A Better Way To Curate Your Live Auction Items

June 22, 2023

The success of your live auction often depends on the items people can bid on. But procuring attention-grabbing auction items is no easy task. 


More often than not, you end up calling more than 200 businesses and emailing almost 1000 people to see if they have anything they would be willing to donate to your auction. And this can end one of two ways: you either end up empty-handed or you don’t hear back from anyone at all. 


ClickBid’s Sales Manager, Mike Sileno, recently sat down with Al McDonald, Chief Product Officer at TravelPledge to talk through his top tips for procuring live auction items more efficiently.


Step 1: Set goals 

There is a common saying amongst auctioneers that goes, “The winning bidder doesn’t make your money. The second placed bidder does.” Basically, you want to find and curate items that create a bidding war!


The best way to start doing that is by setting goals for yourself so you don’t end up with items that no one wants to bid on or discover that you listed too many items. The secret? Aim for quality items over quantity. 


Here is a quick checklist to help you ensure your items are popular with your bidders.


  • Does the item have a high perceived value?

  • Does the item appeal to many people?

  • Is the item difficult to find elsewhere?

  • Is the item simple to explain?

  • Can the item be packaged or sold in multiples? 


For best practice, you want one item for every two bidders (but 6-12 live auction items and 25-40 silent auction items are right for many auctions).

Step 2: List people you know

The biggest mistake people make with their cold outreach — is just that. It’s cold. They start with people who don’t know them that well or have any reason to support their cause. 

When you’re doing auction item outreach, start with the people you know; your family, friends, co-workers, your local stores, service professionals, or even your board. 


Instead of focusing on “what”, focus on “who” can provide items for your auction. Why? Because it’s much more efficient than “cold calling,” it’s definitely less intimidating, and it helps you think more strategically about your auction items. You might come up with some ideas that have never occurred to you before because you had never thought about what that particular person may be able to contribute.


Here are some common auction items you can ask for:


  • A vacation home rental

  • Concert tickets (bonus points for getting multiple)

  • A week of catered meals

  • Tickets to your local sports team (maybe even a chance to throw the first pitch)

  • A signed book

  • Free music lessons

  • Landscaping services

Step 3: Make the ask

Whenever you reach out to someone to ask for something, make sure it feels warm and personable. The best way to do this is face-to-face or over the phone. You can email, but email is easier to say “no” to, and it’s easy to ignore. 


Ask everyone on your list and don’t count out anyone because while they might not know what to give, you can definitely prompt them with the examples we’ve given already. 


Here’s what you should remember when procuring your live auction items:


  • Cater your message to each person and tell them what they get out of it. If you are talking to a local business, emphasize the level of promotion they will get. For individuals, talk about the mission of the organization and its impact. 

  • Do not apologize. Be confident in the mission you are supporting and in your conversations with people. You have nothing to apologize for. 

  • Leverage success. Positive emotions trump negative emotions every time. Get them excited to be part of your organization’s success. You might even want to talk about how you’re expecting lots of attendees and you really need this one item to round out your auction. 

  • Ask for multiples. Depending on the type of item, your donor may have the ability to offer more than one. This will always make it more appealing and command a high perceived value.

Step 4: Market the items

Marketing the donated items you have collected is a vital part of a fundraising auction, but it’s often overlooked. You don’t need to make it complicated either, sometimes just having a good photo and simple description can make all the difference. (Just make sure to avoid flowery language and make it skimmable). 


Choosing your starting bids

Long story short, you should start out at 30% of the fair market value of an item. If it’s an experience that can’t be purchased any other way, determine a reasonable starting bid. Then set your bidding steps to increase by 10% in most cases. If the item is really expensive, you can set the bidding steps at 5%. 


Determine which items make up the live auction

Analyzing the performance of your past auctions is a good way to determine which items should be included in live bidding. If it still isn’t obvious, think back to what makes an item “good” and choose from the best of those items. 


Themed baskets

The idea here is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Group lesser-valued items together to increase the perceived value. If you get a golf hat and golf glove, it’s OK to purchase a sleeve of golf balls and add that to the set. When they are added to the basket, it will feel complete. (“Miscellaneous” and “Mystery” are valid basket themes). 

Step 5: Wrap up

At this point, you have completed most of the hard work. The first priority will be to get the items to the winning bidders. This includes connecting the winning bidder of an experience with the person who can make it happen. 


Just as important is the thank you to all your item donors. It’s vital that they leave the experience feeling as if they made a difference. Communicate with them how much their item helped and how successful the auction was. A well-written thank you will make future contact with these donors a lot easier. And you will probably find yourself asking them for items again next year.  

Go get those items

There is a lot to getting enough good items for your fundraising event. But if you follow the steps, you will be successful. The biggest hurdle is getting over the fear of cold calling, and by using this process, no one should ever have to! Start by putting together your list of people, and then call your team together and have them do the same. Working together will build excitement for the auction and get them ready to make their asks. 


If you are still unsure about how to plan an entire auction, check out ClickBid’s guide: 9 Steps to Plan the Best Silent Auction.  


About TravelPledge

TravelPledge is dedicated to helping nonprofits raise money and improve donor engagement. They specialize in sourcing fun experiences to use as auction items like complimentary golf rounds at a private club or a weekend stay at a bed and breakfast. They also have an API integration with ClickBid’s platform so that TravelPledge experiences can be automatically added and synced with your live auction. For more information about TravelPledge, please visit their website www.travelpledge.com.

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