fundraiser auction

Fundraiser Auction Mistakes

During my career as a casino party business owner, I have seen hundreds of fundraising auctions. There are several common mistakes that seem to occur over and over. In my opinion, the majority of these fundraising events fail to reach their potential because the people who put them together have little or no experience.

I am going to break down the necessary components of a successful fundraising auction/event. 

Pre Auction Activity

The first point I want to make is the fact that it takes a team of dedicated, informed individuals to plan, organize, and sell the idea of the event.

Don’t just dive into it without a written plan of action. Even if you have done this before, it’s very easy to forget important pieces of the puzzle.

Pilots who fly airliners have a written plan of action, even though they have thousands of hours of experience. It’s called a “checklist.”

Take the time necessary to completely document every step along the way, before taking the first step. Doing this will help you understand the complete picture. This will create a roadmap, and will allow you to delegate responsibilities to your team.

A list of question to consider

Answering these questions will start you off on the right path.

  • When will this fundraiser take place?
  • Where will this fundraiser take place? (Did you know that you might be able to convince the venue to donate the space in exchange for publicity?)
  • What is the related cost? (Hint: this is going to cost more than just the venue’s cost. You will need a budget for marketing, event vendors, catering, etc.
  • Looking for more entertainment for your guests? I recommend hiring a casino party company to set up a casino. You can sell chips and completely pay for the casino, and even have a profit.
  • What type of auction are you planning? Silent table auction? Regular stage auction with an auctioneer? A Dutch auction? 
  • How many guests will the venue hold? 
  • Is this event open to the general public?
  • What will the dress code be? Black tie events generally attract more money.
  • Do you plan to have a representative present from the non-profit fundraiser benefit? (Highly Recommended)
  • Do you plan to get local businesses to donate prizes for the auction? (Highly Recommended)
  • Are you planning on having reserved VIP tables at your event? (Highly Recommended)
  • In addition to the auction, do you plan to have a raffle (Prizes available to be won. Make sure this is legal in your area.)
  • Are you planning on having a cash bar? (Recommended – Tip: Charge more than the venue’s single drink price and earn a profit from the drinks)
  • Are you planning on printing an auction guide pamphlet? (A good source to sell advertising from local businesses)
  • Do you have a method of collecting guests’ e-mail addresses, so you can follow up for next year’s event? (This is a must-have!) (A great way to get guests’ email addresses is to offer a free raffle ticket in exchange for their email addresses. (With the permission to use it for related emails throughout the year)
  • Does your fundraising organization have a 501-C, or a 501-C(3)
  • Did you know that you could sell booth spaces in the ballroom foyer to related businesses?
  • Did you know that you can sell wall space for sponsorship banners (Just as long as the venue has a method of hanging banners on the walls)
  • Did you know that you can get a larger company to completely sponsor the event for a larger sum of money? (This is independent of the money you raise with the auction.)
  • Did you know that most local media companies (Radio, Cable TV, Newspapers) will give you free publicly as a PSA (Public Service Announcement)?  All you have to do is ask.
  • Do you have a photo backdrop for your event? If not, get one. They only cost about $150 and you will get a ton of exposure as people take pictures and post them on their social media accounts. 
  • Do you have a website dedicated to your event? If not – get one. The cost is only about $100 a year. (You can also use the website to sell advertising to local businesses, and event tickets. 
  • Is this going to be an annual event? (The first year is the hardest – not only does it get easier each year, but it also becomes more profitable.
  • When you get an item sponsored, make sure you take possession of the item. Do not rely on the “promise of an item.” You might need to rent a storage space to hold all of the items before the auction. If the item is a service-related item, make sure you have a written agreement with the donor.
  • Do you have a sales team for donations? This is also a good time to sell VIP tables and tickets to the event. (Since you already have their attention, make sure you fully explain all of the ways they can participate.)
  • Make sure you have a large sign letting everyone know who the donors are.
  • Use QR-Codes to describe items that are going to be auctioned off. (A QR-Code is a square image that your smartphone can read. Usually, it’s a link to a website. (Another great way to use your website).
  • Did you know that you can make QR-Codes that go directly to Cash-App, PayPal, Venmo, for extra donations? Then post a large sign at the event with the QR-Code on it.

A great goal to strive for is to have an overall profit before you sell the first auction item.

This is usually hard to do on your first attempt, however as you repeat your event annually, this can be accomplished.

For example: If my total event expenses equal $6,000 and I expect to have 250 people attend, I could sell the tickets at $30 each and have a built-in profit of $1500.  Then anything that the auction brings in is on top of that. 

At The Auction

This is not a firework show, where you save the best for last.  Never auction the best items at the end of the auction. This can cost your fundraiser thousands of dollars.

ALWAYS auction the best items in the middle of the auction. Keep in mind that only one person will win the auction.  So what happens when you auction the best item at the end? All of the losers of that auction go home with a lot of money in their pockets. (Not a good thing).

If this is a silent table auction, never close the tables in groups. Give the auction losers time to make their way over to the remaining tables to place more bids.

After the event

Document Everything! Notes and checklist will be a big help for next year. Don’t forget to update your website with the final results of your fundraiser. Use your email list to thank people for attending, and remind them to place your even on their calendar for the next year.

Throughout the year, send emails out on a month basis and keep people “in the loop” for news regarding the next event. Start building a level of anticipation and excitement as your next fundraiser date becomes close.

Doing these things is the reason your fundraiser become more popular and profitable as the years go by.

I hope this information help you succeed. Keep in mind that DFW.Party offers a list of preferred party vendors who specializes in fundraising events.  Just search our vendor list using the term “fundraising”


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