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The Virtual Fundraising Gala

Posted by Jessica Geer On March 17th

By Scott Robertson

Thanks to Sara Rose Bytnar and I being in a close network with some of the top fundraising auctioneers in the country, I’ve been able to spend my waking hours learning all that I can about virtual galas. As we know, information is constantly emerging and flexibility is key in situation such as this.  Here is what I know as of today, March 17, 2020.

These are strange times for our nation.  Many fundraising galas have cancelled or postponed their events as advised by government officials.   If your organization is wondering how you’ll be able to continue funding those you serve with a postponed or even cancelled fundraising event, I encourage you to consider a Virtual Fundraising Gala.

This method may not work for every organization and their supporters, however it’s an innovative way to keep your organizations cause at the forefront of your supporters minds during these unsettling times.

Below are a few tips for conducting a Virtual Fundraising Gala.

Event Details

  • If possible; keep your event date. Your philanthropists have already obligated themselves to the date and changing the date could create additional issues for scheduling.
  • Be decisive – decide on a date, a format, a theme, and stick with it. Just like a traditional gala be expecting suggestions and quick criticism for any and all decisions. Changing your mind to fit committee members whelms based upon what they think may be a good idea will add confusion and in stressful times, no one likes confusion. These are uncharted waters which we are attempting to navigate and everyday/hour we are learning more and more. At Scott Robertson Auctioneers our full focus is formatting plans to help our clients anyway and every way we can, including Virtual Fundraising Galas
  • Prepromotion and email marketing prior to the event is critical, be sure to include specific instructions on how to bid and participate. Social Media is perfect for communicating with your philanthropists.
  • Encourage watch parties to gather friends and supporters in small groups together to watch. This will make it more fun for the viewers as well as help to increase the feeling of comradery to support the cause. If appropriate encourage the watch party participants to come in gala wear and share photos from their gatherings with hashtags created for your event.
  • Remember, even in Florida, people can still get “cabin fever” due to the shutdown of any sort of group gathering. A watch party can be an event people can look forward to attending
  • Delivering party favors, gift bags, or gala beverages etc. a few days ahead of the event will keep the event date foremost in their mind.
  • Stay in contact with your donors. Calling, emailing, or using social media to communicate with your donors, especially a few days before the event, is paramount to success.

Technology 

  • Back of the house video and audio support is critical. Enlisting the help of an experienced team of AV professionals that have the equipment and expertise for live streaming will be worth their weight in gold. Yes, you could do this on your iPhone or android but why take the chance?
  • Broadcast sound, while this is dependent in large part to the users internet strength and speaker grade but the broadcast quality going out will only further enhance or decrease the ability for the viewers to hear. If viewers can’t hear we’re likely going to frustrate and loose them.
  • AV Company can use live shots, recorded videos, power point slides, etc., to promote and discuss live auction items on the live stream and special appeal.
  • Make sure that everyone has a list of phone numbers to call if they are experiencing technical difficulties. Every cell phone in the studio audience should be available for ppl to call in if they’re having challenges.   This is another good reason to have a good AV company in studio.

 

