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Fundraising Auctioneer

Scott Robertson Auctioneers Blog

Staying in Touch with Donors

Posted by Scott On September 11th


Staying in Touch with DonorsAhh summertime – the four months out of the year when people relax and rejuvenate 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.3

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:

1)   A Message From A Student.  Nothing is more powerful than a grateful quote from a student who is being helped by the tutoring program because the donation is shaping his or her life for the better.

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.


electronic bids

In my previous blog I discussed the growing trend of utilizing an Electronic Bidding system during silent auctions.  I also talked about its current cost and discussed some of the pros and cons of using e-Bidding. Now, let’s delve into this subject a little further.

As I see it, the e-Bidding system does have some limitations. Here are a few.

1)   Your attendees have less “window shopping”. opportunities to see items that have a low number of bids.

2)   There is no bid sheet to see the items that are not getting much attention.

3)   With e-Bidding there is usually a list of items with no bids. But once the item receives a bid the attendee has to search for the item on the device to see the current price.

4)   The attendees have less interaction with other attendees and tend to stay clumped in groups with friends.

5)   The BANDWIDTH of the facility is CRITICAL. Depending upon the location there might not be enough bandwidth to support all of the mobile devices in a small area. If this is the case an auxiliary system is brought in by the e-Bidding provider to supplement the house system.

6)   Smart Phones and other electronic devices have limited battery life. This could create a problem if the bidding extends past 3 hours.

Here are some additional advantages to using the e-Bidding system.

1)   If the silent auction area cannot contain the number of attendees, this method allows them to make one pass through the silent auction area, determine the items on which they desire to bid, and then retire to a larger area to congregate and continue to bid.

2)   Attendees can chat with their friends and be notified immediately when they are outbid.

3)   Reconciling the silent auction is automatic as the bidding devices interface directly with most computerized auction software.

4)   Everyone automatically knows if they have “WON” a silent auction item.

pros and cons of electronic bidding

So now, let’s recap.  The main disadvantage of going to the e-Bidding system is the cost. Your silent auction should raise enough money to a good return on investment before considering making the change. Other disadvantages include: Older attendees tend to shy away from technology. It takes the human factor out of bidding.  And strolling past the item does not allow the bidders to see the popularity of the item.

The main advantage of going to the e-Bidding system is speed. This is especially true during “check out” since all the information is already interfaced with the computer. This is a big plus when your event has more than 400 attendees.

Now, I must give you fair warning. Electronic Bidding is fun and different.  And once you use e-Bidding you will likely have to bring it back year after year since your attendees will demand the service.

Feel free to contact me for additional clarification or for information regarding who provides this service. You could send me a letter – but doing it electronically will sure be a lot quicker.


© 2014 Scott Robertson Auctioneers. All Rights Reserved. All content is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without express written consent of the author.

Supportive Bidders

Posted by Scott On November 21st

supportive bidders-fundraising auctioneer

At any live auction there are usually three types of supporters in the crowd.  The first is a guest who feels the price of admission was enough charity and doesn’t plan to bid on any item.  The second is an enthusiastic guest that has money in his pocket and is willing to bid as high as necessary to get an item and help the charity in the process.  The third is what I refer to as a “supportive bidder.”

Supportive bidders are there to have fun. And, they are there to help the charity maximize its fundraising effort by bidding on items simply to get the price of the item up.

I’m not referring to a “plant” or a “shill.”  A charity should never place a person in the room whose only purpose is to compete with other bidders with the intention of never actually winning a bid.

A supportive bidder does this on his or her own accord. They are really “soft bidders.”  By that I mean if they bid on an item and would happen to get it they are happy.  But, their real purpose is to make more money for the charity by getting others to bid higher – especially if they feel the current bids are below the items true value.

fundraising auctioneer

An auctioneer often doesn’t know who the supportive bidders are until the live auction actually starts. However, by reading a bidder’s body language and mannerisms a professional benefit auctioneer can spot them rather quickly and use them to the charity’s advantage.

When bidding on an item is slow or if a current bid is far below what I think an item should sell for I find myself drifting towards the supportive bidders as a means to get the ball rolling a little faster – and the bids a little higher.  I think most of the time they know that I know what they are doing and they usually play along.

So remember, no “plants” or “shills.” But keep in mind supportive bidders are in the room and can play a key role in your fundraising success – if the auctioneer knows how to spot them – and use them for your benefit.


Scott Robertson Auctioneers. All Rights Reserved. All content is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without express written consent of the author.



In a previous blog I talked about the value of meetings. Perhaps more importantly, in an effort to prevent volunteer burnout, I talked about the following:


1)   How far in advance the first meeting should be conducted prior to a fundraising event

2)   What decisions should be made during the earliest meetings

3)   The real purpose of a meeting and the need to stick to the agenda

4)   The reasoning behind forming sub-committees that work under the Steering Committee.


