The Not-So-Silent-Auction (Part One)

The silent auction, always playing second fiddle to the greater fanfare live auction, is often forgotten as it is shoved to the beginning of the gala, hidden away during cocktail hour and before the seated dinner.  We forget the silent auction can play many roles, kind of the Robin Williams of the benefit gala.  When placed at the beginning of the event, it serves as the kickoff to the event, setting the mood and expectations for the rest of the evening.  When done properly (that is to say, by a professional auctioneer who understands the important role of silent auctions), it serves as a warm-up to the live auction, giving the crowd a taste of bidding frenzy as the sections are counted down…90 seconds, 10 seconds…And, finally, yes…it’s there to make money!  Done poorly, it can be a boring addition to the evening and what are your patron’s expectations of the rest of the evening if the silent auction is poorly executed?

So how do we accomplish all of these things in one simple silent auction? 

There is nothing silent about a silent auction

There are many factors to consider, but here are a few helpful ideas to get you going in the right direction:  First, do not put minimum bids on your bid sheets.  You need to get the auction started!  Remember, it’s not an auction until two people equally desire the same item.  If you have minimum bids, you won’t get the auction started and you’ll have a lot of blank sheets and a nervous auction committee.  A nervous committee and a snooze fest…sound fun?  Generally, you only have 60-90 minutes for the silent auction, so get pen to paper as quickly as possible, the bids will climb – auctions are a ladder up process.  Second…no valuations on the bid sheets.  You are not Macy’s. (Do you know what happens at Macy’s if they don’t sell an item on Monday?  Right, they sell it on Tuesday.  You don’t have that luxury).  Items have been 100% donated and you need to sell them all, quickly.  A client recently came up to me after the close of a silent auction and asked what they should do with an item that did not get bid on, even though they had printed that the value was $500 (obviously nice) and they modestly started the bidding at $300.  “Are you kidding me?” was my thought bubble.  What I actually said was, “Why did you put a valuation and why did you have a minimum?”  The answer was, “So our guests would know what a great deal they’re getting.”…And, “how’s that working for ya?” was my final response.

Your gala is not a retail store.  Your patrons will tell you how much an item is worth on that particular night.  It’s worth whatever the highest bidder will pay.

Ok, You’re off to a good start…

Tune in for the next post:  The Not-So-Silent Auction (Part Two), where we will talk about section closing and appropriate number of items

Happy Bidding, Joey


Has your Live Auction become less lively?

Has your live auction lost all of it’s excitement?  Are your bidders more interested in the table decorations than they are in the item up for bid?  If this is the case of your event, you have bigger problems than a stale auction…you have a boring event that isn’t making money.  But, no worries, the doctor is in!

You have one signature fundraiser each year for your organization, and if you get it wrong, you wait 364 days to correct the problems…something you just can’t afford to do in this tight economy.  Many of you might think that because your format worked back in 2006 or 2007, that it should should still work today.  Guess what?  Everybody’s format was working in 2006 and 2007, because people were writing checks without thought.  I dare say that even events with non-professional auctioneers were fairly successful, because whether your auction was conducted properly (or not), the money was still there.  Times are different and our clients realize that a successful live auction takes into consideration the entire event:  the timeline of the evening, the proper number of items, the type of items, the right emcee, the right sound system, a seated dinner (as opposed to standing/grazing on heavy hors d’oeuvres) and perhaps most important, marketing your items ahead of time via your event website!  And you just thought a few random items would work.  Indeed there is a psychology to well run auctions. 

We had a client recently who asked us to conduct their auction that included some high-end artwork at a museum.  The event started at 6pm with cocktails with a well-heeled crowd and seated dinner at far, so good right? Yes…so far.   We found out that though they had spent 10’s of thousands on food, liquor, wine, etc (see, they thought the event was about food and the dinner and forgot that their main purpose was to raise money)…they had not invested $700 on a professional sound system (our first red flag).  The live auction was to start at 8pm…at 8:50pm we were still waiting to go.  Red flag #2.  Finally, at 9:15pm, with desserts still being passed out by the wait staff, we were instructed to “go go go”.  Are you kidding me?  So, at this point, people had been drinking for 3+ hours (yes, they were rowdy), they had a puny house sound system (that you couldn’t hear),  people were full and ready to leave and we were starting a 45 minute long auction.  Needless to say, no matter how good WE are, we can’t overcome a poorly run event, bad sound and a drunk crowd.  On the flip side…2 days later we conducted another art auction, where the group listened to our suggestions, was open to a unique art auction format and they knocked it out of the park and people had an entertaining evening (believe me…selling the first two paintings for $11,000 each is incredibly entertaining!).

In future blogs, we’ll get more specific about number of items, types of items and timeline.  What I want you take away from this entry, is that successful live auctions do not spontaneously combust…the entire night must be planned around your largest profit center!  With over 450 benefit auctions under our belt, your team at Granger Thagard has seen it ALL!  Our job is to make sure you don’t have to.

Happy Bidding! – Joey Longoria