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Four Ways to Invest in Your Benefit Auction Success

By Sherry Truhlar

Whether you are a volunteer Gala Chair or a paid Special Events Manager, you want your event to be a success. Let’s look at some investments which will make your job easier and make you look good!

1. Invest your time upfront in placing volunteers into appropriate roles where they can shine.

Not all volunteers are created equal. To ensure fewer headaches for you later, make an effort early in the process to get to know your volunteers and committee members. Find out their interests and strengths.

Two years ago my friend launched the first-ever Reading Festival in her Kansas hometown with the help of her Altrusa Club members. As a former human resources manager, interviewing club members for the right volunteer role came easily to her. Sometimes the “interview” was a simple meeting over lunch which provided my friend with enough information to determine if her fellow Club member was the best fit for a particular committee. You could do the same.

The other advantage of interviews is that you begin to establish a relationship. Developing an individual connection early-on will help your working relationship down the road.

2. Focus on making high-impact decisions.

Once you’ve invested the time to place people in proper jobs, get out of the way of your team. They have their goals and/or budget from you, they have been tasked with their work, so that means you should be focused on making big-picture decisions.

In other words, don’t worry about the color of the napkins. Focus on the whatever will make your event a “success” in the eyes of your organization. Is it hitting a specific financial target? Is it providing a memorable ceremony for the community leader awards (and the fundraising portion is secondary)? Keep your attention on the big goal.

3. Invest in the best vendors you can find.

Whether you are selecting a production company, a caterer, or a benefit auctioneer, you will never second-guess yourself if you hire the best you can find. Save yourself from headaches by investing for success.

When I was in high school, Skaggs Alpha Beta (since bought out by Jewel-Osco, then Albertson’s) opened a grocery store in a nearby town. My cost-conscious Mom asked the bakery department manager where the “day old” baked goods were marked down and sold.

The Manager told my Mom that Skaggs didn’t sell any day-old cakes. Cakes that weren’t sold were thrown out with the garbage.


The Manager told my Mom, “People never remember the deal they got on the cake. They remember that the cake tasted stale. We only sell fresh cakes.”

Interesting point.

If the sound system doesn’t work at your event, or if your auctioneer doesn’t handle the appeal correctly, is your auction committee going to remember the *deal* they got, or will they remember the mistakes that were made?

4. Go with your gut feeling, heart, intuition, or whatever you want to call it.

Yesterday when I bought my pricey training package, I didn’t know exactly how I would pay for it. It’s been 24 hours, and I’m still wondering how these monthly payments are going to work into my budget.

That said, I am not in a panic, and I’m certainly not experiencing buyer’s remorse. In contrast, I’m excited! I knew in my heart that when I stepped out to accept this, my investment would pay off. I’d rather temporarily live in a “I wonder how this is going to work out” mode than permanently live in a “I wonder what would have happened if….” mode.

Something felt right, and I acted on my feeling.

I encourage you to do the same as you work on your day-to-day tasks. Make the phone call to a potential donor when you are excited to do so; not when you are dreading the talk. Send an email when you are inspired. Not every action will give you a positive or negative urge, but some of those bigger decisions … the larger “risks” in your mind … will push your buttons one way or another.

Remember, auctions are supposed to be fun! Go with the flow of your own impulses, and you’ll more enjoy the ride. It’s not always easy, but we all get better with practice.

SHERRY TRUHLAR, CMP, BAS has worked as an award-winning benefit auctioneer since 2003. Her company, Red Apple Auctions LLC caters to non-profits, providing auction planners with step-by-step systems to align their creativity with the science behind what makes an auction successful. Last year, two of her clients – the Larry King Cardiac Foundation and the Washington Performing Arts Society – were included in BIZBASH magazine’s Top 100 D.C. events. Her ever-popular FREE 2008 Auction Item Guide, “What Sold Great in 2008” (listing 100+ of the top yielding and top selling items she sold in 2008) is offered as a “juicy” bonus to those signing up for her complementary Ezine. Visit for more good things.

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