Now, here are a few additional tips regarding meetings.


General information should be disseminated to volunteers via emails and memos. However, specific topics such as sub-committee reports, item procurement, audience development and ticket sales should be discussed in a meeting environment.


During these meetings, stick to the agenda and stay on time. Do not allow anyone to take over the meeting with extended and repetitive dialog.


The minutes of the meeting should be distributed to the stakeholders and attendees within 48 hours of the meeting. This will serve as a reminder of the decisions of the meeting and also the tasks assigned. Also it’s important that the minutes from the previous meeting, including any updates, be handed out to the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Expecting all attendees to bring the minutes that was distributed earlier is simply not realistic. Allow them 5 minutes of quiet time at the start of meeting to review the minutes. This will refresh their minds regarding what was discussed in the previous meetings and get them focused on the task at hand. This also allows a short buffer time for people who are habitually 3 minutes late.


During a meeting, if an assignment is given and accepted to a volunteer or committee member, write down the deadline as to when the assignment needs to be accomplished.  The person who did the assigning should contact the person with the assignment 2 days before the deadline and inquire as to how the assignment is progressing. The person with the task should present his or her progress during the next meeting.

group of cheerleaders cheering

Now, this is key to keeping meetings a positive gathering. Celebrate the wins when good news is shared. However, NEVER embarrass anyone at a meeting for a missed or incomplete assignment or task.  The leader should speak with them privately before or after.


In conclusion, keep meetings as short as possible – have only essential attendees be present – stick to the topics on the agenda – and be sure that the attendees feel, when the meeting is adjourned, that something was accomplished, that the event planning process was moved forward – and their valuable time was put to a good use.

Limiting Meeting Time Prevents Volunteer Burnout (Part 1)



Have you ever wondered: “When it comes to fundraising events, what’s the largest contributing factor to volunteer burnout?”  It’s a question I’m often asked – and my answer rarely comes as a surprise to the event chairs that ask it – Ineffective Meetings!


Let me state upfront, meetings do have value. But, those who schedule them need to keep a few things in mind.


To begin with, the purpose of meetings is to promote dialog and exchange ideas. A meeting is not a place for the event chair to simply provide information to the volunteers and other event personnel.  All general information should be distributed via memos and emails, not in a meeting format.



It’s essential that every meeting has an agenda. It’s also essential the person who calls the meeting or chairs the meeting sticks to the agenda. And if a meeting is scheduled, be sure:


  1. The meeting is worth all the attendees valuable time
  2. Will cause the project to move forward
  3. Begins and ends on time

Another question I’m frequently asked deals with the number of necessary meetings. Simply stated, it really depends on the organization and the issues that need to be resolved.


I’m a big proponent of having several sub-committees working under a Steering Committee. Steering committees should have two to five members who may act as the chair for a sub-committee. This will help in limiting the number of people who need to attend a meeting since the attendees have a specific purpose and role for being there.

Limiting Meeting Time  Prevents Volunteer Burnout (Part 1)

Meet as often as needed, but never meet for the sake of having a meeting. If a scheduled meeting is no longer required, cancel the meeting. Everyone is busy, attending a meeting that is perceived to be a waste of time creates ill feelings and stress.


And speaking of stress, the initial meeting for an upcoming fundraiser should take place 15 months ahead of the scheduled event. You read that correctly – 15 months. This way the next year’s event planning is occurring simultaneously with the current year’s event. The issues that arise during the final stages of the current year’s event can be learning opportunities for the next year.


It’s also crucial to get all large decisions made early so they are completed by the time the current year’s event happens. This includes but is not limited to:

  • The date
  • Venue
  • Theme





By doing this ahead of time these items can be announced at the conclusion of this year’s gala. Please understand I am not suggesting this planning for next year’s event in anyway interfere with implementation with the plans, item procurement or ticket sales for this year’s event. My suggestion is the steering committee for next year’s event get together early to make these decisions.


In an upcoming blog, I will be expanding on the topic of keeping meetings as short as possible – as infrequent as possible – and as focused as possible.


So, until we meet again.  Oh gosh, now why did I go and say that?



When it comes to promoting your auction many of your guests will be looking on your website for the date, time and place as well as other general information.  When it comes to promoting the items you are going to auction off during the fundraising event, nothing beats an old fashion catalog.


I recommend sending out the catalogs two weeks prior to the event – no more, no less.  This will give individuals and couples plenty of time to page through the catalog and determine which items they are interested in bidding on but not allow them time to postpone reviewing the catalog.


Although the first few pages can have a few words from the event chair and some information regarding the charity itself, when it comes to the actual auction items, each live auction item should have a page of its own.


Each page should include a photo of the item and a brief, easy to read description. It’s important to note that color photos are preferred if the printing budget allows for it. Yes, it’s more expensive.  But, we live in a let-me-see color world and fortunately I’ve learned over the 20-plus years I’ve been a benefit auctioneer that catalogs with color pays for itself by raising the level of interest in an item and the level of excitement during the auction. And that translates into higher prices.


