Planning Successful Charity Auctions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

Planning Successful Charity Auctions


Byline: Kevin Chaffee, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Q: I have been asked to help organize silent and live auctions that will take place at a local charity's annual benefit in the fall. Though I have helped with such efforts in the past, I have never been directly in charge of asking for donations from businesses, restaurants and other potential donors and could use some advice about how to approach them.

The live auction also has me worried, though the organization already has secured the two top items: a car and a luxurious, all-expenses-paid trip. I will be humiliated if no one bids on them.

A: First and foremost, if you don't already have a committee to help solicit donations, you need to form one as soon as possible. Once that happens, host a meeting to discuss strategy and exchange information and contacts. Each person then will be charged with approaching (I hesitate to use the term "hitting up") likely contributors to the cause.

Common sense dictates that each person's personal and business relationships can be used. If someone patronizes a particular restaurant, gallery or shop, he or she is far more likely than a non-customer to secure complimentary dinners, artworks or gifts of merchandise for your auction.

It is much more difficult to succeed with "cold calls," although certain committee members are likely to be more successful at this than others. In any event, I encourage you to take a there-is-no-harm-in-asking attitude. All someone can do is say "No." Sometimes you may be able to offer donors free tickets to your event, especially if their contributions are on the pricey side. This practice also helps keep them involved and onboard for the next time.

Don't be too shy about asking for donations. This is a charity-auction town (to say the least), and almost everyone you will approach has been asked many times before. Stores, airlines, eating establishments, etc., all have general guidelines dictating how much they can give away over a given period. Preference is given to top clientele, of course, and that is where you and your committee members' "little black books" come in. …

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