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Live Auction Tips to Crush Your Fundraising Goals

In the world of event planning, there are two things we fear most….1) a Box Office for a public event that is quieter than the Disneyland parking lot during a Pandemic and 2) a ballroom of 600 bidders without a single paddle in the air for your first live auction item. That second one is what we will learn how to prevent here.

If you are new to auction fundraising are still working to wrap your head around what a Live Auction is, make sure to first check out this blog post on Types of Auction Formats.

If you have the foundations of charity auctions down, but are looking for ways to maximize your Live Auction and crush your fundraising goals, let’s dive in to some tips on how to strategically design your Live Auction.


Now I could save the most important tip for last, but I am going to give it to you right upfront because every decision you make when planning your live auction, needs to be centered around highlighting covetable Items (or Packages) that are unique from offerings seen at other similar events.

The Wine Tasting experience that fell into your lap might seem great from the surface, but if you do some research, you might find this has been featured at 9 of the last 10 charity fundraisers in your area. Often times your audience is attending more than just your fundraiser in that season, so it is key that what you choose to feature in the live auction is as attractive as possible….And as attractive as possible to the specific bidders you have in attendance. A 3-day trip to Vegas with bottle service at the hottest nightclub might cause a frenzy of paddles in the air for a group of 20–30-year-old nightclub industry entrepreneurs. For a room of philanthropic retirees, it could fall very flat.

Your top priority is to secure pieces for your live auction that have the maximum appeal for your specific audience.


Back to our nightclub industry event… If you were to offer 8 different live auction packages each for a different Vegas hotel and night club you are spreading out the interest in that experience across all of your items and reducing the chance of bidding competition on a single item that would drive up the profit on the package.

You want to offer variation in the items you feature. So keep it to one Vegas trip and work to secure additional packages that appeal to that same audience but in a different way. Maybe private chef tasting menu dinner with cocktail pairings for a group of 10. And a Sunday Funday private yacht experience. A personal stylist package at a super trendy boutique. And so on.


The average time it takes to auction off each item in a live auction is 4-5 minutes. This is 4-5 minutes per item that you are doing everything you can to keep the audience’s attention solely on the auction, battling the distractions of networking opportunities, social visits, bathroom breaks and general restlessness.

Tailor the number of items in your live auction to fit the timeframe you think you can capture the audience’s attention.


Some people say that ordering your live auction items is a science. I think of it more as an art. Everyone has a slightly different approach and strategy for how they go about it. However, the most important thing here is that you take some time to really think about it! A few guidelines we follow for most events:

  • Start off with an item that you know will sell. Not necessarily the highest value item and definitely not the one you would consider to be your “best”. This is your warm up item so you want it to be something you feel confident will capture interest and garner bids as it sets the tone for the rest of the flow.

  • Your “hot ticket” item…the one you think has the most buzz around it…should go about 2/3rd of the way into the line-up. This helps to ensure people stay engaged as you continue through the items but reduces the risk that the audience will have fizzled by the time you get there.


Whether you choose to hire a professional auctioneer or use a friendly personality connected to the organization, be critical when evaluating this decision. Your auctioneer is a make-or-break factor in your auction success. Some things to consider when reviewing your options:

  • Past Experience – does this person have any references or past video that can be reviewed?

  • Likeability/Personality – will the audience feel endeared to this person?

  • Auction Expertise – does this person understand the nuances of live auctions? How much are they willing to advise in the planning process?

  • Familiarity – does this person understand the organization and its mission? Are they aware of the community in the audience?

  • Communication – does this person speak clearly, effectively and relatively quickly? {Note: You don’t necessarily need an auctioneer that can call out numbers and details like what you see in the movies. But they do need to able to keep a quick pace as the auction progresses and maintain composure as bids come in.}

  • Engaging – can this person capture and audience and keep their attention?


Start to engage your audience early and get them excited for the moments of the Live Auction. You can publish your Live Auction items in advance on your website, in eblasts and on social media with detailed descriptions and enticing photos. You can also build up excitement during a cocktail hour by using large signs or digital screens teasing the items. Including your items in the program, gives your audience some time to study the options and plan out their bidding strategy while also making sure you pass along all of the “fine print”.


Some events choose to incorporate a fundraising game or competition as an opener to the live auction – something that gets the audience excited and primed for the upcoming items while also raising additional funds.

A popular example is the Centerpiece Auction. One person at each table is designated as the auctioneer. Over a designated 2-3 minutes each table executes an individual Live Auction taking the highest bid as the winner to take home the table centerpiece. After the allotted time, the official event auctioneer awards a prize (or just bragging rights) to the table that garnered the highest bid. We have also seen a similar format done but with tables each auctioning off a cup of water as opposed to the centerpiece.


Whether you hire professional spotters through your auctioneer or leverage your organization’s volunteers, make sure you have enough eyes in the room to help draw the auctioneer’s attention to bids that might go missed. It can be even more helpful if spotters have a colorful flag or prop of some sort to make the bid even more obvious. And, you can tie this into your theme! A baseball themed event could use foam fingers. A flapper themed event could use large feather fans. And so on.

Pro Tip: Trained spotters also work well for keeping a bidder engaged and playfully pushing them to stay in the game.


When possible, utilize a secret backup package to double your wins! On a package with multiple bidders, the auctioneer can announce at the end that a second package has now become available and award the two highest bidders!

There’s no rule saying you have to stop at two winners. If you have multiple items available and the bidders to award these to, this is a great way to triple or even quadruple the funds raised on a single item.


It is always best to secure really amazing live auction items on a pure donation basis, but that’s not always possible and considerations need to be made for consignment. Consignment is when an auction items is provided to you for use in your live auction and if it sells, then you owe an agreed upon amount to the consignor. If it does not sell, nothing is owed.

With consignment you can get access to some really robust and exciting packages, but you need to make sure that the price you will need to pay makes sense based on what you think you can make on that item. And ALWAYS ensure your minimum bid is at or higher than what you will owe on the package.

Do your research in advance and ensure you are working with a reputable company and you understand the full terms of the agreement.


Make sure that any Terms & Conditions, exclusions or blackout dates are available for bidders upfront, but be careful to do this in a way that does not turn your lively bidding into a live reading of medical prescription side effects. You could highlight restrictions on screen or within a program and direct the audience to reference that information for full details.

Live auctions are detailed and nuanced. They are also effective fundraising tools that can help your organization reach its goals. Take time in the planning process to tailor these tips to the specifics of your event. It can take 6 months of planning for a 30 minute live auction, and if you use that time to think strategically, you’ll be on your way to a successful live auction fundraiser!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenna Thompson

Jenna is a mountain based Yogi with a love for veggie focused foods. When she's not in Warrior Pose you can find her spending time with her Avalanche Rescue Dog Luna with a Matcha Latte in hand!


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