Throughout the course of the year I’m contacted by various charities and organizations searching for a fundraising auctioneer. When the decision maker makes the call and signs the contract everything moves smoothly along. Where the system bogs down is when I hear the words, “I’ll need to present your credentials and agreement to our full committee and will get back in touch with you.”
The decision regarding who to hire as a fundraising auctioneer should never be delegated to a full committee. Sure, it sounds great and wonderful to have everyone aboard, but the problem is, “too many cooks spoil the broth.
Recently, the Executive Director of an organization wanted to hire me for their upcoming fundraiser. The Event Chair also wanted to hire me. But both wanted to get everyone on the full committee to agree. When you bring in a lot of people a number of issues pop up, many of which are unfair as the auctioneer is not present to answer the question and resolve the concern.
Based upon feedback I hear the top three issues that arise during the full committee meeting are:
1) Someone will say “we are all volunteers, we shouldn’t have to pay for an auctioneer/consultant.
2) Some committee member says “I saw someone who did a really good job at the _______ gala. I will get more information on that person and present it to the committee”, thus delaying the decision until at least the next meeting. (Do not be surprised when this committee member forgets to get the information and delays things even further.)
3) Another committee member says “I know someone with a great personality, and is really funny, who might be willing to be our auctioneer.
This list could go on and on as suddenly the committee is more concerned with price than with performance. They forget the decision should always be based on ROI, return on investment.
So, from the time the charity or organization first contacts me to the time they get back to me with a decision weeks may have gone by. During this waiting period, a different group not only contacted me, but signed the agreement to hire me, which left me no other choice but to tell the other group, “Sorry, but I’m already booked.”
I learned from the past – I can’t hold dates for organizations. When full committees get involved in the decision process, precious time is lost, and that often results in disappointment.
The solution is simple – the decision to hire an auctioneer should be made by a steering committee of two or three people – but no more than five. This steering committee needs to take the lead and make the decisions so everything is handled efficiently and effectively. These are the people that deal with the consulting portion of the auctioneer services for the months leading up to the fundraising event. The full committee needs to trust those in the steering committee to make the executive decisions.
Do you have additional questions? Contact Scott today!
Ahh summertime – the four months out of the year when people relax and recharge their batteries. Families head out on vacation. Picnics are held in local parks. Florida folks tend to head to cooler climates. And charities reconnect with their donors.
Oh, did that last one throw you off? Well, let me explain.
Summertime is the best time to reach out to those donors and supporters who gave so generously at your last fundraiser or auction. That’s because your event was probably held between October and May so you’re in that ‘tween stage. The last event is a distant memory but the next event is heading for the spotlight.
It’s always important to remind your donors and supporters that the money they gave last time is being utilized successfully and frugally. Saying thank you – whether it be by spoken word or written note – is important and much appreciated by those who gave.
But it’s even more important that your donors and supporters understand the money they gave previously is being invested wisely and really changing the lives of those for whom the donation was intended.
This summertime reconnection with donors and supporters should be packaged in a three-level message. Here’s an example.
Let’s say a portion of the money raised at your last event was going toward funding reading or math tutoring sessions for students. The message you send to donors and supporters should include the following:
2) A Message From The Tutor. This person is not only the engineer guiding the train of knowledge, but is an eye witness to the progress of the life-enhancing, one-student classroom.
3) A Message From The Director or CEO. Yes, this is from whom donors and supporters would typically expect to receive a message. This person is important since he or she can give an overall picture of the program, explain how many students the program helped and how it made a difference in their lives. This is also a good note to
include a simple sentence of “save the date” to reconfirm the date of your upcoming event.
Of course, this technique can be tailor made to reflect the charity you represent. So, even if it’s the dog days of summer, be sure to reconnect with your donors and supporters. This is the ideal time of the year to let them know their previous donation is being put to good use.
This will accomplish two things. It will make them feel good about the money they gave and just might open their wallets a little wider or make their checks a little heavier the next time they attend your event.
Did you know a fundraising auctioneer is much like a power company? They both must watch and adjust their energy level output at all times.
