We recently received the following email from a Winspire webinar attendee...
My board feels that paying $2,500 for a professional, highly-trained benefit auctioneer is out of line, considering a local personality has offered to facilitate the live auction for $250. How should I respond?
Lisa, this is one of the most common concerns we hear from auction organizers across the country, and it's easy to understand why. The number one priority at a fundraising event is to raise money for your cause. When an opportunity to trim costs by 90 percent comes along, you want to consider it!
That said, we've found it's more effective to focus on generating more revenue first - then trim costs where you can.
In today's post we address 5 reasons the auctioneer is not the right place to cut corners, plus tips to hire a qualified benefit auctioneer for free! If you've never partnered with an auctioneer before, you might bookmark this post to discuss with your committee and board.
1. Leave a tough job to the pros.
"We're going to have the local fire chief do the auction and the firemen be the bid spotters."
"Our local sportscaster is well-liked and known by the community."
"One of our board members has led the auction every year, and we've never had a problem."
These are common scenarios at charity events. But consider: When a building’s burning down and you need the fire put out, would you call the police?
Charity auctions are the 'five-alarm fire' of the fundraising world. On the night of an event, you never know exactly how things will go. There is an ambitious goal to meet, hidden revenue opportunities to uncover, potential mistakes to avoid.
Why not have a professional who knows what they're doing at the helm?
"Always have an auctioneer. A really, really, good auctioneer!" advises Heather Dean-Presnall, auction chair for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Pacific Region, on a recent podcast episode. "Skip the emcee, board member, committee member. You want someone who makes a living doing this kind of thing."
"Professionals know how to keep bidding going and create bidding wars. They know when they can and can't sell duplicates of an item. It will make all the difference in the world," Dean-Presnall adds.
Many benefit auctioneers also offer pre-event consulting advice. This is invaluable for most any event, especially for event chairs newer to charity auctions.
The Right Auctioneer for the Job
Another analogy for you: If you needed heart surgery, would you hire a dentist?
Of course not! Even though a dentist is an equally specialized profession, and some class requirements, like biology and chemistry, overlap - all their education and training is in preparation for a completely different task.
Other types of auctioneers - automobile, cattle, real estate, art and more - may donate or offer a discount on their services, but only a fundraising auctioneer is specially trained to amplify bidding at a fundraising event.
Check out this video from benefit auctioneer specialist Danny Hooper explaining how not only his services but entire mindset differ from that of a cattle auctioneer.
2. Keep the focus on the two biggest revenue generators of the night.
The Live Auction and Fund-a-Need (also known as a paddle raise or special appeal) are the heaviest hitters of the night. About 6 in 10 of our recent webinar attendees said the two combined bring in at least half of their event revenue, and we've found that number can be as high as 60 or 70 percent.
You have a small window of time to raise the majority of your revenue.
With results dependent on the live auction and fund-a-need, it makes sense to invest more money in these two portions of the program - and have a seasoned professional bring his or her proprietary techniques, tricks and tools to knock the live auction and Fund-A-Need out of the park.
"If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional benefit auctioneer, wait until you hire an amateur," Hooper says. You'll be much better off with a seasoned professional in that role.
Local personalities have no idea how to extract money out of an audience - their focus is to entertain. If a local personality or celebrity is donating their time and talents to your cause, why not have them emcee the event, introduce speakers, meet and greet guests and more?
3. An investment that exceeds your goals, costs nothing.
You already know it "takes money to make money" - fundraisers by nature are expensive. So why do we still put them on? Because ideally you'll bring in much more than we spend. The revenue outweighs the resources spent.
In other words, it's worth it!
"Hiring a professional Benefit Auctioneer Specialist will more than make up for their fee with the amount they're able to raise during both the live auction and the fund-a-need," advises Ian Lauth, Creative Director at Winspire. "If you have a goal to raise and you bring in a professional that can strategically help you exceed that goal, then you're playing with house money."
If your goal is to raise $100,000, and your benefit auctioneer helps you raise $120,000, then you're paying for your auctioneer while still exceeding your goal heavily.
An investment that exceeds your goals doesn't cost your organization a penny.
On the other hand, using an unqualified auctioneer can cost your organization tens of thousands of dollars by failing to capture second high bidders, ignite bidding momentum, improperly executing the fund-a-need and more.
4. Cut corners on non-revenue generators instead.
"I've seen nonprofits spend $15,000 or $20,000 on a band, but refuse to hire a professional auctioneer," shares Hale.
The night's entertainment might get a few more people to come and sell more tickets. But unless you're putting on a concert, ticket revenue won't overshadow the auction and fund-a-need. People who attend for the entertainment aren't necessarily going to spend money once they arrive.
The band rarely generates enough return to make up for the expense.
"If people are coming to your event because of the band then I don't see them spending much money when they get there," Hale advises. "Let's build organic. Let's start now and think about our event three years from now. Instead of having to have a high-end bands to get people in the seats, people are going to come because of your mission."
Same goes for the catering (go for chicken instead of beef!), linens, flowers and more. If you can save a few thousand dollars on these items, you can put that money towards an auctioneer to professional facilitate the live auction and paddle raise.
For more ideas on trimming event costs, check out Hale's full webinar here:
5. Secure an underwriter for the auctioneer.
Board still not on board with hiring an auctioneer?
Besides sharing this post with your board, get the cost underwritten by an event sponsor. If an individual or local business can cover some or all of the cost of the benefit auctioneer, it truly costs your organization nothing upfront.
Plus, the donor will appreciate seeing their investment "in action", entertaining the crowd at the event and bringing in a record amount for the cause.
To create your own professional sponsorship letters and forms, download the free Winspire Sponsorship Kit. It comes with sponsorship proposal templates, registration form templates, examples and more.
Where do I find a qualified auctioneer?
First, try reaching out to your state's designated Fundraising Specialist here at Winspire for a free event consultation. We're familiar with reputable auctioneers across North America and would be happy to provide referrals. To schedule a call, fill out this contact form here.
You can also click here to find a designated Benefit Auction Specialist with the National Auctioneers' Association.
When looking for a benefit auctioneer, don't be afraid to negotiate pay, get quotes and ask for references. Look for an auctioneer with a solid track record and repeat clients.