Auction Planning

December 15, 2009
Photo by Andie Petkus

(Photo by Andie Petkus)

Last Thursday, Benefit Auctions 360 was a sponsor for the “Get Ready for Your Spring Auction” seminar held at the Melody Ballroom. The event was attended by nearly 100 people from various organizations seeking out suggestions and tips for successful auction planning. I really feel that the attendees walked away from the afternoon with some useful tips to implement that will help raise the bar in their upcoming auctions.

Sitting on the Panel Discussion that kicked off the afternoon’s conference was our very own Miss Johnna Wells there to give professional advice and answer questions from the point of view of auction planning via the successful Benefit Auctions 360 Fundraising Model.  Other panelists covering the gamut of auction planning included included Nick Apap from Royces Prop Shop (Decor and Design Production), Jon Bridenbaugh of Northwest Auction Support (Computer Rental), Michelle Holman of Auctionpay (Data Management), Clint Kaster of Smart Tech Audio Visual, Samantha Swaim of Samantha Swaim Fundraising LLC, and Kelly Russell of Kelly Russell Auctions, LLC.

Samantha Swaim did a fantastic job facilitating the event! (Photo by Andie Petkus)

Samantha Swaim did a fantastic job facilitating the event! {Photo by Andie Petkus}

In today’s softer economy, planning committees are starting to get even more creative on how to meet fundraising goals and here are some ways panelists suggested to get the most bang for your buck!


  • Nick Apap of Royce’s Prop Shop said that if you have to cut back in your decor budget, selecting focal points to decorate versus the entire space can still make a dramatic impact without overspending.
  • Pull from decor items that are already owned or have your volunteers help create centerpieces. This can help to represent the personality of your organization at the event.
  • Samantha Swaim suggested the use of LED uplighting in the event space to add that extra punch for very little money. These lights can be rented with a variety of gel colors to choose from to match your event style and theme.


  • Clint Kaster of Smart Tech AV suggested to utilize the architecture of the room to your advantage. He had a recent client who was able to use one of the wall spaces as a focal point for the PowerPoint projection. This wall space was visually interesting, provided a great foundation for the PowerPoint projection, and offset the cost of renting a projection screen, which can get expensive.
  • Some schools are able to utilize student volunteers from their theater tech department to help with the event’s A/V staff to cut some labor costs. As audio/visual needs are one of the most important inclusions in your fundraising auction, it is important to discuss this option in further detail with your audio/visual provider.
  • As the audio/visual at an auction can make or break the event, it was highly recommended by Miss Wells to not cut professional sound services out of your budget.  Miss Wells stated that “while you may save several hundred dollars by not hiring a professional sound company, you will literally loose several thousand dollars, or in some instances tens of thousands of dollars if you opt to not hire a professional audio company to outfit your venue of choice with professional audio equipment”. If your organization does not currently use professional A/V services,  strongly consider adding this to create a more successful fundraising auction and event.
Auctioneer Johnna Wells, explaining the three W's (photo by Andie Petkus)

Auctioneer Johnna Wells, explaining the three W's {photo by Andie Petkus}

The next question to the panel was “What are the hot ticket items that are going for the most money in auctions today?”:

After some discussion, it seemed as though the hot ticket items this year are trip packages (both local and far away), alcohol (instant wine cellars, starter bars, etc.), and any truly unique or universal packages that are a specific match to your audience. Because every organization has its own unique personality, Johnna Wells suggested that the organization first consider the “3 W’s: the Who, What and Why” of the event to create their own hot ticket items. Benefit Auctions 360’s 3 W’s are loosely outlined below:

  1. Who Who are your donors and supporters? Considering the diversity amongst the organizations supporters, anticipated auction and event guests can help an organization cater to procuring packages that will be highly sought after for that particular attendance base! If your particular organization and donor base appeals to a certain niche of interests, then building packages around these particular areas of interest will create universally appealing packages. In the context of any fundraising auction, a universally appealing package will achieve greater bidding power  and fundraising results than a more subjective package.
  2. WhatWhat types of packages would be appealing to your organizations supporters and your anticipated target audience? Knowing what makes your supporters “tick” and what types of packages are particularly appealing to your anticipated guests is one of the quickest ways to ensure that your fundraising goals can be attained. As most auction committees consist of fellow organization supporters, brainstorm with your auction committee on the types of packages that they themselves would be interested in seeing at their auction if “money was no object”. This type of brainstorming will give you and your committee a great foundation to build upon when further exploring “what” types of packages would be most appealing to your anticipated auction and event guests
  3. Why – Why do guests support your cause and how can you implement this cause for support into some of your Live Auction packages? This area of brainstorming can be particularly helpful to an organization when exploring potential packages for the Live Auction. One Benefit Auctions 360 client, the Cat Adoption Team, has done an incredible job at exploring the “Why” portion of the 3 W’s in preparation for their auction and event, and have worked to create several Live Auction packages based upon the auction and event attendees connection with the Cat Adoption Team. They have created a “Cat Calendar” package for their Live Auction, which allows for a winning bidder to have their favorite cat professionally photographed during a one-of-a-kind photo shoot and then calendars are created by a designer featuring the winning bidder’s favorite photos from the shoot. Their “Cat Calendar” embodies the reason why people are attending the Cat Adoption Team’s auction and event – because they love the organization’s mission and message, they love cats, and this package prrrrrfectly blends those elements together.

The Who, What, and Why, when considered, will truly help your organization come up with package ideas that will raise the most money at your auction. Wells also used an example of her client, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. When considering their audience, it was obvious to them that because their supporters had such an interest in cycling, that the packages based around that theme would be most successful, such as Cycling Tours of Europe, or, closer to home, cycling tours through Oregon wine country! If you have not yet considered your Who, What, and Why, then start thinking about these effective areas when planning your next auction and event.

Round Table Discussions with Johnna Wells (photo by Andie Petkus)

Round Table Discussions with Johnna Wells {photo by Andie Petkus}

Be Creative in Your Fundraising: If your organization is lucky enough to procure a high value ticket item but are unsure your bidder base at the event will be able to accommodate the fundraising results you seek for that particular item, then you can actually add an online element to the Live Auction to help make sure your item(s) can reach a bidding base with spending capabilities that are parallel to your target goal for the item. Another suggestion for groups that have had a package in their event for several years and have seen its popularity go down in your audience, consider doing an “Auction Swap” with a package from another organization. Marketed to a new audience, one or the other package might be a hit!


We thank you for checking in today! So as not to bog you down with too much information in one post, we are going to focus on auction planning software in a separate post since there is so much to cover! See you back here at the BA360 Blog again soon.