For me, it starts prior to an auction during the cocktail reception. I take a good look at the audience prior to launching the live auction and try to get a sense of the energy in the room. I do that because when I come out I want my energy level to be 10 to 15% higher than the level of energy of the attendees.
If we start the live auction with the Fund-a-Need/Special Appeal, I reduce my energy to just 5% above the audience. I want to capture the somber feeling of the moment – and allow the attendees to recognize the good work they are about to do with their donations. Then once the gifts start to roll in, I increase my energy level up an additional 10% to entice the audience to participate by exhibiting my heart-felt gratitude for their generosity.
I don’t want to be a whole lot higher than that because I don’t want to come out looking like some crazy guy, which can set some people back, especially at first time events. I also don’t want to come out at their energy level because positive energy is contagious. When people see I’m energetic then they usually adjust themselves accordingly.
Energy levels during an auction fluctuate. The attendees can get more excited or less excited, depending on many variables including, but not limited to:
As the auctioneer, I’ve got to recognize the ebb and flow of the energy level in the room and adjust accordingly. If the energy level in the room goes up, I go up, maintaining that 10 to 15% higher level than the audience. If we’re all fired up – we’re really winning. Auctioneers want to do the best they can without becoming that “obnoxious host”, who is just so high energy he or she leaves everyone back in the dust. It’s all about audience analysis and being able to regulate one’s own energy level as the event continues forward. Remember, auctioneers should be entertaining – not the entertainment!
I find the key is to be able to adjust my energy level, and not be a robot on stage always staying at the same level. Adjusting my energy level during the auction is almost like a dance. You have to give your audience what they want. And what they want in an auctioneer is someone who is fun, energetic, enthusiastic, passionate about the cause, and understands where the money is going. All these components have to reflect in the auctioneer’s voice, body language and facial expressions. That’s what makes a good auctioneer great at what they do.
The energy level is all about relating to the crowd. If I’m too high, I’m going to lose the audience. If I’m too low, I’m not going to bring them up to the desired energy level. So, I want to start out with a 10 to 15% higher energy level than they are. Hopefully I’ll bring them up 10 to 15% within a few items, if not sooner. Than I’m going to go up another 10 to 15%, which means I will be at a 30% higher energy level than when I first started to analyze the room prior to making my entrance. How do I know this? Well, 20-plus-years’ experience as a professional benefit auctioneer helps. Of course, there’s always lessons learned through trial and error.
But, I’ve really been studying the human dynamics of speakers and presenters my entire life. I can even remember silently evaluating my 3rd grade teacher thinking, “She should have presented the lesson in another way to capture my classmates’ attention.” My classmates and I might have been more engaged in the lesson if she had been more engaging”. And that’s why one of the secrets to a successful fundraiser is to have an auctioneer that can accurately gage an audience – and truly understands and can manipulate the energy level at an event. It’s absolutely crucial to maximize revenue. Your auctioneer should be able to sense the energy level of the room prior to taking the stage and then adjust his or her level slightly higher than the crowds. As the audience’s energy level starts to climb, the auctioneer’s climbs as well, always staying that 10% to 15% higher.
It’s much like a professional mountain climber taking a party up a slope. He leads the way while the others follow closely behind. As he steps higher. They step higher. As they start getting close, he advances a little further upward, encouraging and enticing them to an even higher level. Eventually, everyone reaches the top and feels self-fulfilling accomplishment. As for the leader – he just smiles knowing he helped the climbers reach an incredible goal – at the top.
A highlight of the live auction was the martini glass signed by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame. The glass was beautifully designed and once the bidding reached $20,000 for the glass, generous supporters Jay & Patty Baker stepped up and offered to donate 2 exclusive tickets to a Hamilton show on Broadway. The tickets increased the value of the package to $40,000 with the Bakers being the winning bidders. At that moment, Patty with a gleam in her eyes announced, “Scott I will donate the tickets to the auction if you sell them right now”. The bidding escalated to $15,000 for the pair of tickets, thus bringing the total value of the package to $55,000.
