To keep the focus on fundraising at your event, you want to employ fresh and exciting income streams. One that has generated plenty of interest in our webinars: the Wildcard Auction™. This is an entertaining, fast-paced revenue opportunity that can raise tens of thousands of dollars for your cause—without requiring any extra time or resources to procure items!
Sound too good to be true? It's not, and today you'll learn exactly how you can try this at your next fundraising event.
Below are all the resources you need to run your own Wildcard Auction: an instructional video, step-by-step guide, printable Wildcard form (PDF) and customizable template (Word).
Origins of the Wildcard Auction
Today's idea comes to us from benefit auctioneer specialist Danny Hooper. Check out his experience with his very first Wildcard Auction:
"For years and years, people would come up to me after the live auction and say, 'You know what, I would have been happy to donate something, but nobody asked me.' I heard this over and over.
Finally, at a rotary auction event, I decided to try something new.
I took a pack of neon-colored index cards and tossed a couple on each table. Then I said from the stage, 'Folks, tonight I’m gonna try something called a Wildcard Auction. If you've got an item you could donate to the live auction tonight, write down your name, your phone number and the item you’d like to donate, then send it up to the stage.'
The very first night I did this, we made $46,500 off the floor."
Talk about a powerful opportunity! In an hour or less, spontaneous donations had generated nearly 47 grand for the rotary club.
This illustrates a fundamental principle of fundraising: You never know what people can give, unless you ask.
Wildcard Auction How-to Video with Example
This instructional video explains everything you need to know about the Wildcard Auction, plus see real footage of a Catholic charity raising $3,000 off one wildcard item!
Wildcard Auction Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Put blank cards on each table. Try using neon colored index cards, which you can buy at any office supply store. They are eye-catching and easily distinguished from other items lying on the tables (like programs and bid cards).
Step 2: Have your auctioneer or emcee explain the concept of a Wildcard Auction. You might say, "Tonight we're doing something we've never tried before, and it's called a Wildcard Auction. We'll be taking in-kind donations from anyone who'd like to give, then auctioning those items off right now! We're looking for items like a weekend getaway in your vacation home, a catered dinner, box seats at a sporting event, a private tour, backstage access at a local venue and more. Do you have access to unique items or experiences that other generous donors in the room might like?"
As you saw in the video, the event chair introduced the Wildcard Auction with plenty of laughs and banter. The purpose of the Wildcard is to both raise money and entertain, so you want to keep it fun and comfortable for everyone to participate.
Step 3: Allot 3 to 5 minutes for guests to brainstorm items and fill out the cards. You can "prime the pump" by informing top donors or board members of this opportunity earlier in the evening.
Instruct donors to include the following pertinent information on their cards:
- Contact information (name, email address, phone number)
- Description of item, special conditions / restrictions and retail value (if applicable)
To help, we've created Wildcard Auction forms (printable PDF and customizable Word template) that show exactly what information to collect from donors and bidders. Just click below to access your copies.
Step 4: Begin collecting donor forms and passing cards up to the stage. It's always fun to see the neon colored cards make their way up to the stage!
Step 5: Have the auctioneer go through the cards and choose the best donations. (Note: Your auctioneer will be in the driver's seat here, deciding which items to use, how many to include, how to pace the auction and more.)
Here's a few simple guidelines to help your auctioneer finalize the Wildcard picks:
- Who sets the price? While there is no reserve or minimum opening bid on the wildcards, it's helpful for the donor to put an estimated value if applicable. For example, if someone has a vacation property down in Cabo San Lucas, they can note on the card that it’s a lovely private home that rents for $5,000 weekly. That information is helpful to the live auctioneer.
- Which items? It's important to note that you don’t always accept all the cards that come forward. Services like a haircut or teeth whitening tend to fetch lower bids, whereas exclusive experiences like a fishing trip on a private boat do very well (see the video above for more examples).
- How many? You may get too many items, you may have fewer. How many items you include depends on the rest of the night's program, the quality of the items and your auctioneer's discretion. If the crowd is attentive and engaged, having 8 to 12 Wildcard auction items works well.
Step 6: Auction off the items. We suggest starting the auction while you're collecting cards. Fact is, recognition and momentum help spur other donations!
Imagine the first card has come up. The auctioneer stops everything and announces the item. "We have just received our first wildcard donation: Jim and Teresa Smith have donated two football tickets to see next Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. Let's give them a huge round of applause! These are unbelievable seats!"
As people start to realize there's no limit to what they can offer, more cards will come to the front.
The Wildcard Auction is a can't-miss opportunity not only for this year's revenue but next year as well. During the auction, you'll have donors in the room that, just one or two weeks ago, said no to your donation requests. Now, caught up in the excitement and emotions of the night, they're seeing friends make donations and asking themselves how they can contribute to the cause. These last-minute additions to your auction provide excellent starting ground for next year's procurement process.
If you're wondering how long the process typically takes, each wildcard item can be sold in just one or two minutes. The auctioneer should be rattling off the items and getting them sold as quickly as possible. You can spread out the items throughout the live auction, or do all the items at once after the regular live auction - whenever works for your event and audience.
Step 7: At the end of the night, announce the grand total raised through your silent, live and wildcard auctions. Check out the donations and resulting revenue from a recent Wildcard Auction:
As you can see, some surprising items can come through the doors and generate more interest than you might think.
For example, the "painless vasectomy" donated by the town doctor ignited a bidding war, sold twice and raised $7,600—and one of those eager bidders was a couple about 8 months pregnant. In the video, a parish priest donated guaranteed front row seating at midnight mass on Christmas eve (called "a pew with a view"). And one of our clients had a movie star keynote speaker donate a private movie screening that sold three times and raised $32,000.
Encourage guests to stretch their imagination!
Now when it comes to final results, your mileage may vary. Sometimes you may not get much of a response. However, more often than not, it does work. Lots of times smaller events will pick up an extra 5 or 10 grand—and sometimes you'll have a home run night and hit $50,000.
When you've put this much thought and effort into hosting an incredible event, why wouldn't you try one more fun activity to raise more for your cause?
There are many different types of simple auctions that can bring in big bucks. Other ideas you can include are the legacy, sealed bid, super silent auction and more.
Information on these different revenue streams can be found on Winspire News and in our latest resource, Checklist Builder. This is a web-based program that combines auction expertise with checklists to ensure no details fall through the cracks. The Wildcard Auction form is just one example of many practical, time-saving resources embedded inside.
Click below to sign up free today.
Your turn: Have you ever tried a Wildcard Auction or similar idea? How did your audience respond?