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December 4, 2021
Avoiding the 10 Deadly Sins of Fundraising Auctions
By Kathy Kingston

Kathy Kingston
Kathy Kingston
Benefit auctions are likely to remain an important source of income for nonprofits, and, when properly structured, can increase the amount of funds they generate without increasing your costs.

Here are 10 of the most common mistakes that auctioneers, nonprofits, schools, and charities unknowingly make, and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Leaving Money in the Room

By far the most expensive mistake you can make is using a volunteer amateur auctioneer. Retaining an experienced professional fundraising auctioneer can increase your net auction profits from 20% to more than 300% immediately. Hiring a professional benefit auctioneer does not cost; it pays.

Mistake #2: Failing to Ask for Funds

Create an opportunity for everyone to contribute to your great cause at a level that is meaningful via a Fund-a-Need special appeal. It works, because not everyone wants or needs a live or silent auction item. A well conducted, inspiring Fund-a-Need can double your live auction profits in just 10 minutes.

Mistake #3: Offering Too many Auction Items that No One Wants

Reduce the number of auction items and focus on fewer unique items that produce bigger results. Make sure your organization procures hot auction items that keep driving excitement and interest #147; items that fulfill fantasies and dream vacations and experiences the are unique to your supporters..

Mistake #4: Planning a Party and Forgetting Fundraising

Your benefit auction fundraiser is about raising money. Therefore, focus on fundraising, not your centerpieces, variety of wines, entertainment nor the color of tablecloths, all which raise zero dollars. Design it to emphasize your unique mission and how your donors can make a difference. Proudly promote your cause and emphasize that the reason people attend is to raise funds to improve lives and your community.

Mistake #5: Boring Your Audience

The quickest way to lose money and momentum at your benefit auction is to sedate your guests with a string of talking-head long speeches. Just say, “No BS!” (No Boring Speeches!) Insist on a few brief—but inspiring—remarks that emphasize first-person testimonials and success stories. You want to capture the hearts of your guests and showcase your cause and your transformational results so that they will enthusiastically open their wallets.

Mistake # 6: Ending with Your Live Auction

Waiting until after dinner or after entertainment to raise money will do more to kill your bottom line than practically anything else. By then many of your guests are tired, inattentive, or, worse yet, have gone home. Schedule your live auction and Fund-a-Need Appeal before or during dinner when your guests are attentive, awake, and ready to bid. Save awards and entertainment for your grand finale.

Mistake # 7: Failing to Invite the Right Guests

This mistake will diminish the fundraising success of your auction and possibly future philanthropic support. Fill your venue with guests who have the capacity to bid and give generously at your auction, beyond just buying a ticket to your gala. Position your charity auction as a cultivation and relationship building opportunity so that you can turn bidders into long term donors. Remember the first rule of fundraising: “People give to people - not causes.” Create an audience development team whose sole purpose is to identify, invite, and cultivate guests who have means and influence to generously support you before, during, and after your benefit auction.

Mistake # 8: Staying In The Dark

Dim dinner style lighting will lose thousands of dollars and put your beloved supporters to sleep. Illuminate your silent auction brightly. Turn up house lights fully during the live auction and Fund-a-Need Appeal. Direct the lights on the stars of your event: your guests. Never spotlight your auctioneer, as that makes it impossible for him/her to see bidders.

Mistake # 9: Keeping It Noisy

Nothing spells fundraising auction disaster more than an audience that does not pay attention and where no one can hear the auctioneer or your success stories. Benefit auctions require a sound system different from any other event. Never use the built-in house sound and avoid the band’s sound system, because neither are adequate. A professional sound system will pay for itself many times over and improve your guest’s experience so you can maximize your fundraising.

Mistake #10: Failing to Have Fun

People spend more money when they are enjoying themselves, and, according to the National Auctioneers Association, the number one reason people attend an auction is to have fun. Infuse your benefit auction with interactive income activities that rain money, such as Heads and Tails, Premium Dessert Frenzy, Sign Up Party Boards, Super Silent Auctions, Centerpiece Auctions, Gift Card Sweep, Auction Chicken, Wild Card Auctions, Pot of Gold, and more. Adding fun to your auction will increase profits.

Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS, founder of Kingston Auction Company, has served as a professional auctioneer and consultant to nonprofits since 1986. Contact her at, email to, or call 603-235-1195.

April 2014
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