After 20-plus years as a Professional Benefit Auctioneer, I’ve seen charities and organizations make plenty of mistakes when it comes to the Live Auction portion of their fundraising event. Here’s one of the biggest:
Charities or organizations intentionally decide to have items in their live auction which they feel all attendees can afford.
You know the drill – putting three or four items up for bid, in the live auction, that will meet everyone’s price point. By doing this you probably feel better because now everyone can participate in the excitement and have the chance to take something home at the end of the night.
This sure sounds like a great idea. The problem is – come Monday morning – your bottom line will suffer.
You must remember, it takes as much time, effort and energy to auction low priced items as it does more expensive items – and for less money.
Here’s a great example –
You have a trip valued at $3,000 – $5,000 vs. an item in the $20,000 – $25,000 range. Even if the trip would get the top bid of $5,000 – the charity leaves potentially $20,000 on the table. Add that up three to four times during a live auction and you begin to see my point.
(For the record, at your event the “affordable items” may be $300-$500 with the “expensive items” going for $2,000. The percentages are still the same as will be your feelings on Monday morning following the auction.)
So, my recommendation is to put the high priced items in the live auction and place the lower to mid-priced donated items in the silent auction. This is a great way to appease your guests without deep pockets and get them involved.
Another way is to make sure the live auction is lively! Just because a guest is not a bidder doesn’t mean they can’t have fun cheering on the bidders and watching the action.
Time is money. So invest your Live Auction time wisely.
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is; “What sells best at a fundraising auction? We’re looking at consignment companies and want to pick items that are going to sell really well to our audience.”
My answer is always the same. “It really depends on your attendees and the people you’re going to sell the items to.”
National trends, such as trips, don’t really help because they are specific to those who want to go. For instance, if it’s a trip to Hawaii and bidders have never been there they probably would love the opportunity. But if they have already been there on numerous occasions and don’t really care if they go back, they are more likely to bid on a trip to a different destination.
What was the number one selling auction item in 2015? Good tickets to see Taylor Swift. What are the hot trending items in 2016? The Broadway Musical Hamilton, Ticket to see an Adele concert and Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. What do all these items have in common…..scarcity and demand.
Here’s what I recommend you do. Ask your guests what kind of items they’d like to see. But be sure the attendees who you direct that question to will actually spend money at the auction. If someone suggests a trip to Ireland, but has no intention of bidding on the trip, don’t listen to them. It’s a waste of a your time and energy.
The people you do want to ask are those that have the financial resources and have historically been some of the best bidders and supporters of the charity over the years.
And don’t ask open-ended questions. They are too broad.
Rather than ask; “What kind of trips would you like to see in this year’s auction?”, be more specific. “If you had the opportunity to go, would you be more interested in a trip to Ireland, Italy, Greece or somewhere else?” That will get the conversation going. In fact, they might even give a clue where they’d like to go. “Those sound good, but I’ve always wanted to go to Mazatlan, Mexico to go sport fishing.” Bingo. Now you’re onto something.
A follow up question could be, “Does that sound like a $10,000 trip to you?” Their response will give you the opportunity to gauge what you might expect to raise during the live auction.
Here are two additional questions you can ask.
“Is there anything you’ve seen at another auction that really interested you – because we really want auction items that will resonate with our guest?”
“Do you know of someone attending that has something on their bucket list – something that we might be able to offer them? When have great resources we are simply trying to find the best items for our attendees”.
The bottom line is, when you’re selecting items for your live auction, do your homework. Don’t just pick an item and hope that it will sell well. Know going into it you believe it will sell well and you have the people to back that up and will have interest in it.
So, reject items that will merely take up space and present only items that will sell and that match your clientele. And don’t be afraid to ask the important questions to make that happen. That’s the #1 job when you’re producing a live auction.
What to learn more about how to best work with auction consignment companies and which companies you can trust? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2017 Scott Robertson Auctioneers All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means.
Well, another year has come and gone. And I’m happy to report 2016 was another record-breaking year for Scott Robertson Auctioneers.
