising auctions.  Having a network of other Benefit Auctioneer Specialists across the nation allows these professionals the opportunity to share ideas, which is vital to keeping events fresh and exciting.  Look for an auctioneer who attends the National Auctioneers Association conventions and summits as well as their state auction associations. These individuals are up-to-date on trends that can help your nonprofit raise more funds.

Ask for references from your auctioneer – Talk to others who have used the auctioneer you have under consideration. Ask the auctioneer what three things they will do that will impact your bottom line.

Attend other events in your area for an “unofficial” interview –  Be a guest at other events to see what those charities are doing. Pay attention to who they use as their auctioneer.  Is this someone you would want to work with? If so, introduce yourself to them and request their business card.  If you like them, follow up with them, but do it quickly.  The best charity auctioneers book dates far in advance, oftentimes as much as a year ahead.

Search for an auctioneer who holds the Benefit Auctioneer Specialist (BAS) Designation – While there are many professional fundraising auctioneers out there, I encourage you to find an auctioneer who holds the BAS designation.  As outlined above, these men and women have earned this designation through the National Auctioneers Association, where they received specialized training on how to help nonprofits raise more money for their clients.  

So now, let’s get to the elephant in the room, the question everyone wants an answer to – compensation. Yes, there will be a direct out-of-pocket cost to hire a professional benefit auctioneer.  But this cost will be offset by the revenue generating ideas and counsel they provide. All vendors carry a cost to your nonprofit. But the caterer, venue and hotel will not provide a return on that investment like your charity auctioneer will. A professional fundraising auctioneer will help you make money before the doors are ever opened. In the end, a “free” auctioneer can cost you a lot of money. You can’t afford NOT to hire a professional fundraising auctioneer.

Selecting an auctioneer is not something that should be taken lightly.  This is not the time to have a board member or celebrity “act” as your auctioneer.  To insure you are tapping into every penny at your next charity auction event, I highly encourage you to hire a professional fundraising auctioneer.

Make every minute a revenue generating minute!


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