One of my clients is scrambling as she looks at new charity auction venues.
Last year, she booked a restaurant for her nonprofit’s December luncheon fundraiser. Two weeks ago the restaurant called her, mortified. Due to a glitch in their new scheduling system, they inadvertently double-booked the space. Her group is no longer able to use the venue.
My client is now trying to find a new location. She’s also researching the implications and penalties which will affect her organization if she changes the date.
Her situation reminded me of an article I read a few weeks ago, explaining that some shopping malls were offering nonprofits rent-free (or deeply discounted) space to avoid empty storefronts.
My thought: Could you host an auction in the shopping mall, in an empty retail space?
I’ve worked some unique venues for auctions, but I’ve yet to conduct one in a mall.
The article (which is no longer live or I’d share the link) discussed how some shopping centers were offering free or inexpensive space to nonprofits until a paying tenant could be found.
The shopping center management got some wins from the arrangement.
- It’s a chance for them to do something kind for a local charity.
- They avoid the awkwardness of an empty retail space.
- It also might be good for attracting new business.
- One of the interviewed property owners said that because the space is “open” to the public, prospective renters could walk in and poke around. Some asked leasing questions, inquiring about square footage.
The non-profits also enjoyed two key benefits.
- Free or deeply discounted rent.
- The visibility of being in the mall exposed their charity to thousands of people ambling by their new “storefront.” Those are potential donors who might otherwise have never heard of the organization.
If the space is leased, the nonprofit must pack-up and leave, usually on short notice.
- Hosting a charity auction in a vacant store in a mall would be a one-of-a-kind experience. You would only need the space for a day or two.
- The venue would have to be large enough to host your guests and allow for catering prep. (Maybe one of the mall’s own restaurants could be the caterer?) As I think about the size of a “typical” mall store in my area, it might be best suited for events with no sit down dinner (passed heavy hors d’oeuvres with desserts, perhaps) and on the smaller size, like 100 – 150 guests
- This can’t be a gala you plan months in advance because the space might be rented by the time you’re ready to use it. It would need to be planned within a short time frame. It might be best suited for “medical emergency” auctions (when someone is hurt, and friends pitch together to host an auction to help with expenses) or in response to a venue change, as in the case of my charity auction client.
Has anyone done this? Please share below, if you have. I’d love to hear about it.
Judith Waite Allee says
I wonder if anyone has used the mall itself (rather than just one empty storefront) after hours. Might make an attractive venue.
Sherry Truhlar says
Yes … looks like Jim did below (see down a few comments).
Barbara Crane says
Sherry–this is a great idea; thanks for sharing it. We did a “short notice” silent auction & craft sale to benefit a friend about to receive a transplant. We staged the event in a empty retail storefront downtown. Along with the invited guests, we had walk-in traffic who purchased items as well. It was near the holidays, and we had a musician playing carols on an electronic keyboard. It was fun, and not too difficult, and was successful. It also generated interest in the space itself.
Sherry Truhlar says
Very true, Sandra.
Sherry Truhlar says
Lori: It’s all good. Auction volunteers may start small, summoning their courage to ask for a small $25 gift card. But they can eventually grow into mighty powerful “askers” and convince someone to give $25,000.
Greg: Absolutely! Ask away. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Jim: Thanks for visiting and sharing your story. I know others will find it helpful, too.
Jim Nye says
First of all let me say THANK YOU for such an informative and helpful website. I bet you help more people than you realize!
I have done an event in a mall for a Boys and Girls Club and it went wonderfully. It was, as you mentioned, a smaller buffet-style event. It was held in an open area in the middle of the mall (after closing time) with a fountain as a backdrop. There was no charge to the charity and they did get good exposure to shoppers as they began setting up a few hours before the mall closed. The sound system, as always, was CRITICAL, and the company they hired did a great job. I think the guests ended up really enjoying the new venue… it was “cool” to have the mall all to ourselves! We had a very successful event and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the same concept to others. Good luck everyone!
Greg McRay, EA says
Another example of “it never hurts to ask”. Great ideas, especially given the high vacancy rate of so many shopping centers and malls these days.
Betsy Baker says
Thanks for sharing, Sherry! It’s a win-win for all parties involved and great publicity for the nonprofit. Would love to hear more from those who take this idea and run with it.
Sandy Rees says
Cool idea!! I agree with Sandra that the window space could provide all kinds of wonderful opportunities.
Lori L. Jacobwith says
I have to admit, I’m most often focused on working with my clients to do powerful one-on-one asks to grow their individual fundraising dollars. But I am finding that you have some very fun, outside-the-box, ideas for raising funds with auctions. Thanks for sharing them!
Sherry Truhlar says
All good ideas, ladies.
Sandra Sims says
What a creative idea! This would also provide for some free advertising for the auction if the mall let you stage the window ahead of time. (Like they do when a store is “coming soon.”)
Love the idea – engage some clever theater students to trick out the space and you’re in business.