Fundraising Auctioneer - Scott Robertson Auctioneers Blog

Fundraising Auctioneer

Scott Robertson Auctioneers Blog

Archive for October, 2014

Tips for Planning A First-Year Event

Posted by Scott On October 30th

There are so many firsts in life.  Your first steps. Your first day of school.  Your first true love.  Your first job.  I could go on and on and on.

The truth is – you’ll always remember your firsts. That’s because they were always the start of something very important.


The same holds true for a charity’s first fundraising event. During the course of the past 20-plus years, I’ve been privileged to participate in many of these milestones and I’ve come to a conclusion about what makes them truly successful.

This may come as a shock to some long-time readers of my Blogs – but the amount of money raised  by a charity during their first years’ event is not the major deciding factor as to what made it successful. It’s the strength of the event’s foundation.

It is critical that the first year of an event is built on solid ground and solid principles. All too often charities host their first auction and its main focus is generating cash.

However, the first and main focus of the charity should be developing what will become a long-lasting event – one that will raise money for those in need – year after year.

Don’t get me wrong – a first year event should, and more than likely, will make money. But you must remember the event is bigger than the first year profit. Your fundraising event needs to become a source of profit years down the road and the best way to do that is to build a strong foundation out of the gate.

That’s where I can help. In some ways you might consider me not only the builder – but the architect as well.  fundraising auctioneer

Often times I hear, “When our event grows we will want to hire you then.”  Well, that’s great to hear. It gives me job security. Unfortunately, it’s not good for the charity.

That’s because the first year is the most crucial year. I know what goes into building a strong foundation and it takes a hands-on approach to do it correctly the first time. The work on the foundation, the architectural drawings if you will, could begin to take shape up to a year prior to the event actually taking place.

As the planning for the second annual event begins it’s also important to review what took place during the first event.

The mistakes made and the successes achieved all need to be analyzed. This includes components such as marketing techniques, audience development, sponsorships and ticket sales – to name a few.

As I often say “ideas are something you try once”. “Traditions are when you utilize an idea the second time”. Be careful in establishing traditions at your event as they are most challenging to change.

Like I said in the second paragraph, “You’ll always remember your first.” That’s because it’s the start of something very important – and should be built for longevity.


The 7 Year Ditch

Posted by Scott On October 23rd

Being repetitive is boring.  Being repetitive is boring. Being repetitive is boring. Being repetitive is boring.  Being repetitive is…..well, you get the idea.

After reading the opening paragraph you were probably bored yourself and wondering where in the heck is this Blog heading – what noteworthy message am I trying to convey? Let me explain.



After some 20 years experience as a Professional Benefit Auctioneer there is one major mistake charities make time after time – they eventually bore their guests and attendees to the point they lose interest in the fundraising event itself – and that in turn translates into fewer seats and tables being filled and fewer dollars raised.

The main culprit for the boredom – the “same-old same-old.” You might be surprised by the number of charities that conduct the same fundraiser year after year with barely any noticeable change from the previous event.

So, were does the headline “The 7 Year Ditch” come from? Well, the lifecycle of any fundraising event is 7 years unless the event has experienced some substantial upgrades and revisions. So if you’re doing the same old same old 7 times in a row – ditch it. Your event is about to run out of steam – if it hasn’t already.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The solution is simple.  Keep it fun and fresh.

The “pushback” I often hear “ it worked last year and we are afraid to make changes”. Or “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. From my vantage point is that updating your event is more about preventive maintenance, than repairing broken parts.

You can maintain the overall theme of the fundraising event but it needs to evolve year after year – it needs a totally different look.

Sure, there is something to be said for familiarity. It does create a comfort zone for many. But it’s the unexpected – the element of surprise that will grab your attendees’ attention and get them excited the minute they walk into your venue.

“Keep it Fresh” is a concept I cannot repeat enough times. There are several ways to do this.


Your fundraising event must have fresh ideas and keep current with the times. I am very familiar with the latest trends in the industry.  However, there are too many to put into a single Blog. So feel free to contact me.  I’d be happy to share what I know.

Your fundraising event should also consist of fresh auction items – items your bidders actually want. This goes for the silent auction as well as the live auction. The new and exciting items should be marketed to your guests in advance of the event itself. This will motivate more to actually attend and just might bring in a few new faces.

Finally – “Keep it Fun!” The more your guests are entertained the happier they will be and the longer they will stay. And that translates into more dollars.

So avoid “The 7 Year Ditch!”  Be sure your event has a totally different look year after year.

Remember, most people decide at the conclusion of an event if they plan to return for next year’s gala. Keeping your event fresh, fun and evolving will keep your guests thinking, “What will they do next?” And that’s more than half the battle.




“Freebies” A Bad Idea

Posted by Scott On October 16th

There is no doubt the American public loves to get something for free.  Shopping at the local supermarket is a great example. Those BOGO’s – buy one get one free items – fly off the shelf as fast as the stock person can put them on.

And don’t forget about those free samples found throughout the store. You know the ones.  Whether it is from behind a table or actual full size marketing display, the person offering the tempting morsel encourages you to take a bit – while at the same time bombarding you with a well-rehearsed sales pitch.


“Freebies” do have a place in consumer marketing.  But there is one place where “Freebies” should not be offered – a fundraising event.

Specifically, a charity should never provide complimentary tickets to its gala. It’s great in theory, but my experience tells me it’s bad in reality.

Your attendees should want to attend – not be “freebied” into attending. After all, this is a fundraiser and its main purpose is to raise money. Besides, the price of the ticket helps to cover the cost of putting on the event.  The charity handing out free tickets is simply like shooting oneself in the financial foot.