Finally, I recommend testimonials be included with an item where appropriate.



Here’s a great example.  Let’s say you are auctioning off a fishing trip to Alaska, which includes a stay at a private chalet and the best fishing captain at the port.  If you auctioned off the same trip the year prior get some quotes from the person who took the trip and let them describe – in their own words – what a fantastic adventure it was.  You simply can’t beat positive personal experiences.


And don’t forget about silent auction items. Although it increases the work load, listing all the silent auction items, in categories provides greater exposure to the profit makers. For instance if you have  golf experiences from various country clubs. The catergory will be “GOLF” with the items listed below with the their respective silent auction number. (see example below) This will allow you spread out the golf trips all around the silent area but group them in the catalog. Pictures are generally not provided for silent auction items.


 Golf Packages


Item number                 Description                            Location

12                        Foursome at Fiddlesticks CC        Ft Myers FL

23                        Foursome at Quail West                 Naples FL

42                        Foursome at Black Diamond       Crystal River FL

66                        Foursome at Bear’s Paw                 Sarasota FL


So, don’t forget to get those catalogs out on time and give each live auction item its own colorful, descriptive page. And be sure to have a copy of the same catalog at the event so your guests can remind themselves exactly on what they want to bid.




Saying Thanks To Participating Businesses

Posted by Scott On October 10th


During my 20 years in the business as a professional benefit auctioneer I’ve had the opportunity to chat with business owners, specifically those who donated an item for a charity fundraiser. Most verified they did receive a thank you card for their participation.  And they were grateful for the recognition they received.

But, there was one bit of information they feel is often left out in the thank you card – “How much did my item raise for the charity?”

It’s a good question.  Nearly every business is proud of their support for a worthy cause – and are happy to give generously. However, not knowing how much they helped seems to drive them a little crazy.

My solution is simple:  Tell them. An exact figure is great, but not always necessary.  The business owner just really wants to know if their participation helped the overall fundraising effort.


Here are a few other ways you can thank businesses, which should always be done in person within days after the event.

1)  Present them with a leftover program and highlight their name.

2)  Take a photo of their donated item – as it appeared during the auction – and present it to them.

3)  Certificates of Participation are a great way to thank a business – which most likely will frame it and place it on one of the walls visible to customers.

4)  If it’s a major donor, a plaque makes a great substitute for a Certificate of Participation.

So, after the fundraising event, send a volunteer to the participating business, armed with a plaque or certificate of participation, photo of donated item and highlighted program and present it to the business owner.  And don’t forget to explain to the business exactly what their donation meant to the fundraising effort and/or how much their item helped raise specifically. In other words put as much effort into thanking them as was done to secure the item.

A thank you – especially one that’s face-to-face – will go a long way in getting the same business to participate in future fundraising events.

My Not-So, Laugh-In Moment

Posted by Scott On May 9th

my not so laugh moment-funraising auctioneer

Having grown up being a fan of the old TV show “Laugh-In”, I was very excited for the opportunity to work as a co-auctioneer with one of its stars, Lily Tomlin. The event was “Arts for ACT” a significant fundraiser for the Abuse Counseling and Treatment Center in Fort Myers, Florida.  The venue was the Harborside Event Center and more than 1,200 attendees were present.


I found Lily to be a wonderful, down to earth, funny-as-hell personality.  She was a joy to work with.


At this particular auction, due to the large number of items up for bid, the organizers decided to have two professional auctioneers take turns selling 10 items at a time. When I was not calling the bids I was able to converse with Lily and point out particular individuals in the crowd for her to “pick on” via the microphone.


When we were about two-thirds of the way through the auction she turned to me and asked if I thought it appropriate if she had a gin and tonic. I explained to her that the way she had endeared herself to the crowd I didn’t think she could do anything wrong.



So off the stage we went walking, arm in arm, toward one of the cash bars set up to serve the thirsty auction attendees.


I was feeling pretty proud of myself – to be escorting such a well-known celebrity in my hometown – and having the privilege of buying her a drink.  But, my pride quickly turned to panic as I suddenly realized I had no money in the pockets of my tuxedo.


Fortunately, as we neared the bar I saw the manager of the event center, a man I had worked with on numerous occasions in the past, and quickly introduced Lily to him.  As they shook hands – and without missing a beat – I said: “Wouldn’t the Harborside Event Center like to buy Ms. Tomlin a drink?”


What a relief when I heard the reply, “Of course we would!”  Whew. I was off the hook.  And ever since that near “Laugh-In Disaster Moment” I always keep a bill in my pocket when I’m on the stage with celebrity co-auctioneers.

 © 2013 Scott Robertson Auctioneers. All Rights Reserved. All content is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without express written consent of the author.