Planning a Silent Auction
October 5, 2004 8:12 AM   Subscribe

out of my depth: i'm on the holiday benefit planning committee of a local philanthropy which advocates for architectural preservation, on the silent auction and raffle subcommittee. tip, suggestions, approaches for getting businesses to donate goods for the auction? tips for getting people to bid? when you go to charity gigs, what do you like to see?

we're keeping entrance ticket prices low (in part to encourage membership among young professionals, students and others not in high income brackets), but also because we hope people will participate in the auction if they haven't already spent a bundle to get in. we expect to have enough booze donated for an open bar. what else can we do?
posted by crush-onastick to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First off, good luck on your event. A few general hints:

1) It helps to know your target attendees, as well as your fellow committee members/volunteers. This helps you gauge what kind of items to include in your auction, as well as who among your volunteers might have the connections to pursue those items.

2) Try locally owned and operated firms first; while their margins are tight, they tend to be more responsive to community needs.

3) Someone you know probably has frequent flier miles that you could package with procured accommodations. Someone else you know probably has a vacation home - voila.

4) Provide one-of-a-kind experiences. The best silent auction prize I've ever seen was a demolition party: the opportunity to enjoy a great lunch at an executive suite that had a great view of an arena that was demolished as during the party. (I bid but did not win). Others opportunities include being written/ incorporated into an artwork, etc.

5) Black tie affairs frequently involve waiting in line - especially at the end of the night. See if you can find some diversion/entertainment for those waiting in line. At one event I’ve attended, "palm readers" did readings for people in line.

6) Come up with a wish list of things you would like, and run it by your board / volunteer leadership. It really is about who knows whom, and a wish list can get people thinking about their own connections (i.e. "Oh yeah, my brother-in-law is an assistant producer at ESPN. We could get that autographed 'x'."

Once again good luck with the event. The donated booze is a great start, by the way.
posted by Verdant at 10:42 AM on October 5, 2004

It's all networking...Hit up the companies you already do business with, both professionally, and personally--from your office supplier, to travel agents, to the local restaurants, to salons, etc...have the bosses help with this too, for higher-end places. Local galleries may help too (it's great publicity), with unsold art from their warehouses, or to set up studio tours/hands-on things.

And what everyone else said. Be sure to thank everyone very prominently--in the program, and on the bid tables/forms.
posted by amberglow at 1:15 PM on October 5, 2004

Speaking as someone with some experience on the other side of the "I'm soliciting donations for (cause X)...": Try not to ask for donations from businesses you, or at least your organization, have no relationship with. In our family's shop, we get several such requests each week with the vast majority coming from people we have never seen and will probably never see again. Their strategy seems to be to cast the widest net possible. They end up getting clearance items donated, if anything. On the other hand, if regular customers ask for a donation, we are much more responsive, for obvious reasons. If you are not a regular, but would like a donation from a specific business, try to get someone on your committee who is.

Also, this type of event can be pitched as an informal kind of advertising. Let the potential donors know about the folks your organization is hoping to attract to the event. Give them the opportunity to brand/arrange their donation in a way that makes their name prominent (Allowing a stack of business cards or brochures next to the item, for instance), and send them a copy of the program with a post-event thank you. On the night of the event see if you can't work in a gracious way to suggest that your guests mention seeing Company ABC's donation, and appriciate ABC's support for your cause next time they are in the store. This will make next year's donation drive much easier.
posted by guidedbychris at 8:26 PM on October 5, 2004

I've organized a few auctions, but they were very vertical market, and so I can't probably be much help there...but here's what I've learned working with charity auctions:

You need to define the demographic of your targeted attendees. Then you can discern which products will be most likely to raise their interest...and you'll have some idea of what per item monetary value you can assign. For example, a bar napkin sketch by picasso will not have the same demographic as pit passes to Talledega. (Well, Ok...they would for me, but I'm way to weird to be included in a demographic study.)

Define your top dollar limits. Assume that 90% of your auction items need to start below that price. 40% should be significantly below your top price point. If I may be a bit vulgar, you must chum the seas to call the real sharks.

As a bidder, I tend towards original art, one of a kind pieces, work from local artists/photographers/craftspeople, handmade anything, antique books and manuscripts, kitchy weird stuff...for instance, my current collecting phase is odd tea cups and saucers.

As a business owner of an crafts studio, I'll almost always create a unique basket of products for charity auctions when approached, assuming that it's a bona fide charity. Most other business owners that aren't service providers are the same way.

In short: define demographic, define market appeal for said demographic, approach appropriate businesses with tax deduction documents in hand, package product so as to create desire, hold auction. :)
posted by dejah420 at 8:49 PM on October 5, 2004

Since it's for architectural preservation, try having a theme for some of the auction pieces. If people there enjoy architecture and old buildings, try to get some paintings, photos, gift cards, sketches and other such references to specific buildings that you've restored (or saved, or noted, or that are just in your area). People also really like having a drawing of their house (or their parents' or another noted building in their family) so one good auction item might be the services of an artist to design a personalized piece.
posted by fionab at 10:11 PM on October 5, 2004

Oh yes, I forgot one thing. My parents went to an auction at an Aquarium and bought me a scuba dive into the shark tank! As an avid diver, this was an awesome opportuntity and (like the demolition party as noted by Verdant) very unique. The little cousins that got to come watch me from the viewing side are still talking about it and still have the shark teeth that I was able to find in the sand. Moral of the story: unique ideas win hearts and are like those Mastercard commercials where there are "some things money can't buy," but in this case, it can! Other architecturally-based ideas for the auction: a local historical site could be used as a party locale or a park bench could be placed with the donor's name on it outside of a building.
posted by fionab at 10:20 PM on October 5, 2004

Last thing, I promise. Many City Halls keep extensive archival photo records. People love old photos of their neighbourhood, their town, their block, their house! Try to incorporate these somehow: pick a few great ones, have them printed and framed and sell those at the actual auction. If the non-profit is serving a specific area that will likely attract residents of that area, choose accordingly: elementary schools, high schools, parks, skating rinks, loading docks, waterfront. The more recognizable to people, the easier it will be to sell. A single frame with three or four prints in it will fill a wall nicely, and is a perfect holiday gift for people to give to their local friends. Or, if the City Hall has a catalogue, showcase a few gems and then arrange to order specific photos framed for people (and charge a hefty markup fee). I've seen these done before and the result is a locally interesting and unique item that might be available (at the library or City Hall) but most people are way too lazy to do this sort of thing on their own and will pay for the convenience!
posted by fionab at 10:30 PM on October 5, 2004

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