Enjoy this series on determining the best number of auction items for your event.
- How many silent auction items are best.
- Today’s post on how many live auction items are ideal.
- How many online auction items are good.
- The influence of mobile bidding on terminology.
Back in 2009 I wrote a post about how many live auction items you should sell. I’m making some updates.
What’s the best number of auction items for our live auction?
The two biggest factors affecting your ideal number of live items are these:
1. How much time are you willing to devote to the live auction?
It takes me about 3 minutes to sell an item. Some auctioneers sell more quickly; others more slowly.
(For the purposes of your planning, find out the average length of time to sell an item and plan accordingly.)
This means that I can sell 20 items in an hour. Add extra time for opening announcements, a Fund a Need, raffle drawings, and similar activities.
2. How much money do you need / want to raise?
Take any item from your silent auction, sell it in the live auction, and you’ll sell it for more money. Always.
So if it’s important to hit a specific goal in your live auction (e.g. “We must raise $60k to reach out budget.”) then WORK WITH YOUR AUCTIONEER to figure out how many items you need to sell to hit that goal. Based on your event, it might be 3 items or 25 items or 70 items. This is a number unique to you.
Last year a client I’ve worked with for a few years was rushed to organize her auction. Procurement wasn’t as robust as in previous years. She emailed me her list of live auction items and I immediately was concerned. I sent an email, preparing her for the inevitable.
“Based on your crowd and past sales,” I wrote, “my prediction is that we’ll raise about half of what we did last year in the live auction. Are you OK with that? If so, do you want to tell your Executive Director or shall I? I don’t want anyone blindsided by the results.”
We sold the items for 1½ times (148% ROI) of what they were worth, which is fabulous. Even so, our gross sales were about $50,000 less than the previous year. I’d done my job by preparing her and was thrilled I had enough history with the client to accurately predict what would happen on auction night. (This is one advantage of having a long-term relationship with your auctioneer.)
Other factors affecting your best number of auction items in the live auction:
How entertaining is your auctioneer?
One of my school clients has me sell more items than their previous auctioneer because time seems to pass more quickly when I’m on stage. You’ll find variations among auctioneers you know, too.
Is the crowd seated or standing?
Guests become restless more quickly when they are standing. Consider the heel height of your patrons.
Do you have other programmatic elements?
The live auction is often one of many activities happening onstage during the event. You might have speeches, awards, videos, performances, and other programmatic elements to which you must budget time. You might have to be happy with a shorter live auction in order to allow these other pieces to fit into the event.
- As I work around the country, I’ve noticed that the number of live auction items deemed “acceptable” seems to vary by region. Among my client base, most of my school clients will sell 15-20 items in their live auction. However, one school sells 10 items, and a couple others sell nearly 40 items each.
- Among my nonprofits, the typical number of items sold in the live auction ranges from 5-12.
- And of course, one of the growing areas of my auction business is to skip the auction completely! (Go figure!) In those cases, I work with the nonprofit to design a well-crafted Fund a Need. (There are several types of speeches one might deliver for a Fund a Need, depending on the situation. You can watch a video of me delivering one style on this page.)
In short, the best number of live auction items for you is unique. Work with your auctioneer to figure that out.
And, if learning all the ins and outs of live auctions is of interest to you, here’s the defining resource on live auction planning: Lucrative Live Auctions. This DVD and workbook is beset watched by your entire procurement team and then handed off the next year for continued support of your auction and the new volunteers.
You’ll learn about what items are best sellers in live auctions, how to order items, where to get the right items, better sales strategies (using simple human psychology), how to sell similar items, and much more. Read the full details on the page.