We hosted 68 fundraising auctions during those 52 weeks. And as New Years’ Eve turned into New Years’ Day, the combined total of those auctions reached $35,319,700. Our previous record, which was set in 2015, was just under $29,438,000.
When 2012 started, Sara Rose Bytnar and I had set a personal goal to raise $50 million for charities and organizations within four years. In March of last year, we crossed the $100 million mark. That doubled our original goal in just four years and three months. Here are the actual annual totals for the past five years.
2013 – $21,757,360
2014 – $28,152,250
2015 – $29,437,980
2016 – $35,319,70
Although we are proud of every auction we host, we are especially delighted in six auctions. They include:
In addition to raising record-setting dollars, 2016 held some other highlights for Sara and I.
To start with, Sara competed in the International Auctioneer Championship, and was named First Runner-Up. In the world of auctioneering this is a huge honor.
I was selected to be on the Education Committee for the National Auctioneers Associations’ Conference & Show which will be held in Columbus, Ohio in July. I’m currently lining up presenters on my favorite subject – and passion – “How to Make the Most of Your Benefit Auction.”
In August, I presented at the Benefit Auctioneers Summit, sponsored by the National Auctioneers Association and held in San Diego, CA. One hundred twenty four of the top fundraising auctioneers in the USA attended this year’s event.
Speaking of the National Auctioneers Association, at last summer’s Conference & Show, I took a 3-day course on Social Media marketing. The class dealt with Facebook specifically and was very educational. Sara had taken this class previously and convinced me of its importance. We are firm believers that you need to constantly be reinventing yourself by keeping up with the times. And you simply cannot ignore the impact social media has on today’s world. Even the world of Benefit Auctions.
And finally, I was selected to do 3 live webinars on the subject of Time Lines for Benefit Auctions. These webinars are co-hosted and sponsored by Winspire, a company that offers travel and trip experiences for auctions and other charitable events on a consignment basis.
My first webinar was held in December. It dealt with the subject of Silent Auction timelines and more than 650 people, from around the country, registered for it. On Tuesday, January 17, I’ll be discussing the topic of timelines for Live Auctions and on Tuesday, January 31, I’ll be discussing the topic of timelines for Special Appeals aka Fund-a-Need. Each webinar lasts an hour-and-a-half.
For more information regarding the webinars and to register to listen to them once they’re recorded and aired live, go to our website www.thevoe.com.
So, that wraps up 2016. It was a very rewarding and satisfying 365 days. But, a new year is now upon us. We have new challenges to meet. More money to raise. And more children, families, and animals to help.
One would think that, after helping to raise millions of dollars for charities in the past 9 months, Benefit Auctioneer Scott Robertson would unwind during the summer. Kick off his shoes. And simply relax at his Fort Myers, Florida home.
Well, that’s not Scott. Instead, he’s spending his summer – his time off from his hectic auctioneering world – to guide hundreds of white water rafters down a fast-flowing river in what they often consider an adventure of a lifetime.
Scott’s career as an auctioneer began over 20 years ago. But his love for the water – and auctions – started much earlier than that at his childhood home about 50 miles outside of Lexington, Kentucky.
“When I was seven years old I built my first wood raft,” recalled Scott. “Ironically, that’s about the same age when I started attending farm and antique auctions with my parents. I guess it was destiny the two would meet later on in my life.”
Scott’s early adventures on Flat Creek didn’t stop at rafting. While fishing the swift and cold Kentucky stream he also learned about water flow by observing the bobber at the end of his line.
As often as he could he would be found floating on the creek or fishing from its bank, Scott spent just as much time with his dad, a farmer, and his mom, an antique storeowner, attending auctions. That’s when he began appreciating the concept of the auction and the power of the auctioneer.
It was 34 years ago this summer when Scott first put his rafting skills and water current knowledge to the test when he became a rafting guide for Adventures On The Gorge on the New and Gauley Rivers in Fayetteville, West Virginia.
“Every summer I really enjoy hanging up my tuxedos and colorful auctioneer vests in exchange for a wetsuit and lifejacket,” said Scott. “I guide about 35 trips down the river during the rafting season. But, that’s far fewer than the number of trips I take for the remaining nine months traveling the country as a professional benefit auctioneer.”
