Avoid 5 Key Mistakes That Will Undermine Your Next Auction

How’s your auction doing?  Bet it could do better, for sure!

When it comes to auctions: you gotta love ‘em and work with them because they are here to stay.

And they can raise good, important, unrestricted money – IF you are smart and strategic with them.

Now, here’s a caveat: I’m not a wild fan of auctions to raise money.

They just take too much work compared to the net revenue they bring in.

(See my rant which was THE most popular blog post of 2011. And also see my love song to parties.)

Sherry Truhlar, of Red Apple Auctions, is a stellar auction expert. She’s going to share with my INSIDERS subscribers next Tuesday at 2pm ET How to Avoid the Top 5 Mistakes People Make with Auctions.

Auctioneer Sherry Truhlar really knows how to bring in the dough at an auction!

You can find out more about her session here.

With Sherry’s help, I’m offering these top 6 frequent auction mistakes and how to solve them.

    Mistake 1.  Your Auction is not “Boomer Friendly.”

Boomers are typically the folks with the money.

Boomers have already educated their kids, they’re at the peak of their careers, and they are still going out at night to social and charity events.

So what do boomers want and need at an auction?

LARGE PRINT and good lighting!

Guess what – it’s hard for boomers to see the fine print.

Almost boomers all need reading glasses.

And when the light is low, small print is even MORE difficult to read.

What size print are you using on the product descriptions? If the light is now, then it’s impossible to read.

    Mistake 2.  Offering products, instead of priceless experiences.

Listen, there are way too many “things” (mostly boring and uninteresting stuff) that end up on auction tables.

You know what sells at the highest dollar?

Make sure everyone can read the fine print in low light.

It’s experiences and items that don’t have a dollar value.

I was chatting this week with a parent at a charter school, and she said lunches with the teachers were going for the highest dollar at their auction.

What’s “priceless” to your supporters?

A trip to the locker room of your local pro hockey team might be priceless to a kid.

A colorful chair playfully painted by third graders?

A night on the town?

A helicopter ride?

A dinner party hosted a someone’s home?

These kinds of things can get the bidding going up and up and up.

Experiences are the things that bring in the big bucks.

    Mistake 3.  Have a poor sound system.

OK, you’re not having a live auction. I get that.

But you STILL need a great sound system.

You need to be announcing to people when the auction closes. You need to tease and promote the silent auction all during your dinner.

You need to talk it up! And promote it.

Otherwise, your items that you worked so hard to procure – will just sit there with little or no attention given to them.

Otherwise, you’ll see items of significant value go down in flames, at a fraction of their worth.

Use the sound system to cheerfully promote the auction!

    Mistake 4.  Your auction runs too late.

Experienced auctioneers tell me that the crowd starts thinning out by 9pm.

At 9:30 people are streaming out the door and at 10pm you may have an empty ballroom. (Of course this depends on the age of your crowd!).

Carefully control the timing of your event!

I attended an event recently that, for some reason, didn’t get going with the live auction until quite late.

At least half of the crowd had left. It was sad.

So many wonderful items were there without many people to bid on them. So much work went down the drain simply because of timing.

    Mistake 5.  You worry more about decor than getting the right people in the door.

What’s the key to every auction’s success?

It’s having the right people in the seats. It’s having real money in the chairs.

I went to an auction recently for one of my favorite causes in Raleigh – an independent school that my daughters and I attended.

Spend extra time getting the right people in the seats.

Usually the folks at the auction are people who are affiliated with the school.

This year, someone invited a very, very wealthy couple who had no affiliation with the school, other than being friends with the person who invited them.

Well, when the biggest ticket item of the evening came up – a trip to the Caribbean, this particular man started bidding. And he kept right on bidding.

In fact, the bidding war became really exciting.  The crowd hushed and just watched.

And he ended up winning the trip – and spending by far, the most money of anyone that whole evening.

And he would not have been there unless a friend of the school had invited him to come sit at their table.

So definitely reach out and encourage special people with deep pockets to attend. Better yet – put them at your table.

One last point:

Studies show that people will spend more money if there is plenty of alcohol.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that one!


Have a good time with your fundraising event. Make it fun and make it productive.

Be sure you think through the little things that can make such a difference to your bottom line.

And join Sherry Truhlar and me on Tuesday with the INSIDERS when we discuss the major mistakes people make with silent auctions.