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Holding a Successful Fundraising Auction

Fundraising Auctions are a great way to raise money for your group while providing a fun event for the community. Here are some tips to help your event go smoothly:

1. Organize Volunteers and decide on your reasons for the auction.
This may include raising money (how much?), publicizing your organization and cause, renewing commitment among your members, and/or recruiting new members. Deciding on your reasons will help you narrow your focus for the auction and will make planning go more smoothly. This will also help you determine the ďmoodĒ you want for the auction. Will it be fun and family oriented, upscale and classy or a good, old-fashioned country auction?

2. Gather items to be sold.
Sending out a donation request item to your members is a great way to start with item procurement. Emphasize the fact that you are not asking for more money, but rather are providing a service (recycling items that they no longer need) and you will get lots of members willing to clean out their attics and garages for a good cause. You can also approach local businesses for gift certificates or items. Often times they will donate for the opportunity to advertise their business to your crowd. You may also want to place ads or fliers locally requesting donations. Donít overlook local auctioneers and antique dealers that may have items as well.

Some items that tend not to sell well at auctions are exercise equipment, appliances including microwaves, refrigerators and stoves, (unless brand new), wheelchairs or medical equipment, mattresses, broken toys and non-working electronic equipment. You may wish to screen callers or have someone supervising donations so items that you donít get stuck with unwanted items.

You will need to decide ahead of time what to do with unsold items. Giving them away for free is an option, however you may not be able to get rid of it. Have a volunteer willing to take items away and a budget for a possible dump bill if necessary.

3. Choose a Facility
You will need to find a place to hold the auction. Your organization may have a facility or may be able to rent one (ask owner if they would consider donating the space for your cause). You will need to take into consideration the amount of people you expect to attend, available parking, restrooms, if there are stairs that furniture will need to go up or down (this may still work but you will want to have volunteers available to help with moving of larger items), can food/beverages (alcohol if you wish) be served and the dates the facility is available. If possible getting the facility a day ahead of time to set up for the auction is ideal. Donít forget the clean up time. If you have larger items, customers may ask if they can leave items to be picked up at a later date. Find out ahead of time if it is possible to leave items behind for a few days or when you need to be out of the space.

4. Choose a Date for the Event
Check other local events that may draw a similar crowd. Weekends and evenings are the best times for auctions. Plan your set-up and clean-up time into your date. Expect the auction to last at least 2 or 3 hours.

5. Choose an Auctioneer
A professional auctioneer is a great choice. He or she can help with suggestions and ideas for the auction as well as call the bids. Ask for their rates and find out exactly what their fee covers. We generally charge 10% of gross sales. Ask if the auctioneer will train volunteers, has forms and bid cards you can use, and if he or she has a sound system for the event. A good auctioneer will often know what sells best and will help you determine an order of items for the sale. She or he will also pace the auction and will make sure the audience is having a good time and the bids are flowing. Knowledge in the business will help with accurate item valuation and starting bids that reflect the value of items. An auctioneer may also have leads in the business and will invite other dealers and possible interested parties to your event. Remember, more people = more bids = more money for your organization. Never underestimate the value of a good auctioneer.

6. Advertise the Auction
Use your regular membership mailings in addition to placing ads in local newspapers, publications and radio/tv calendars. You may also want handbills and fliers posted around

7. Train Volunteers
Your auctioneer will be able to help with this. You will need runners to hold items up and bring items to the buyers, a scribe to keep track of what sells and a cashier to check people in and out. A good auctioneer will be able to show you the best way to organize the volunteers so you have an efficient, working system of running items, tallying bids and checking people out. Donít forget a set-up and clean-up crew.

Finally, after the auction is over hold a meeting to discuss what worked, what didnít work and what you might want to do better next time. Donít forget to send thank you notes out to anyone that donated items or helped out with the event. Hopefully, the event can become a regular fundraising opportunity for your organization that everyone looks forward to.

About the Author: Shelly Lanciani and her husband Walt Kolenda own Quick Auction Service in Barre, MA. They are available to organize and run fundraising auctions across New England. You may contact them at

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