While we do create magical moments on stage, what you see is a partnership that started long before the night of your event. We work for months sometimes over a year, with the organization to ensure that what happens on the stage the night of your fundraising gala looks effortless, smooth, and feels magical.
You wouldn’t ask your auto mechanic to perform dental surgery, so why are you letting someone who isn't a trained auctioneer ask for money during your fundraising events?
Below is a fairly typical conversation with a prospective client after they completed their annual fundraising event and had someone who isn't a professional auctioneer take on the role of asking the audience for money.
Client: Hello, we need a new auctioneer so what do you charge? We don’t have much of a budget but you would receive a lot of exposure as there will be other organizations in the room that might also need your services.
Me: Thank you for reaching out. How did you raise money at the event last year?
Client: Last year, Pam, one of our board members told us she served as auctioneer at a school event and had a hoot. She volunteered to do our event and we were grateful because we didn’t have the budget to hire a professional auctioneer. Turned out Pam the board member did in fact love the microphone, and vodka, and when it was time to ask for money she sure did have a good time until she wasn't getting the results she wanted from the audience and at that point she began to shout and shame our crowd into giving.
Me: I am sorry that happened to you and I want to reassure you that you are not the first organization to have a ‘Pam’ play the role of the auctioneer and I understand your frustration.
You invited 100+ guests, paid for the venue, food, alcohol, glorious centerpieces, entertainment, etc. You and your staff invested so much in emotional labor as well as more time than you probably kept track of, and you are left feeling disappointed because you didn’t see the return on investment.
This typically happens when organizations didn't prioritize hiring a professional auctioneer when it came to budgeting for the event. A professionally trained auctioneer makes the job look easy and anytime someone makes a job look easy people begin to think that anyone can do that job and so they go that exact route, letting anyone take on the role of auctioneer.
They trust their fundraiser to someone who does LOVE the organization but who has no experience in conducting an appeal/paddle raise/fund a need, from the stage or running a live auction.
Almost every other part of the fundraising event has a line item in the budget, except for the professional auctioneer. Sure, it’s not hard to find someone who loves to talk into a mic and loves to be on stage in front of people but that tends to be where the similarity ends. A trained professional fundraising auctioneer should be involved with the planning process of the event from the very beginning. Auctioneers have a very specific lens which we look through and it is the lens of, how do we create an event, from the physical space all the way to the emotional space so that the guests feel motivated to give. In fact I often hear that people think auctioneers are magicians because of the fundraising results that happen when a professional auctioneer is leading the ask. As sad as this is to admit, we are not magicians. However, I think we are better than magicians as we are true partners in your fundraising efforts.
It’s not a complicated formula but getting it right and being able to flawlessly execute it is the difference between someone shaming your guests to give vs. a trained professional guiding your guests along a journey of falling in love with your mission and therefore giving from a heart-centered space.
It is the difference between someone using inappropriate humor to connect vs. a trained professional who understands how to effortlessly read the crowd and adapt accordingly.
It is the difference between having someone show up right before show time and take to the stage without a clear understanding of what is at stake vs. a professional who is deeply committed to their craft and treats every organization as if it was their own non profit.
The fundraising event is often the one time a year when you bring people together to learn about and support the mission of your organization. And because the stakes are so high when it comes to fundraising, it makes sense to budget for and hire a trained professional auctioneer who has the skill set to encourage your guests to give in a way that leaves them feeling valued, an integral part of the success of the organization, and excited to come back next year.
Debbie Scheer is a fundraising consultant, benefit auctioneer, professional emcee, and speaker who is deeply committed to helping organizations enhance their events and foster lasting connections with their supporters.