I have experienced a trend at the charity events that I perform at: they love doing charity auctions.
And why not? They help the charity raise funds and I am entirely in favour of this.
While I believe that these auctions are done with the right intention, from an audience’s perspective, I don’t think they support the event. Here’s why…
1. They detract from the ambiance of the event
The event has just begun to gain momentum, there’s been some food, wine & entertainment … and suddenly the room’s lights are turned up bright (so that they can see the bids), the music stops, and an auctioneer takes the stage. The energy of the whole room drops back to reality. This makes it very difficult for anyone following the auction to rebuild the fun and enjoyment of the event.
2. The auctioneer is not an entertainer (often)
I can count on two fingers the number of times the auctioneer has been a form of entertainment with his banter and quips. Because, after all, an auction is a type audience-participation game. He (sorry ladies, it’s almost always a male auctioneer) may be used to auctioning to a room of receptive and eager potential customers who are looking for a deal, so there’s hardly ever a need for the auctioneer to practise his entertainment skills. On the rare occasion that the auctioneer has been entertaining, it’s because he auctioneer had a charismatic personality and he made the whole process a game. The entertainment that did happen was because the auctioneer had an interesting way of pressuring the bidder into making a higher bid.
3. Only a few people take part
Every time I’ve seen a charity auction, it’s been perhaps 10% of the room participating … and everyone else is waiting for the whole thing to be over. Let’s face it – if you’re auctioning expensive jewellery, unique sports memorabilia or even an expensive holiday, you need to get decent bids. The problem is that most of the audience doesn’t bid when they don’t want to spend a large sum of money. I’m sure there are exceptions to this situation – huge sums of money can be raised like this – but not consistently, and this leads to a 15min gap where most people are just waiting for the whole thing to be over…
4. That awkward moment when no-one bids
A large, valuable item has been donated … and no-one makes the minimum bid. You can feel the whole audience wriggle in their chairs. The auctioneer reluctantly moves on but the mood of the room is down.
5. It’s a game for people trying to make an impression
Because everyone can see who’s bidding, there’s a bit of ‘alpha male-ing’ going on. As the bids are raised between two final bidders, the audience naturally feels a build-up, not just because the donation amount is getting larger and larger, but also because they sense a kind of ‘stand-off’ between two people and their desires. This is the highest form of entertainment that an auction reaches.
6. It’s a ‘last minute’ decision to spend the money
The items on auction are normally revealed at the event, so there’s no way to build up excitement for the items, nor can people budget for a special item that would really like. Imagine what kind of person you need to be to suddenly (within an hour or two) decide to buy a signed sport jersey, or hotel-stay, or piece of jewellery that’s worth R10 000? This would never happen at a normal auction – people who want to buy items on auction normally are well aware of what they want to buy and how much they are prepared to spend. The fact that these items are not promoted long before the event proves my point that a charity auction is nothing like a regular auction – it is a way to raise funds quickly, and has nothing to do with item. Besides – without any form of prior promotion, or event post event-promotion – the company/individual sponsoring the item has very limited marketing/PR exposure from the donation, and so are less motivated to donate something this is in high demand.
From my perspective, I am there to keep the audience in a fun mood and like an eToll, I want the money to removed from the audiences’ wallets without them noticing…
So here are some ways to make a charity auction a fun part of the event:
a) Silent Auction
Same process – people increase their offers until someone ‘wins’ the auction. However, a silent auction can happen throughout the evening without detracting from the energy of the event: you only need a few minutes to award the prizes, and then you can continue with the music/entertainment/meal. There’s no public process of bidding – this happens at the back of the room – so people who would ordinarily be too shy to participate can actually take a chance without potentially being embarrassed by making (relatively) small bid. You also don’t need to talk too long about items that did not meet the minimum bid. You also don’t need to take the risk of an unentertaining auctioneer – in fact, you don’t need one at all.
b) Focus on what the bid could help the charity achieve
Let’s imagine that R500 can ‘help feed one child for a month’ – then turn the bids into units of R500. Now the units of bidding are relative to what the charity aims to achieve AND it removes the focus from the money. Which sounds better – “R5000 for this 16ct diamond necklace” or “Feed 10 children for 1 month with this diamond necklace”? In my mind, that refocuses the whole point of the auction on what the money can do AND removes it from the ‘prize’. Folks, the REAL prize of an auction is providing financial assistance so that the charity can do its important work. This ‘unit’ approach also makes it much easier to raise the bid without the ‘fallback’ of the auctioneer working in smaller incrementals.
c) Make it clear what the financial goal is for the auction and how the money is going to be used
The winning bid of each auction must help the charity move closer to a goal – that way, the item won is a souvenir of how you contributed. If you think about it, the prize is actually inconsequential: the bidder wants to make a contribution. This is demonstrated by how frequently an item is put back on the auction so that it can help raise money again. Proof that people want to make a contribution WITHOUT being rewarded by a ‘prize’. The actual prize for the winning bidder is (or at least should be) the feeling of happiness of contributing.
What fundraiser co-ordinators need to rethink is why they’re doing the auction: to raise vast sums of money quickly. This process should not detract from the fun, conversation, dancing, eating, drinking, etc etc. I can’t understand why they take this risk in a way that can potentially ‘alienate’ the audience!
Tell us WHY you want to raise the funds, and give us a way to ENJOY and WANT to donate our money.
Please don’t put me under the pressure of an auctioneer.