8 Ways to Sink a Fundraising Event

Misty Marquam

Live benefit auctions are a lot of fun and can raise critical funds to support your org’s services, offerings and mission. And when carefully developed using best practices, they yield great results for nonprofits and organizations. If you’ve ever been involved in planning a live auction, you know they take tons of time, resources and effort. So use yours wisely! Let’s roll up our sleeves and discuss the most common challenges our clients face when planning a benefit auction.

1. In our experience, Live Auctions under-perform when any number of the following issues occur:You haven’t procured the right items for your audience. Not every crowd wants the same things and a hot item at one event might be a total dud at another. Consider demographics, socioeconomic background and affiliation with your organization. How committed are they? What are they willing and historically able to spend? What do they want to purchase? How well do you know these donors? Are they quietly philanthropic, or do they want to be showered with attention and praise?


2. You don’t have enough donors willing and able to bid on the big stuff. When is your event? Will your major donors even be present? Develop your donor base, ensure they’ll attend and then provide that which they desire to raise the most money.

3.Your event timeline is not maximizing fundraising success. This is a common problem and one which plagues even the largest and most successful NPOs. First and foremost, we are fundraising – we’re not just throwing an amazing party. The goals are different and the strategy and planning should be too.


4. The sequence of events (what happens when) is not timed properly. From the order of auction package sales, to where you place your special appeal, to the speeches and awards in your live program – it all must be arranged in a manner that’s right for your crowd.

Let us say this once and for all – DO NOT EVER END THE NIGHT WITH FUNDRAISING! Fundraising is the goal. The main event. And the reason for hosting this big night. So showcase it front and center in all of your communications, as well as where it appears in your live program. If you save it for last, fewer people will participate. Avoid this pain.

5. There are too many auction items for the number of attendees and their giving capacity. Less is more when developing a benefit auction. Create a seller’s market with the correct number of auction items tailored to your buyers’ preferences. You’ll be rewarded with higher sales prices and more engaged bidders.

6. Tired live auction items in your lineup (for three or more years in a row). Are you excited by knowing exactly what will happen next? Will your donors be? Consider the buyers who have previously purchased these (tired) items. Would they want to buy them yet again? Likely not. Always keep it fresh and find original items to keep your donors actively engaged and ready to find out what’s new in this year’s lineup!

7. Sound problems. If people can’t hear, they won’t pay attention. If they’re not paying attention, they won’t bid. Period. Poor sound is, by far, the number one pain point experienced at live fundraising events. You’ll never hear about it if the sound is great, but lousy sound is incredibly irritating and memorable in the worst possible way! Always, ALWAYS invest in quality, professional AV services.

8. Marketing snafus (or worse yet, not marketing at all) – you didn’t promote your live auction items in a way that drummed up excitement and got your guests ready to bid and support your org. If you want to ensure live auction success, event marketing is a vital piece of the pie. We have loads of strategies to help get the word out and bring more supporters TO your event!

Stay tuned for our follow-up blog – it’s chock-full of ideas to eliminate these pain points at your next live fundraising event. And, as always, if you have any questions for us, reach out. We can help!

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