The Broadcast

  • Someone needs to be the director/producer for the broadcast. They make are the decision maker and are charged with keeping the broadcast flowing
  • For live streaming there are several choices, the ones I’m aware of are  Facebook Live, Youtube Live, Vimeo, WebX or other webinar hosting platforms. Additional hosting sites are coming up daily as they retrofit to be useful for virtual galas.
  • You need to have a place to create a studio. It’s likely affective to use pipe and drape in the background. You may already have a “stand and repeat” banner you had planned to use as a backdrop for photos. Your AV company should be able to provide this in additional to other equipment such as lighting, microphones, audio mixing boards, video switching devices, and most important; the knowledge to tie all of this equipment together to make it work.
  • A studio audience is a must. The studio audience should consist of a core group of staff and supporters (team members) i.e. auction chairs, development director, CEO and other known staff that would normally be supporting your gala. This studio audience will be helpful for your emcee and auctioneer  to work in front of.  Late night talk show hosts go into millions of homes but thrive on having a studio audience of 100 or so people so the on-stage talent can have a better feel for timing, laughter, etc.  Here, of course, our studio audience would be 10 or less.
  • The on-air personalities will need confidence monitors to monitor on line bidding, what the live audience is seeing, and what is coming up.
  • Latency – that’s the delay that you have with live streaming. For some providers it’s 10 sec others its 30 seconds. This eliminates the ability for the auctioneer to utilize the live auction chant. This technology is likely to get better but for right now we just have to plan that there is going to be a delay.
  • Encourage the studio audience to engage with the program; applaud, laugh etc.
  • The broadcast should be fun and interesting. This is where your professional fundraising auctioneer will shine.  They know the language, they have no fear of being in front of a camera or large group. They know what to say, and when (and how) to say it.   Other people can be and should be included but be sure to leave the heavy lifting of fundraising predominantly with your fundraising auctioneer.
  • An emcee is needed to keep things flowing, make announcements, and banter with the auctioneer.
  • “Instances” is a live streaming term that essentially means, each viewing element is an instance. The auctioneer, emcee, PowerPoint slides, videos, sponsor slides are all instances. Remember the more instances you have the more opportunity to have something mess up.
  • Good chemistry between emcee and the auctioneer is important for purposeful and humorous banter. The folks watching at home will be quick to pick up if there is tension on the set.
  • Many of the same things you would do at a traditional gala (as far as production goes) will hold true for live streaming. Such as testimonials either live or pre-recorded on video, entertainment, other videos, PowerPoint slides, etc. Just do not make your production too complicated.
  • Remember, when you’re live on air, you’re live. So, practice, practice, practice!  Even with all of our new found technology it is important to practice exactly how the virtual gala will run start to finish.

 

Mobile Bidding

  • Using a mobile bidding platform is a must.
  • Use a platform that has expertise in this area not just the lowest cost option. I’ve communicated with many of the mobile bidding companies and ALL are racing to develop a better platform for virtual galas, but as of today it seems that Greater Giving is leading the way.
  • The mobile bidding platform would be utilized during the silent auction. You should close the silent auction before the live auction so they don’t compete. 
  • The paddle raise/special appeal portion can be done starting at high numbers and working our way down, just as a standard in person gala.
  • Matching gifts are especially helpful at virtual auctions.

As with every fundraising gala, challenges will arise.  However, with the right team, equipment and fundraising auctioneer on your side, a Virtual Gala can provide needed funds to support the organization’s beneficiaries and remind donors why their support is needed now more than ever.

Questions?  Visit our website for more information or contact us, we’re ready to help!

Hiring an Auctioneer is Not a Full Committee Decision

Posted by Jessica Geer On August 14th

Classical Greek philosopher Plato once said, “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.” As a professional benefit auctioneer, I could not agree more. 

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.

Everyone has an opinion.  But like I said in the beginning, “Too many cooks….”   

 

Do you have additional questions?  Contact Scott today!

2016; Another Record Breaking Year

Posted by Jessica Geer On February 24th

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.

2012 – $14,853,100

2013 – $21,757,360

2014 – $28,152,250

2015 – $29,437,980

2016 – $35,319,70

Total:  $129,520,390

 

Although we are proud of every auction we host, we are especially delighted in six auctions. They include:

  1. *$4,600,000 raised at the Sonoma Wine Weekend Auction, in Sonoma CA.
  2. *$3,205,500 raised at the Philbrook Museum of Art Wine Experience in Tulsa.
  3. *$2,800,000 raised during the Southwest Florida Wine and Food Fest in Fort Myers.
  4.  *$2,300,00 raised at the Immokalee Charity Classic in Naples.
  5.  *$2,057,000 raised at the FARA Energy Ball in Tampa.
  6.  *$1,200,000 raised at Magic Under the Mangroves for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples.

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.   

According to Scott, being an auctioneer and being a white water rafting guide, his two passions besides his wife Mary of course, have many similarities.   

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.

“This is my home away from home,” stated Scott.  “I still love white water rafting as much today as I did when I first arrived 34 years ago.” 

“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!’”