There’s another very good reason a charity should not provide complimentary tickets. In short, people usually have as much fun as they pay for.

As much as I discourage the practice, some charities I’ve worked with in the past have provided complimentary tickets to some guests. If I know who those guests are and where they are sitting I relay the information to key committee members.


My purpose for doing this is so the key committee members can keep a sort of running tab on their participation and report back to me at the end of the event.  What I discovered did not come as a surprise to me.  Those who received complimentary tickets participated less – if at all – when compared to those who did pay.

However, the committee didn’t just report the miserly in the crowd – they also reported the most generous. That’s very important for next year’s planning.

One exception to this rule is if Table Captains purchase and entire table and invite their friends to join them at the event. When this occurs there is an underlying tone that there is expectation these guests will actively participate during the event. If a guest does not participate they will likely find themselves not invited to next year’s event.

So, as a part-time sportsman, I’d just like to remind charities to “fish where the fish are and never attempt to fish in an empty pond.” It’s just a waste of time – and bait.

In this instance, the bait comes in the form of a complimentary ticket – and the empty pond – the ticket holder.





Ice Bucket Challenge A Cool Idea – But

Posted by Scott On October 9th


So, let’s be honest. How many of you participated in or watched someone do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge this summer? Oh, quite the show of hands.

Well, that comes as no surprise to me. You’d have to have been living under a rock not to know about it. The Ice Bucket Challenge was EVERYWHERE! Not only was it covered by every major news organization in the country and every local news outlet, but YouTube was flooded with people flooding their heads with the cubed liquid.

Some celebrities even tried to make the challenge their own. Forget ice water. Charlie Sheen, for example, put $10,000 in a bucket and dumped it on his head. Matt Damon did it with – well – let’s just say the water came from the bathroom area. But, I’m sure it was clean.

You might be curious about the final numbers.

I did some research on-line and this is what I discovered. According to the International Business Times, approximately $115 million was raised during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. According to, that represents an increase of donations of 3,500% when compared for the same time period a year ago. In short, it was extremely successful.

Watching hundreds of thousands of celebrities and normal citizens in the United States and beyond – pour ice and ice cold water over their heads as they participated in the Challenge was – well – refreshing. It’s wonderful that an organization researching to find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease did so well in such a relatively short period of time.

But, here’s the problem.

During the Challenge I did find one thing very curious – the absence of the ALS group. They remained in the shadows the entire time and just allowed the dollars to rain in. It seemed to me they did not want to get in the way of a good thing. It might have interfered with the dynamic. Believe me when I say this is highly unusual for such a high-profile charity, but strategically brilliant.


The other thing I found curious was the vague explanation as to where all those millions of dollars in donations would actually be spent. Those who participated and those who paid to have others participate really had no idea where their money was going – except in the ALS coffers.

Gimmicks are great. But in this instance, some felt the gimmick left too many unanswered questions. After all, the monies raised were a windfall – and I would image – the total, totally unexpected.

Donors appreciate specific information. They want to know exactly where the money they are donating is going. This is one of the reasons during a fundraising event I’m constantly reminding guests about the “cause.”
This is especially true when I host a Fund-A-Need event or segment during the gala. That’s when you have a very specific goal, such as purchasing new vehicles to deliver meals to the elderly, and all funds raised go directly to that need.

So letting guests know exactly where their donations will be utilized is key to a successful fundraising event. What typically doesn’t work, in sustainable way, are gimmicks and I advise every Event Chair I talk with to avoid them at all costs.
For the record, I salute the National ALS organization and all those who participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge. $115 million is one heck of a sum.

But regional and local charities should avoid such publicity-driven stunts and focus on their specific mission in a serious, but fun manner. Your guests will be much more likely to return the next year and participate and donate again – unlike the hundreds of thousands that participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m going to see if Charlie Sheen has another $10,000 he can pour on MY head.

Audience Management

Posted by Scott On October 2nd


I’d like to take you back in time to your classroom years. Can you hear the school bell ringing signaling the start of a new school day?  Can you smell the food being prepared in the cafeteria kitchen?  Can you hear someone running down the hallway trying to get to class before the teacher closes the door to begin his or her lesson?

Now, I’d like for you to think of your favorite teacher.  You know the one.  It was the class you looked forward to attending every day because the teacher had a passion for what they were teaching.  And their passion became the student’s passion.

What you might not have thought about back then is that the teacher, because of his or her passion for and knowledge of the subject they were teaching and his or her preparation prior to starting the lesson, had total control of the classroom.  It was a control fashioned through positivity – not negativity.

In many ways a benefit auctioneer is exactly like your favorite teacher.


If a professional fundraising auctioneer is doing his job correctly, he or she has great control over the audience. They don’t gain control by being in the guest’s faces, slamming books on a desk or having someone stand in the corner. They do it through their presence, their experience, their knowledge of the charity and their passion for raising money for a great cause. If the auctioneer is good, this should all appear effortless.

Personally speaking, I won’t work with a group if I don’t believe in their cause. I also won’t conduct an auction until I’ve done my homework and have a total understanding of the charity and its motive and purpose for needing the funds.

Hopefully, during the auction, the auctioneer communicates his passion through body language, facial expressions and gestures, and of course through the words he speaks while on stage or on the event floor.

An auctioneer, like a teacher, should never demand control of the room. It should always be earned without the audience ever being aware of it.  And the best way to earn control is through Presence, Preparation and Passion.

By demonstrating these 3 P’s, you can add to more to your event when it concludes – Perfection and Profitable.