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.
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.
You know, I’m often asked “Scott, what is up with those crazy vests?” Well, they’re sort of my trademark…is to wear a colorful vest at fundraising auctions. It started back in the 90s when vests replaced cumberbunds and a friend of mine Debbie, from Black Tie Tuxedo in Fort Myers, Florida said “You know Scott, what you should do is you should get a vest that makes you stand out” and she pointed to this exact vest.
And I said “Oh Debbie, I’m way to conservative for that.” And she says “No, you want it! It’ll make you stand out!” And I thought “You know, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”
So I purchased this vest and since now, I’ve probably purchased 40 vests. So I try to match my vest to the color scheme of the event, the motif of the event…whatever they want. So if you retain my services for a fundraising auction, tell me what colors you want me to match. Chances are I’ve got a vest that’ll do the trick. Crazy vests? I LOVE ’em!
I truly love what I do.
However sometimes my passion at a fundraising event is misinterpreted causing those who’ve hired me to feel as if I’m personally attacking their organization – or a person within their organization.
The approaching train wreck comes in many forms. It could be a gaffe in the timeline or a problem with the speaker about to address the audience. It could be a Live Auction item, a display issue or even a potential bottleneck due to the layout of the room.
If those variables are done correctly it will enhance the event and there won’t be a train wreck. If those variables are implemented incorrectly it will hurt the event and create a potential train wreck situation.
Knowing the difference between the two scenarios is the reason for my dilemma. The question is: Do the event organizers want to know a train wreck is coming or not?
When it comes to approaching train wrecks I work with two different mindsets.
I’ve always said a successful fundraising event is a team effort. It takes months of pre-planning and an excellent committee and volunteer staff to pull all the pieces together. Having each individual member know the exact role they will be playing during the event is crucial to its flawless execution.
The Event Chair and his or her committee and volunteers have an advantage over a Professional Auctioneer, such as myself, who does not live in their particular city. They know the key players and the main donors that will be attending.
Since I am the out-of-towner, some Event Chairs and Board Members may consider it a disadvantage to their fundraising efforts if they hire me as their Professional Auctioneer since, in some cases, I’ve never practiced my craft of auctioneering for them before. They feel I won’t know their audience.
Although it’s an initial legitimate concern, the fact is the “not knowing their VIPs” can be easily overcome. It’s just a matter of four easy steps:
Let me start with the first…the yearbook.
It’s the moment Event Chairs look forward to the most – the “turning off the lights” as their latest fundraiser comes to a close. Exhausted, they reflect back. The guests had fun. The event was a success. Lots of money was raised. Now it’s time to relax until the planning begins for next year’s event. HOLD ON! NOT SO FAST. There’s one more step to go.
Just as important as the event’s pre-planning and execution is the debriefing meeting. Preferably this meeting should take place within 3 days of the event – but never more than 2 weeks. Remember, the earlier the better. This way everyone’s memories of the event are still vivid and wouldn’t have begun to fade with the passage of time.
Knowing what went right and what went wrong during an event is crucial to building even more successful fundraisers in the future.
So, it’s also very important for those involved in the event to write their thoughts down on paper – both positive and negative – within 24 hours of the event and then to bring those notes to the debriefing meeting.
These thoughts should span the time frame from before the doors opened until the last guest departed. Every element of the program is fair game. That includes the registration process, the cocktail hour, the silent auction, the dinner, the live auction, the entertainment, the checkout and the valet line.
As a guide to help you along your way – and to keep the conversation civil and on topic – I’m happy to present the format your debriefing meeting should take, how it should be conducted and who should be involved.
By the way, the debriefing meeting should be scheduled weeks prior to the actual event. This way everyone associated with the fundraiser has it on their calendars and know when it’s going to occur.
To reiterate, the debriefing meeting should take place within 3 days of the event. Under no circumstances should it ever take place more than 2 weeks after an event.
I’ve said it many times – the Event Coordinator is the key to a perfectly planned and executed fundraiser. (Note: For the purposes of this article, I’m describing the person in charge of the event the Event Coordinator. This person may be a trained professional, a staff member or a volunteer.)
With that clarification, I’m happy to reveal my list of 4 Do’s & Don’ts for Event Coordinators on the night of the event.
One of the mistakes they make is not getting ready for the event in a timely fashion.
Chances are, on the day of the event, the Event Coordinator has been at the venue since early to mid-morning. And, the closer time gets to the doors opening, the more the Event Coordinator becomes increasingly nervous.
So, here’s my first helpful suggestion.
If the event begins at 6 p.m. the Event Coordinator should have eaten and gotten dressed by 4:30pm and re-arrived at the venue between 60 to 90 minutes ahead of the doors opening. That should give him or her plenty of time to relax prior to the event and then to deal with any loose ends once (s)he returns to the venue.
Too often the Event Coordinator delays getting themselves ready until the last minute and by the time (s)he arrives, panic sets in because of all the final details which still need to be addressed. This creates too much stress on the Coordinator, as well as the staff and volunteers. You do not want your guests arriving to a panic-filled room.
Most people know the line of thinking, “It’s just easier to do everything myself.” Well, that might be true, but it’s not the best use of the Event Coordinator’s time.
Far in advance of the event, the Event Coordinator should have delegated duties to another committee member or volunteer. Running around looking for a replacement silent auction bid sheet is not good use of the Event Coordinator’s time. Delegate that responsibility. This will give the Event Coordinator time to focus on the bigger issues that may be looming on the horizon.
Here’s a great tip. The Event Coordinator should be given a designated area within the venue during the final hour or so before the doors open. This will give the staff and volunteers a specific location to go to in an effort to get their questions answered quickly. When the doors open, the Event Coordinator should remain in this area for the same reasons.