What if nobody buys our stuff?
June 8, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

What do we do with un-bid-upon charity auction items?

We are having a party on June 30th to raise money for a friend of ours with a really sick kid, and a big part of that party is a silent auction. We've lined up a bunch of donations from local businesses, and we opened the auction up for bids yesterday. After getting the auction out into the world, I had two small panic moments. One, what if nobody bids on the stuff? Two, what do I do with things that were donated to us for the party that nobody bids on?

The first question, thankfully, has been rendered moot by the fact that several bids have come in for some of our items. But I still am not quite sure what to do with any item that was donated to us that doesn't end up getting any bids. Is there a protocol for a situation like this? Most of the items are gift cards, but there are a couple actual products as well.

We're not a 501(c)3 charity or anything, we're just friends helping friends, if that makes a difference.
posted by pdb to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm optimistic that in the next two or three weeks, everything will get a bid. However, I'd suggest, if there are un-bid things left by the 17th or 18th, send out an announcement via the usual channels reminding people to get their bids in, and announce which items have no bids yet. Someone will decide it's low-hanging fruit and put in a bid.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:01 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to deal with it that night, then after the silent auction is finished, take the unsold items and have a vigorous, live-style auction, maybe hosted by whichever friend is funny, has a loud personality, will make jokes, etc. Turn it into a last! chance! bid now! c'mon guys! type of thing.

If you want to possibly earn a higher rate, just sell them on Craigslist, ebay, etc. Or widen your circle -- post a flyer at work, if that's appropriate, etc.

If they've been donated in good faith, and you're going to sell them in good faith to raise money for the needed cause, I don't think it necessarily matters how you sell them.

Lastly, depending on the item, you could donate the item itself to the family in need, if you think that would be appropriate.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you maybe hold a raffle where the un-bid-upon items are prizes?
posted by Proginoskes at 2:03 PM on June 8, 2012

Most things usually get bids. The items most likely to not get bids are idiosyncratic works of art that are over-valued by their creators. Beyond that you should be fine.
posted by alms at 2:09 PM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: I've been helping to run an annual charity auction for the last five years. We've gathered each year about 175 items with values from $15 to $4000. We get about 220 people to come to the auction, and pretty much everything sells with only a couple of leftovers, if any.

I'm assuming that while you have online bidding going on, you will keep the bidding open at the party itself. I think you'll tend to get a lot more action that night than in advance, so don't worry even if some things don't have bids on them by the time of the party.

The key to a successful charity auction is not just having "a bid" on each item, but to have several people interested in each item and to get them competing. You need at least 2 bidders to have an auction but the more the better.

Aim to get more people at your party than you have items. In our case, with 220 people bidding on 175 items, we realize about 70% of actual retail value, on the average. With more people, we'd get closer to retail. If you have gift certificates from popular stores and restaurants, you'll have no problem, in fact, many of them will sell for more than face value. Narrow interest stuff like jewelry or art doesn't tend to do as well.

TL/DR, but understanding the numbers and dynamics is important and if you have this kind of balance and the right mix of stuff, you won't have to worry about unsold items.
posted by beagle at 2:10 PM on June 8, 2012

I ran a silent auction fundraiser in college. Similar problem to yours: while all of our items were bid on, a few of the items, while paid for, were never claimed even after significant effort to get them to the winner.

They were:

1) Season tickets to plays at a local theater. These we saved and used as a prize at a smaller raffle fundraiser a month later.

2) $25 gift card to the student bookstore. I stood by checkout line at the bookstore and gave it to the first person I saw.

3) Walking tour passes for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. These I can't seem to give away, even (oh gosh, the counting...) five and a half years later! (I suppose I could use them myself, but I have more passes than they offer tours, and I get to walk around the city all the time anyway.) Every time I have friends in town I offer them to them, and every time at the end of their trip, they give them back saying they didn't end up having time to go on a tour. (Boyfriend's family is in town this weekend, though! THIS MIGHT BE IT!)

Basically what I'm saying is: find another way to raise money off of them, or just give them to someone who could appreciate them.
posted by phunniemee at 2:14 PM on June 8, 2012

All good suggestions above.

At our charity auction, when soliciting the items, we'll often ask for permission from the donor if their offerings can also possibly be used to support the event. For example, a men's clothing store donated two $50 gift certificates, and we asked if we could use one to compensate a wandering magician for his performance. A bar that donated $150 in $10 gift certificates was asked if we could divert $50 of that to pay a band to perform. Neither had a problem with it. The key is to ask before hand, and make sure it's still beneficial to the donor. The magician has since bought more from the store, and the band plays that bar regularly.

We'll also ask if we can combine items. So, inexpensive headphones that were donated can go with a music package; if we have a couple of awkward items and they're from local stores, we often have "neighbourhood" packages, where we'll bundle a few things together and promote it that way.
posted by peagood at 2:24 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

About a year ago I saw this in action at a MS fundraiser.

A very nice person about an hour before the end ended up bidding on all the unbid items. Once discovered and admired, a few items turned into a ferocious altruistic race to out bid each other on items nobody previously wanted.

The person still won 3 items or so and everyone clapped big when her name were called.

Point of story, bid on them yourself (if you can) at some point. It better for the giver, its better for the charity, and it solves your problem.
posted by couchdive at 2:39 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can also give a couple of the unclaimed items to people who helped organize the event as a thank you gift. Obviously, this shouldn't turn into a snatch-and-grab for the event's backers to enrich themselves, but I don't think there's a problem with handing a few unwanted items of modest value to people who provided the venue, helped with food, etc...

You could also stockpile some of the items and donate them to a charitable cause that's having their own silent auction. Or give them directly to the family you're helping if it's something they could reasonably use or sell.
posted by zachlipton at 3:52 PM on June 8, 2012

Something to consider: I once contributed a significant service package to a silent auction, which sold for much much less than it was worth. This was beyond "bargain" to "I'd prefer to just give the $5 to the organization myself, rather than spend 5 hours on this". Please make sure you have appropriate, non-insulting minimum bids.
posted by amtho at 5:02 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

What BlahLaLa said, but I would suggest a reverse auction. Start with a high number, and gradually lower the ask. First bid takes it.

We did a silent auction and sold off the remainders using a traditional live auction. People were so cheap with their bids that it was embarassing. We would have gotten a lot more money if we had done the sudden death auction. There would have been far more pressure on the buyer to give more money.
posted by dunkin at 8:33 AM on June 9, 2012

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