Auction Success in a Down Economy
“We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” This mariner’s maxim reminds fundraisers to continually adapt in the face of unpredictable conditions.
In this challenging economy, now more than ever, it's vital to utilize proven best practices, new technology and fresh ideas to maximize fundraising auction efforts.
Here’s the good news: Nonprofit organizations are achieving auction success today by charting their courses on things that they can control to reverse the trends that many benefit auctions are experiencing due to the tough economy. Luckily, most fundraising auctions have many areas that are not yet optimized for maximum results. In other words, by working smarter, you can keep your auction proceeds strong.
To navigate economic challenges and raise more auction profit, set a course on these four critical directions.
1. Focus on your mission
The most important aspect of a fundraising auction is making sure all your guests understand exactly where the money raised is going and how much will go to support your cause.
As fundraising consultant Sharon Danosky, president of Danosky & Associates, said during a recent workshop, "People do not give to needy organizations; they give to lofty causes that can make a difference."
First and foremost, brand your mission. With a captive audience for the entire evening, ensure that everyone understands exactly how you help your clients and your community.
The key is to be explicit about your cause in every auction communication and promotion: mailings, newsletters, save-the-date cards, invitations, catalogs and even auction forms. On auction night, place banners and photos that showcase your programs and services all around the auction venue and stage.
Place informative table tents on the dinner tables and in between each silent auction item. Showcase how you are making a difference and how your supporters are part of the solution.
2. Deepen relationships — cultivate!
In addition to raising money, benefit auctions provide an extraordinary platform for friendraising, too. Remember, people give to people for causes they care about. So make it easy for your supporters to bid higher.
A nonprofit auction provides a momentous opportunity to deepen relationships with guests, sponsors, members, boards of directors, trustees, prospective donors and, yes, volunteers, too.
Here are a few cultivation ideas for your next auction:
- Several weeks prior to the event, hold a preauction reception where you and your board members can personally meet major donors, sponsors and prospective VIP guests, highlight your cause, and preview key auction items.
- During the silent auction, ask your board and auction committee members to personally greet five guests they do not know and welcome them to the auction. Empower your supporters with a personal connection; reach out to make sure they understand how their contributions will benefit your clients and your community.
- Approach the auction as a cultivation event and you will ensure that your auction will be a catalyst for future giving, such as your annual appeal, major gifts, planned giving and capital campaigns. By deepening relationships with auction supporters, you invite investment and involvement far beyond auction night.
And do not stop asking; be unabashedly explicit about raising money and where you need the funds. In many cases the economy has had incredibly challenging effects on the people you serve. Now is the time to communicate how much your donors' investments will positively affect your cause.
Because of the tough economy, it’s crucial to tell donors that you need their support now more than ever. Be specific in explaining how your organization is making a difference and how donors are part of the solution.
Make sure every single donor in your database knows what you are doing and why his or her involvement is so critical to your continued success.
4. Embrace best practices.
This is no time for your auction to be an amateur event. Stack the deck in your favor by employing benefit auction best practices such as focusing on audience development to increase the level of guests who have the means and influence to bid higher to support your cause; soliciting premium items that your guests really want; designing your auction with momentum and exciting timing; and using the latest in online auctions and benefit auction technology.
Now, more than ever, a professional auctioneer who specializes in benefit auctions will maximize your fundraising efforts and create an entertaining, successful evening that takes the risk out of fundraising.
So chart your course and deeply explore each of these four strategic directions. By branding your mission, deepening personal connections with your auction guests, explicitly asking for investment in your cause and using auction best practices, you can have a record-breaking fundraising auction in any economy.
Kathy Kingston is president of the Hampton, N.H.-based fundraising auctions business Kingston Auction Company.