How Bad Can an Auction Be? – Lose Sanity and Money on an Auction

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 11:31 am

Most charity auctions are events that can be extremely wearing on volunteers but are worth it because they raise large amounts of cash.  Most does not mean all.

I was recently (6 weeks before the event) asked to help with an event for an extremely worthy charity. They knew they didn’t quite have it down because last year they never collected the payments for the items that were auctioned. As I listened to their tale of woe it became clear that they had unconsciously assumed the massive goodwill they had would help them glide over any of their failures in running an event.

Lesson 1 – People who care about your cause enough to shell out a significant amount for a lunch or dinner will not give you infinite slack. 

Item winners at the ill-fated auction were not clear on which basket they won and many apparently took the wrong basket. This was exacerbated because some winners took the correct basket, on closer inspection decided it was not really what they wanted, and took another. Those going home with the ‘wrong’ basket refused to pay when contacted later.

Lesson 2 Clarity is Key – Descriptions must be clear and bid sheets must be clearly tied to an item. Even if you deliver the basket won and immediately collect for a poorly presented item, the bad will created is awful.

At another auction I helped a friend with, the descriptions for vacation homes were confusing. In most cases people just moved on to items they could figure out and didn’t bid. In one case, several active bidders were under the impression that they were bidding on the house for a prime season period. In reality, and accurately stated, the house was for the off-season.  Saying that the house was available from Labor Day to Memorial Day was too close in wording to a summer rental from Memorial to Labor Day.  Switching to actual date availability and playing up the use of the house for a special Thanksgiving retreat for an extended family made it much more popular.

Lesson 3 – Process is Key – Find a compulsive person to run the administrative chores during the event. This person (and their team) needs to have in mind how the auction will end, how items will be billed, how items will be delivered to the winner, how payment will be collected and how unsold items will be handled.

Auctions don’t have to be nightmares. Keep on track and plan to have a very successful event.

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