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Last updated October 12, 2018

Auctions are a really fun way to raise funds and, if done well, can literally raise you tens of thousands of dollars. Of course not every auction needs to be a grand affair, you can hold auctions of all sizes and styles, depending on how much money you want to raise. The following points will help make your auction a real success.

1. Know Your Audience
Identifying your audience will help determine the type of goods you choose to auction – after all, it makes sense to auction items that the audience actually wants to buy!

If you know that your auction will be largely attended by your members, then you will have a fair idea of the types of things to include. However, if you want to run an auction for the community as a whole, it helps to pick a theme and then target your marketing to find an audience to match.

2. Choose a Theme
There are hundreds of different themes you could use for an auction, but choosing a theme to match your organisation will make the whole event easier to sell. By all means use one of the popular auction types, but find an angle that makes your auction unique – where you can, find a catch phrase to go along with it.

For example, Riding for the Disabled had a campaign called ‘Horse Power for Horse Power’. The items were definately horse power related, but not in a four legged sense. This allowed them to capture a target audience and directly relate the campaign to what they do.

3. Secure Sponsorship
An auction is one event where you really need to rely on sponsorship to actually make some money. After all, there’s no point buying items to auction, just to recoup your costs.

Finding businesses that are willing to donate items can be daunting, but if you have a specific theme, the whole process will be much easier to manage. Do not expect businesses to give you something for nothing, instead, approach businesses which genuinely have something to gain from the event. Remember, if the event has a theme, then you will capture a specific target audience – one that they will want to reach.

4. Be Fussy
While any item can be sold, it doesn’t hurt to be a little fussy in your approach. You don’t want to clutter your auction with throw out items and old stock that businesses have been unable to shift. If nobody wanted to buy the item in the first place, what makes you think someone will want to buy it now. Save donations of old stock or throw away items for another fundraising event.

Vouchers are also a tricky item to auction as they have a set value that is hard to avoid. If a business offers to donate a voucher, ask if the voucher can be redeemed for a specific service or item, rather than a set dollar amount.

5. Think Outside the Square
When looking for items to auction, remember to think outside the square, and gather a mixture of items within the same theme. For example, a Travel Auction could include airfares, overnight accommodation, campervan hire, a traveller’s first aid kit, a watch with 5 different time zones, map books, travel diaries and traveller’s accessories like blow up pillows, money bags and torches.

Not everyone will have hundreds of dollars to spend at your auction, so offering a few low priced items will enable more people to participate.

It is also important to get creative with your presentation and think about what makes something valuable. A rugby jersey is worth so much, but when it’s signed by Jonah Lomu it is worth so much more. Put that jersey in a frame and it is worth even more again. Don’t be afraid to spend money on presenting your items, especially those which have been signed by celebrities.

6. To Charge or Not to Charge?
Charging people to come to your auction can be a tricky decision to make. If the auction is part of a larger event like a dinner and dance, then by all means sell tickets as part of your overall fundraising activity.

However, keep in mind that many people will see a high priced ticket as their donation to your cause, and will be reluctant to go overboard at the auction. Building just a small profit into the ticket price will allow people to dig deeper at auction time.

7. Time It Right
If your auction is part of a larger event, make sure you carefully consider when the auction will take place. Letting people have a few wines first will help loosen the wallets, but you need to start before a few wines become a few too many. You will also want to start before any early birds pack up their handbags and go home.

An auction needs to be fairly short and sweet. 10-15 items is enough to raise some good money, provided you have picked your items well and have an experienced auctioneer facilitating your auction. If you have more than 20 items, consider having some available as part of a silent auction throughout the night.

For a silent auction, place the item(s) around the room and stand a whiteboard or clipboard beside each one. People are then free to make their signed bid on the board. As the night goes on, people can cross a bid out and place a higher one. This is a good way to make the most of all your items.

8. Be Prepared
An auction can move very quickly, with hands (and dollars) going up all over the place. Make sure you have volunteers available to sign up your winning bidders and collect their money as soon as the hammer falls.

Giving each of your items a lot number will make things easier and means you can advertise what’s up for auction before you even start. Have an invoice book already written out with lot numbers and items and then you just need to add the bidder’s details and the amount paid.

9. Use a Professional Auctioneer
While it’s tempting to find a willing volunteer, I genuinely recommend using a professional auctioneer to host your event. There is enormous skill involved in finding the highest possible bid and a professional auctioneer can really think on their feet. It’s one of those jobs that looks easy until you try it but by then, it’s too late.

Your auctioneer can literally make or break your event, so be prepared to pay for a professional if you need to. It will be worth it at the end of the night.

A good auctioneer will talk to you before the event about what you want to achieve and let you know what is needed to create a big success. Listen to their words of wisdom – after all, auctions are what they know and do best.

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