During one of his rafting trips last year Scott realized there were several similarities between his career as an auctioneer and his summer job, of being a white water rafting guide.
“The first thought I had when comparing the two was nervous energy,” said Scott. “I always have nervous energy prior to an auction and prior to launching the raft. Regardless of the number of auctions you conduct or trips you take down the river you are only as good as your next trip or performance.”
Another comparison can be stated in four words: Living in the moment.
“It’s impossible to have anything else on your mind but the mission ahead when you are entering into a rapid or conducting an auction. You must have total focus,” he said. “And you must think two to three moves ahead – planning where you need to be and what you need to do to get there.”
Then there’s analyzing the audience. According to Scott, an auctioneer must be able to size up the attendees at a fundraising auction to maximize the charity’s profit. The same holds true for those eight individuals boarding the white water raft. The guide must be able to size up each passenger and play to their strengths to minimize their weaknesses.
The final two comparisons are Scott’s favorites.
“Everyone depends on my leadership role whether times are good or challenging. As a benefit auctioneer you must control the action from start to finish. The organizers and attendees of the event depend me to take charge of the auction and see it through to a successful completion.
The same is true when I’m a white water rafting guide. There is a trust factor and those on the raft must have total confidence that I’m going to get them down the river safely.”
Scott added, “Perhaps my favorite comparison deals with having fun. Guests at a fundraiser want to have a good time and be entertained in the process. The passengers on my raft want the same thing – to have fun. There’s no better sensation than the “feeling of satisfaction” trip after trip or auction after auction.”
Scott, who turned 56 a few months back, said he has no immediate plans to hang up his wetsuit any time soon. In fact, he and his wife Mary, who he met while being a guide and is a guide herself, purchased 6 acres about four miles from the rafting company and relocated a 200-year old cabin on the site.
“It’s the same with auctioneering. I think it’s even more fun now. I simply love the interaction with people, especially the event chairs when their fundraising goals weren’t just met – but exceeded.”
Scott concluded, “I have to admit, if I’m being honest, I truly love what I do. Whether it’s being a guide on a white water rafting adventure or being the auctioneer for an important fundraising event – I love to lead. You might say regarding both disciplines, I’m ‘SOLD!’”
When the Game’s on the line – hire the best.
On the rare occasion I have a Sunday off I, like many people across the country, enjoy watching NFL football. Ironically, one of the last games I watched I had an epiphany regarding the field goal kicker. I realized we had something in common.
If you think about it, in a game played within the regulation 60 minutes, the kicker may only be on the field for a maximum of 20 seconds actual game time. That includes a few field goal attempts and points after touchdown. But those few seconds can be turning point on whether or not his team wins their division, makes the playoffs or takes home the Super Bowl trophy. (The New England Patriots are sitting home this weekend due to a missed extra point)
Team owners and other team officials understand the importance of hiring the best kickers. In fact, the Top 20 field goal kickers in the NFL make $1 million or more annually. Some are paid as much as $4 million. They are that valuable to the team effort.
One must also realize it takes thousands upon thousands of man hours to get a team ready for play. Even if you just start at the team’s first practice and end when regular season ends, the time and effort put into succeeding is enormous. Yet with all that, it could all come down to one player – on the field – for a short period of time.
It doesn’t surprise me that these top field goal kickers – considering the pressure they are under to produce – can make a good living.
A great number of people have worked many, many hours to plan an event and then I, like a kicker with just seconds left in the game for the win, arrive at the event – take the stage – and do what I’ve learned to do successfully – help charities reach or succeed their fundraising goals.
Sure it’s a lot of pressure. But when you’re part of the planning process and are totally prepared to do what you were hired to do – you can approach the task at hand with confidence. The best professional kickers will make the kick. The best professional auctioneer will raise the dough.
I don’t get paid by the hour. Nor does the kicker. We make a good living because of our performance – not by the number of minutes we’re on the field or on the stage.
So when the (fundraising) game is on the line, put me in coach, and I will put your gala through the uprights of success.