Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Should We Use A Professional Auctioneer Or Celebrity Volunteer?

July 24th, 2014 by Karen Climer

I’ve been to more fundraising events than one human being should be required to go to.  Like you, I’ve been to events as a guest, a volunteer, and a staffer.  I’ve been to events that ran flawlessly, and I’ve been to events that made me cringe.

One of the differences between the best and the worst events, (I’m thinking about the guest experience and the bottom line) is the auctioneer.  If you want a good event, you need a good auctioneer (assuming the event has a live auction).

In my experience, I have found one thing that good auctioneers have in common: they make a living as auctioneers.  I have never — as in not one single time — witnessed a person run a good auction who did one of the following on a full-time basis: news anchor, TV commentator, radio DJ, news reporter, actor, or athlete.

I attended an event a few years ago that sticks out in my mind.  The auction committee decided to use a TV personality as an auctioneer because she wouldn’t cost any money.  The TV personality was awful.  She is great at interviewing people on TV, but not so great at getting the bids moving.  During the auction, the committee chair realized things were going poorly.  So the auction committee chair walked up on the stage, took the microphone, and tried to run the auction.  Things went from bad to worse.  This killed the event.  The next year, the charity hired a professional auctioneer.  Their net revenue for the auction improved as well.

So what can a professional auctioneer do that a TV or radio personality can’t do?

  • Professional auctioneers know how to lower the starting bid gracefully.  When no one bids on the $500 starting bid, they artfully lower it and get people bidding.  Then they usually get the bidding past the original starting bid.
  • Professional auctioneers know how to play on people’s emotions, which increases bidding
  • Professional auctioneers initiate a healthy competitive spirit, and increase bidding.

Auctioneering is one of those things that looks very easy.  When you see a skilled person do what they are good it, it always looks easy.  When Michael Jordan (I know I’m dating myself) slammed the ball into the basket with one hand, it looks easy.  That’s because he’s practiced it millions of time.  Same with auctioneers.  They’ve spent hundreds of hours practicing it.  The good ones have hundreds of real auction under their belt.

Please hire a professional auctioneer.  You are not saving money by using a volunteer “celebrity” auctioneer.  In fact, you are losing money because they don’t know how to get bids.  The money you spend paying the professional auctioneer will come back ten-fold in bidding and credibility.

Posted in Events

2 Responses

  1. Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE


    I love your post because so many nonprofits host auctions. Like you, I’ve suffered through some poorly led live auctions. That said, I’ve seen professional auctioneers, who know nothing about the charity, do a poor job of raising funds. They were there to auction the stuff, get ‘er done, and get out. They didn’t know the crowd or the mission and clearly weren’t motivated to raise funds. Often, live auctions are when the biggest bids are made. I agree many volunteers chosen for the role are often not the right choice. Nonprofits should give this decision more thoughtful consideration to make sure the person has the skills and personality to pull it off. Being well known or in the public eye is not enough to qualify them as successful auctioneers. Personality and passion for the mission are key.

  2. Karen Climer

    Thanks for your comment, Alyce Lee. With professional auctioneers, I have seen good and bad ones. I always figured that the bad ones were just not good auctioneers in general. I never really thought about them being bad because they are not interested in the mission (but maybe they are fantastic at auctioning off cars and furniture). Thank you for your insight.

    I agree that personality and passion for the mission are key. But I would also add knowing how to run an auction to that list.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

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