“The primary reason I see charity auctions fail to achieve expectations
is they simply refuse to get out of their own way,” Robertson said.
“They focus on the costs of hosting the event instead of the return on
investment. Also, they are often more concerned with throwing a party
than hosting a fundraising event.”
Kathy Kingston, BAS, is also a Benefit Auction Specialist and has
actually written the book on the subject, “A Higher Bid: How to
Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Auctions.” She knows
skilled Benefit Auctioneers add value, but can back it up with facts –
an NAA-sponsored study published a few years ago reveals that
Auctioneers with the BAS designation raise about twice as much money for
their clients compared to the auction outcomes where the BAS credential
“It’s imperative that professional benefit auctioneers not only sell
items,” Kingston said, “but they have to sell the mission of the
Benefit Auctioneers often begin working a benefit auction months before
the night of the event. If it’s done right, their work continues to pay
off long after the auction event has ended.
“Asking ‘how can I raise money?’ is the wrong question,” Kingston said.
“How can we have more fun? How can we create excitement? How can we
create a dynamic culture of giving that engages your guest at your
auction and beyond?”
Benefit Auction Strategy
The benefit auction, like any other auction, involves strategy.
Robertson compares his events to snowflakes – “no two are alike.” He
approaches every client with open and honest communication. They work
together to establish goals, financial and otherwise, through an auction
committee. The committee should also be focused on audience development
and quality item procurement, he said.
“Audience development is a 365-day priority for successful
not-for-profit organizations,” Robertson said, “not just something to
focus on the last 30 days before the auction.”
Furthermore, Robertson said society today is constantly plugged in,
always feeling the need to be entertained (“i.e. checking Facebook at a
red light”), which is why the auction gala needs to proceed without
“They can never drag,” he said. “So, an efficient timeline is more important than ever.”
Kingston’s strategy these days weighs heavily on something called
“fund-a-need.” She refers to it as the “most powerful” way to raise
money. Essentially, auction participants aren’t bidding on a tangible
item in a “fund-a-need” auction. Rather, they are moved to give to the
cause and go home with a good feeling rather than an item.
“It’s an opportunity for every single guest to raise their bid card to
give a straight donation to the cause at a level that is meaningful to
them,” Kingston said.
The fund-a-need portion of the benefit auction has been an “epic
success,” Kingston said. However, when it comes to strategy, a
one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist. In some auctions there is no
silent or live auction, just a fund-a-need. In others, the fund-a-need
will become before the live auction, while in others it comes after.
However, one thing she knows no Benefit Auctioneer should do is put the
fundraising portion of the event at the end of the night.
“It’s financial suicide,” she said. “Do it much earlier than you’ve ever done it in the past.”
Robertson and Kingston both agree that Benefit Auctioneers will do
themselves a great service when they invest the energy into earning the
BAS designation. However, it takes more than a week or so of coursework
to become a successful benefit auction professional. Both agree that
becoming literate in the terminology of non-profits is extremely
“Learn as much as you possibly can about every charity you work for,”
Robertson advises. “So, when you’re on stage, you are the goodwill
ambassador for the charity that evening.”
Kingston believes an effort should be made to attend the annual BAS
summit, look into the various national and international organizations
related to fundraising, go to local and regional meetings, and get
motivated to learn and stay fresh on benefit auction techniques.
“Work collaboratively with Auctioneers who are accomplished Benefit
Auctioneers,” she said. “I think it’s one of the most powerful ways they
show their leadership skills in the industry.
“Auctioneers are leaders. Here’s another whole facet (of their abilities) that Auctioneers can showcase.”