5 reasons nonprofits SHOULDN'T hold an auction

11 Jul 2012 By Roger Devine

Most people reading this blog are helping with the planning of an auction.

But a percentage of readers are “lurkers.” They aren’t yet involved in an auction. They’re scoping it out.

Some are dedicated Board members seeking a new way to help their nonprofit raise money. Some are PTO parents wondering if an auction is right for their school.

This article is for lurkers.

Fact is, I want people to know what they are getting themselves into when they embark on the planning of an auction. When people call me to say, “We’re THINKING of doing an auction,” I don’t try and sell them on the idea.

“When you DECIDE to do an auction,” I’ll say, “Call me. But I don’t want to sell you on the idea of an auction now. If I do, you’ll be cursing my name when you’re typing out item descriptions at 2 AM. I don’t want YOU to associate ME with THAT negativity.”

(Those of you experienced auction planners know what I’m talking about.)

So especially for you lurkers, here are my top five reasons you SHOULD NOT plan an auction.

1. It’s the wrong strategy.

Special events — of which an auction gala is one — are never considered to be a top fundraising strategy. Ask any professional fundraiser. Direct asks, direct mail, continuity programs and other strategies will smack down an auction gala any day of the week.

So if you haven’t yet established some other strategies, reconsider launching an auction.

2. Auctions eat volunteers.

Want to know how quickly you can burn out volunteers? An auction might be a good place to test your experiment. LOTS of volunteers are needed. LOTS of roles to fill.

If you’re short on volunteers and still want a benefit auction, better hire an auctioneer who can help you onsite with the many jobs needing to be filled.

3. Auctions are time suckers.

In my research, an auction chair will spend 1,000 hours — that’s 6 months of (unpaid) full-time work — planning an auction. That doesn’t include the time her committee members put into the planning.

Golly, who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?

4. Auctions are stressful.

Nitpicky guests contribute to this point. Guests don’t turn in RSVPs by the deadline or at all. They are particular about whom they will sit next to. They don’t eat red meat / chicken / green vegetables. They show up late onsite.

Curse those $&#! attendees who make your life a living hell.

5. Auctions are complicated.

They involve DOZENS of moving parts. Reservations. Procurement. Registration. Checkout. Payment. Set-up. Catering. A/V Production. Contracts upon contracts.

You’re ability to stay on top of everything while remembering inane details will be tested daily, but especially in the final hours leading up to the auction when you’ve had the least amount of sleep.

The complexity extends to “behind the scenes” knowledge. What you SEE at an auction is more complex than what you THINK.

What does that mean?

It means that an auction might look_straightforward. It might _look like you offer an item and people bid. It might look like you ask for money, and people spontaneously give.

To a degree that is true. But the most successful events have a lot more going on behind the scenes than what you realize. (Work with a good benefit auctioneer to understand the nuances.)

All that said …

Now, what’s good about auctions?

  • Well-done auctions generate significant donations.
  • Established events are fairly predictable in their income.
  • Auctions are highly interactive.
  • Guests love fun live auctions and will donate more the better orchestrated they are.
  • Auctions are excellent at building a base of donors to be cultivated.
  • Volunteers often prefer asking for in-kind donation than asking for cash.
  • Businesses and individual donors participate simultaneously.
  • And so forth.

But auctions aren’t for the faint of heart.

So if you’re debating about holding an auction, be cautious. The grass will always look greener across the fence.

©2012 Red Apple Auctions Co. All rights reserved.

Benefit auctioneer Sherry Truhlar publishes “Benefit Auction Ideas,” a bi-monthly e-zine for auction chairs seeking to improve the financial results of their charity auctions. Get your own copy – and a FREE gift! - at www.RedAppleAuctions.com.