Justin Timberlake & Jessica Biel Perform as Live Auctioneers

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Live Auctions

Potential Revenues:


Revenue Source:

Sale of donated auction items


Varies, but usually in conjunction with a larger event like a dinner, gala, or ball


Tables to display items


Every individual and business willing to donate an item

Volunteers Needed:

Auctioneer or emcee, people to solicit businesses and individuals for the donated items, people to help put out the displays and donation collections


How It Works:

This is usually a significant contribution generator for every large event.  Items that are truly unique, or of significant value, are put up for bid while the assembled audience is sipping on coffee and eating dessert.  Usually a professional emcee or auctioneer is up front making the items seem absolutely irresistible. 

Some items that have made it to the live auction part of an event include puppies, a “City Slickers” event at a remote dude ranch in Utah, a small walk-on part in an upcoming movie, and so on.  But then creativity comes along and the auction turns to other rare venues, like dates with celebrities, throwing out the first pitch at a professional baseball game, a round of golf with a sports star, and private dinners cooked by the local fire department at their fire station.  You just can’t walk into a store and purchase something that memorable.

But other, less ostentatious venues have worked even more successfully.  When 3 children got up to individually thank donors for their Kids Club cancer support group, they tearfully let the audience how much they appreciated their support during their parent’s final battle with cancer.  Those few heartfelt seconds started an avalanche of bids from a 300-person audience to sponsor even more children into the program at a cost of around $3,000 per child.  Before the auctioneer was done, he had progressed from the first group of full-support sponsorships at $3,000, down in increments to $50 bids for partial-support contributions.  When the bidding was done, over $47,000 had been raised during a thin 20-minute slice of the evening.

Ideas to Consider:

As mentioned in the Silent Auctions section of this book, a good emcee or auctioneer will earn their fee by taking a simple donated item and multiplying its value several times over.  A good example was when a member of an exclusive country club was at an event, where he had also donated a round of golf for a threesome.  The threesome was to accompany him as his guests.  The winning bid went to a threesome who had successful bid $4,500.

However, the auctioneer wasn’t done.  When the winner of the first round was announced, the auctioneer turned to the donor who was sitting in the audience, and asked whether he would allow the non-profit to sell more rounds of golf.  The donor agreed.  Before the auctioneer was done, three more threesomes - the ones who had failed in that original round of bidding - made good on their last bids, and the rounds were sold at $4,500, $4,000, $3,750, and $3,500, for a whopping $15,750 - $11,250 more than the single high bid. 

And ‘no.’ the emcee did not embarrass the donor.  He knew he was going to do this ahead of time, as soon as he saw the item on the list.  When he asked to be introduced to the donor, he quietly asked for permission.  The donor simply smiled at his creativity and said ‘yes.’ 

With a little forethought, more items like the dinner at the fire station prepared by fireman, the date with a celebrity, or the round of golf with a sports star can all be sold multiple times.  Just make sure you don’t embarrass the donor by putting them “on the spot,” or you’ll never hear from him or her again.


 Source of Idea:  Unknown.  This idea has been in wide use by many non-profit organizations during their signature events.

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