While it is not necessary to hire outside help for your event, you may find it well worthwhile to consider at least some professional assistance to help make it run smoothly.
Experience is a great insurance policy. Hiring benefit auction experts to help train volunteers and to ‘‘run the show’’ the night of the event will allow the auction committee to sit back and enjoy themselves.
If you want to be able to pass the baton of leadership to new recruits, then be visible, smile a lot, and enjoy yourself the night of the event. Outsource or delegate all responsibilities during those times where guests are present.
Following are some key positions you should consider outsourcing.
The auctioneer is the face of your event once the Live Auction begins.
Regardless of how careful you have been in your planning, how good the food is, how wonderful the decorations, or how efficiently you were able to handle the check-in, the Live Auction is the high-visibility part of your event.
Good Auctioneers Pay for Themselves
It is often also the last part of your event your guests will experience, before cashiering. An inexperienced auctioneer or volunteer can leave the guests in a sour mood, and that feeling can carry forward after they leave, making it difficult to recruit them for your event the following year.
It’s quite probable that the cost of a professional benefit auctioneer will be covered in increased bids in just a few items. The professional will know what to say and just when to say it, and will be able to assist you in increasing your revenue by offering suggestions that you may not have thought of.
The ability to sell items twice, sell a choice of items, handle an auction sweep, and professionally handle the Fund-an- Item portion of your event are all well worth a reasonable fee for a professional.
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Book (and Renew) Early
The best charity auctioneers are often booked six months to a year in advance on the prime nights, so you will want to begin the search as soon as you set your event date.
You will want an agreement with your selected auctioneer that allows you to renew your agreement on the same day the following year, should you and your guests like the way he or she works. Often the best auctioneers will allow for a renewal period (typically 30 days) after the event to lock them in for the following year.
Under no circumstances, however, should you accept a perpetual or multiyear agreement that automatically renews, as some auctioneers request. You and your committee will want to evaluate the performance and gain feedback from guests before being locked in to that auctioneer for the following year.
Where to Find Your Auctioneer
National Auctioneers Association
The National Auctioneers Association maintains a list of auctioneers that specialize in charity auctions, and they actually have a special rating (the Benefit Auction Specialist designation), which some auctioneers obtain.
The BAS designation is not a guarantee that you are getting a quality auctioneer, however, as the requirement for this getting this designation merely involves attending a class. A good benefit auctioneer is as much an entertainer as auctioneer, and you can’t teach someone how to be entertaining.
Most of the top benefit auctioneers are in fact not BAS-designated, because that designation is only a few years old; most auctioneers have not completed the course of instruction, and, frankly, may choose never to do so.
TravelPledge’s Directory of Certified Professionals
TravelPledge compiled the Directory of TravelPledge Certified Professionals to help you find an auctioneer or consultant you can trust. Each TravelPledge Certified Professional agrees to operate in a financially transparent and legally compliant manner and follow key strategies to maximize your donations.
Referrals from Local Charities
You can also ask around for a referral from other charities in your area. If you call the chairs of the largest events that host auctions in your city, you will certainly discover that most use a professional.
Get referrals for a few, then call and ask if you can visit an event to see if his or her style will work for your organization.
A Final Caution About Free Auctioneers
One final caution when selecting an auctioneer: a free auctioneer, even a free professional auctioneer, may not be what you need.
Many commercial auctioneers are taught at their auctioneer schools that, since they earn their living in the community it might be a good idea to donate their time by serving as an auctioneer to some local charities. While this sounds like a dream come true, think before you leap at the chance to use one of these free auctioneers.
Let’s start with the fact that, if they donate their time, they can’t do it very often, perhaps just a few times each year. Consequently, their experience in a charity auction will be limited. Second, if they are a commercial auctioneer, they are trained to liquidate items as quickly as they can, because that is what they normally do in their day job.
Third, if they volunteer their time, they have no obligation to actually show up at your event, and if a commercial paying event comes along the same day, you can plan on getting a last-minute call that the auctioneer can’t make it to your event because he has to work elsewhere. When you pay a fee, and sign a contract, you can insist the auctioneer show up.
Having competent professional spotters can significantly increase the income from the Live Auction.
The auctioneer can only be looking one direction at any given point in time; therefore, he or she might miss bids on opposite sides of the room. Also, the auctioneer doesn’t have the ability to socialize with all the bidders during the evening.
It is the job of the spotters to help bidders get comfortable with the auction process and to mingle with the guests and encourage friendly competition. This will result in increased Live Auction yield percentages.
While it is possible for volunteers to perform a similar function, their attention span and performance can be limited, and partway though the Live Auction they may lose focus or interest.
One or two bid-step increases on a single item in the Live Auction can often pay the cost of hiring professional spotters. More than likely, your professional auctioneer will be able to supply the spotters as part of the base fee for auctioneer services, or at a reasonable increase in the fee.
Some auctioneers offer full consulting, some offer minimum consulting. It may be beneficial to hire an expert to help guide you toward the right decisions while you are planning your event.
Remember that the auction consultant has experience with many prior events and can guide you through some of the areas in which your committee might not have that experience.
Consultants can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want them to be. As with any other consultant, however, they can only make suggestions based on previous experience. It is up to the Auction Committee to evaluate those suggestions and then implement them.
The event coordinator’s job is to be your day-of-the-event choreographer, making sure all the necessary pieces of the auction puzzle are in place and all the people associated with the day-of-event functions are trained and ready to go.
The event coordinator will train your volunteers so they help guests in the most efficient manner possible, from when they first register to when they check out at the end of the evening.
While a professional event coordinator is not required for your event, having one allows the volunteers who did much of the preparation for the auction the opportunity to take the night off and enjoy the fruits of their labor. This is also an excellent insurance policy against ‘‘crisis’’ issues that can only be solved by someone with experience.
If you have a larger event with many guests to check in and check out, you may find it worthwhile to hire a few event staff helpers to work alongside your volunteers. This will help your volunteers feel confident about the event logistics and will also provide a competent experienced person to step in should any difficult situation arise.
Event staff can perform any of the positions a volunteer would do, including help with registration, cashiering, data entry, and more.
Hiring professional consulting, coordinating, and staff to assist you is entirely optional, but can increase revenue significantly for most organizations while making your guests’ experience more pleasant.
Outside help will also allow the event organizers—that would be you and your committee—to actually be able to enjoy the event that you so painstakingly prepared. After all, volunteering to serve on the committee should not be considered cruel and unusual punishment!
The most important person to hire, however, is your auctioneer. Most good auctioneers aren’t available at the last minute, so make your decision early to ensure a good return on your investment.
Remember also, that even the best auctioneer cannot replace proper planning. The auctioneer is the pilot of your airplane . . . it’s up to you and your committee to build an airworthy vehicle.
This post is adapted from The Big Book of Benefit Auctions by Jay R. Fiske and Corinne A Fiske.