STRATEGIC AUCTION ITEM SOLICITATION IS LIKE FISHING. Sound strange? Consider this: There’s a huge difference between fly fishing and plain ol’ fishing. Think Alaska. Think Deadliest Catch. Fishermen toss big steel crates (pots) out in the ocean. Not only do they catch crabs, they also haul a lot of by-catch (unwanted sea creatures). The same thing happens with item solicitation. When you throw out a big net for item procurement, you’ll get heaps of extra low-performance items that no one wants.
Fly fishing experts have a saying, “Match the hatch.” This means match the lure to the specific insect upon which the fish you’re targeting likes to feed. For example, an experienced angler knows that bottom-hugging crawfish lures won’t entice trout if they are surface feeding on mayflies.
Be an auction item solicitation expert. A savvy auction chair knows better than to offer front-row Metropolitan Opera tickets at his or her high school ice hockey booster auction, because donated center-ice Stanley Cup seats, with dinner and a player meet-and-greet, is a real hat trick.
Steal this top lesson for item procurement. Know who attends your fundraiser and what they want, then match unique auction items with the wants of your audience. With this highly strategic approach to item solicitation, you won’t end up with auction by-catch and a room full of unwanted items that bore your guests to distraction.
Here’s my favorite auction item fishing tip. Partner up. Start an Auction Item Exchange Program. Remember the example of the high school hockey booster auction and the Metropolitan Opera front row tickets? Get creative. What if that local high school and regional arts organization exchanged items? Voila! Even though ski trips in winter climates are easy auction items to procure, anyone who lives in that particular region can easily ski there. Trade cool ski vacation packages with sister organizations across the country. Think how well ski buffs will bid for deep powder on their dream slopes, like Vail or Jackson Hole. Imagine animal rescue groups from San Diego and Boston exchanging a trip to the Channel Islands for a trip to Nantucket. Find sister organizations in your field, whether it’s social services, schools, arts or animal rescue. Look for groups working with people who have similar disabilities; look for educational groups; look for regional or national organizations with similar missions. Think about who attends professional conferences in your field. If you are a regional or national organization – put out the word with your colleagues. It’s fun and rewarding. Be sure to exchange items that have approximately the same value. Put a written agreement in place with your sister organization to ensure that each group’s commitment is clearly understood.
And…Here’s My Favorite Lure
After 31 years as a professional benefit auctioneer and fundraising strategist, the number one question I’m still asked about benefit auctions is, “How do you get auction items that sell the best?”
Remember, the most important thing to “sell” is the donor’s connection to you. It’s not about auction items. Today, guests and donors are very strategic about their giving and with their bidding. Not everyone wants a silent or live auction item. Not everyone wants to be involved in competitive bidding. Through the new lens of the Philanthropy Model of Fundraising Auctions, focus on the spirit of giving. When you remind your supporters that it’s not what they get that counts, it’s what they give to make a difference, your donors will be sold on you and your great cause!