If you’re worried about the economy, you may be focusing on the wrong thing. Non-profit organizations are achieving auction success today by charting their course on the things that they CAN control to reverse the trends that many benefit auctions are experiencing due to the tough economy. These predictable yet controllable factors include: fewer attendance; auction items not achieving full or over value; use of volunteer auctioneers; cautious spending by guests; inadequate planning, lower sponsor participation, reticent bidding and sluggish events that do not maximize each and every revenue stream. How’s it done? Luckily, most fundraising auctions have many, many areas that are not yet optimized for maximum results. In other words, by working smarter, you can keep your auction proceeds strong.

“We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” This mariner’s maxim reminds us to continually adapt in the face of unpredictable conditions. To navigate a chaotic economy and myriad auction details, focus on these winning strategies to maximize your fundraising auction efforts.

1. Spotlight your Mission

The most important aspect of a fundraising auction is to make sure that all of your guests understand exactly where the money is going and how much their efforts in bidding will go to support your wonderful cause. “People do not give to needy organizations, they give to lofty causes that can make a difference,” said Sharon Danosky, Fundraising Consultant, Danosky & Associates. First and foremost: Brand your mission. With a captive audience for the entire evening ensure that everyone understands exactly how you benefit your clients and your community. Here is the key. Be explicit about your cause in every auction communication and promotion: mailings, newsletters, save the date card, invitation, communication, catalog and even auction forms. On auction night, place banners and photos that showcase your programs and services all around the auction venue and stage. Place informative table tents on the dinner tables and in between each silent auction item. Showcase how you are making a difference and how your supporters are part of the solution.

2. Deepen Relationships – Cultivate!

In addition to raising money, Benefit Auctions provide an extraordinary platform for Friend Raising too! Remember, people give to people for causes they care about. So make it easy for your supporters to bid higher! Your non profit auction provides a momentous opportunity to deepen relationships with guests, sponsors, members, board of directors, trustees, prospective donors and yes, volunteers too! Here are a few cultivation ideas for your next auction. Several weeks prior to your auction, hold a pre-auction reception where you and your board can personally meet major donors, sponsors and prospective VIP guests and highlight your cause and preview key auction items. During the silent auction, ask your board and auction committee members to personally greet five guests they do not know and welcome them to your auction. Empower your supporters with a personal connection; reach out to make sure they understand how their contribution will benefit your clients and your community. Most importantly, approach your benefit auction as a cultivation event and you will ensure that your auction will be a catalyst for future giving, such as annual appeal, major gifts and planned giving and capital campaigns. By deepening relationships with auction supporters, you invite investment and involvement far beyond auction night.

3. ASK!

And do not stop asking; be unabashedly explicit about raising money and where you need the funds! In many cases the economy has had challenging effects on your guests and sponsors, and in some cases it has not. NOW is the time to communicate how much your donor’s investment will positively impact your cause. Be proactive at your auction. It’s crucial to tell your guests and donors that you need their support now more than ever – without using the economy as a crutch. In your auction promotions and on auction night, be specific and explain how your organization is making a difference. Invite your auction guests, sponsors and donors to be part of the solution. For fundraising auctions today that means a personal approach. Now it the time to engage your board, staff and key supporters to personally follow up and connect with potential donors, sponsor and prospects. Make sure every single donor in your database knows what you are doing and why their involvement is so critical to your continued success. As a very wise person once said: If you don’t ask, the answer is always the same!” A presidential campaign not too many years ago used the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid,” to keep their staff focused on one issue that really mattered to voters. However for benefit auctions, it’s all about YOUR GREAT CAUSE and how you can focus and inspire your guests to generously support your organization. If you are serious about increasing auction profits, design a dynamic climate for giving at your next benefit auction. By branding your mission, deepening personal connections with your auction guests and explicitly asking for investment in your cause, you can have a record breaking fundraising auction in any economy.

By Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS,
Reprinted with permission from the author