As a volunteer organizing an auction, you may think to yourself, “I am not going to be working on the auction next year. I only signed up for one year!”
That may be true, but someone is going to be working on the auction, and one of the best gifts you can give your organization is to break the cycle of one-year planning.
The Perils of “Perpetual Start-up” Mode
The cycle of one-year planning keeps the auction as a perpetual start-up business. Auction chairs approach their “tour of duty” as something they must get through, instead of an opportunity to build something new, different and lasting. They see their mission as needing to throw a great party, and then hope that it makes money.
While this approach may result in some success, it will never yield maximum results. True success comes from realizing your auction is a business (when you end up with more money than you started with, you have a business). How successful a business is or can be depends directly on how well organized that business is from the start.
Many charity auctions are started as businesses that plan to go out of business the day after their first sale! Of course, any other “business” would never succeed long term with this kind of attitude. Imagine a business that sold Christmas decorations that planned to go out of business on December 26, only to wait until June to decide to become a start-up company once again selling Christmas decorations!
Now is your chance to break this pattern and leave a real legacy for your organization.
Enter the Auction Steering Committee
The best way to eliminate the constant starting and stopping of the business is to do away with the concept of the traditional auction committee and replace it with a steering committee.
Auction Committees vs. Auction Steering Committees
What’s the difference? An auction committee has the event as its focus – getting through the auction and then being done. In contrast, a steering committee guides the business of fundraising, which includes the event. It never really goes out of business.
Unlike the auction committee, a steering committee doesn’t have a termination date. This is not to suggest that once you are on the steering committee you can never leave, but rather that the steering committee operates on continuum, with a line of succession, very much like a company’s Board of Directors. Some members serve on the committee for three years, some for two, and some for one year.
Recruiting Committee Leadership
Leadership comes from within the committee, so the chair does not walk into the position untested and has at least a year of observing the committee’s operations. This is a much more orderly approach that will reduce the stress and strain on those serving, and it eliminates the need to beg people to take on the awesome responsibility of being the auction chair with little or no prior experience.
The steering committee still consists of all the essential elements needed to manage the event, but they manage it as an ongoing business, not just a discrete event. Lines of succession within the committee are clear and established, and recruiting to replace those that are in their final year is simpler because the new recruits get at least a year to learn “on the job” before taking on direct responsibility.
Structuring Your Auction Steering Committee
In our next post, we will look at the specific areas of responsibility for your steering committee.
This post is adapted from The Big Book of Benefit Auctions by Jay R. Fiske and Corinne A Fiske.