My company’s 34th onsite auction of 2013 was earlier this month in Michigan.
The client was a spirited nonprofit that competes aggressively in their town, as over 20 other organizations in their area offer similar services.
As you might imagine, it’s heavy competition for clients and donations. Trying to “differentiate” is important.
After the auction, the Executive Director told me that about half of his Board approached him to inquire about the new employee — meaning me.
Because I was so well-versed in the history, mission, and even the buildings the nonprofit owned, they assumed I was one of the team, working for the group.
I like hearing that. Being incredibly articulate about the nonprofit is something I strive for. There are times I’m better at it than others, but it’s a talent I seek to cultivate.
And personally, if I was hiring a benefit auctioneer, it would be a skill I’d seek. It allows for the gala to be run professionally, yet still feel highly intimate.
“She’s one of us,” the perception goes, “She understands us.”
There’s an impact there …
Smart Auction Chairs know the benefit auctioneer is onstage longer than the Executive Director, the Development Director, the Auction Co-Chairs, any volunteer, or any beneficiary / client … combined.
That’s right. The auctioneer – a CONTRACTOR – is often onstage longer than ANY OTHER PERSON.
And if I – as the Auction Chair – am graciously giving that auctioneer a stage, he darn well better return the favor by sharing the story I want my guests to hear, which is the story of my beloved nonprofit.
But I have to tell you that I’ve heard otherwise!
Here are some of the comments you’ve shared about your auctioneers:
- “When he said, “Give some money so they don’t have to sleep in a railroad car,” it just felt like he wasn’t honoring our youths’ experiences.”
- “I honestly don’t think he took the time to understand what we do. He kept talking about kids, but we help more adults than children.”
- “He’s one of these good ole boys. I can’t say he fits in with our crowd.”
- “Our group is loud, and she just never gained control of them. It’s like they didn’t even know she was there.”
- “He clearly had been drinking by the time he got onstage.”
- “He’s what I’d call a cattle auctioneer; a little rough around the edges. A lot of our crowd can’t understand him.”
- “He and his wife like to attend our event. They are such nice people! But it’s not an energetic performance.”
How about this one (paraphrased), which was told to me by a respected fellow auctioneer who was helping another auctioneer (whom I don’t know) at a gala:
- “We couldn’t find him. Everybody was looking for him because the live auction needed to start. So I’m thinking maybe he’s up in our room. And as I’m walking down the hall I see him with some gal all flustered, fixing her hair and rushing out the door. He’s right behind her, shoving his shirt back in his pants.”
(Ahem, nothing like a mutually agreeable tryst while working for the client….)
Seriously, let’s break your gala minutes down.
By comparison, you’ll see your auctioneer is onstage much longer than anyone else.
And if your auctioneer doesn’t know your mission … or can’t articulate your items … or doesn’t have a personality that resonates with your crowd … or is in any way demeaning to your event … friends, YOUR EVENT SUCKS.
Not only will you not raise the money you should, but you won’t generate the “good feelings” that come from thoughtfully produced events.
When you give a microphone to someone and let them ascend your stage, you have – intentionally or not — “blessed them” as an official representative of your nonprofit.
If he or she isn’t representing your organization in the BEST possible way, they are hurting you.
A mismatched auctioneer will hurt you not only in donations, but in reputation.
So here’s my heartfelt advice …
BE UBER PICKY when hiring a benefit auctioneer.
- Your biggest donors are in the room.
- You’ve spent countless hours preparing.
- You’ve got 3-5 hours to make an impact.
- And you’re relying primarily on your benefit auctioneer to formally represent your charity.
Make your decision count.