Let a previous winner sell the lot for you!

 One of the ways to generate excitement for a recurring auction lot at your event is to have a live testimonial from someone who won it previously as a part of the lot description. 

 Last year I was reminded of how powerful a well-placed testimonial can be.  The organization for whom I was working was auctioning off an African Safari that promised to be a challenging lot for several reasons.  First, it was a high-dollar trip that did not include any of the travel between the U.S. and the wilderness reserve in Africa.  Second, it was a consignment, meaning that while it could be doubled, it had a substantial reserve price.  If it sold for just over than the reserve, the organization would make very little money.  And third, it was through a company that, while highly rated, did only consignments for benefit and fundraising auctions, meaning that the winning bidder’s fellow guests on the safari all paid wildly differing prices for the exact same trip. 

Challenges notwithstanding, we decided to try to sell it in the live auction.

During the reception that preceded the live program, the auction chair told me she wanted me to meet somebody.  He was a guest at the gala who had won the same trip at an auction for a different organization the previous year and had already gone on the safari with his spouse.  We chatted about his experience, and his review was glowing and heartfelt -- so much so that I asked him if he would say a few words about the trip before we sold that lot.  He agreed.

We arranged for a wireless mic to be ready at his table when the description of that lot started.  I introduced him as a previous winner of the trip; and he stood up and gave the crowd the same positive review he had given me, full of humor and personal details.  He even described the situation of his fellow travelers all having won the trip at auction in the most wonderful, unexpected way.  He said it was a great positive, being on safari exclusively with fellow fundraising/benefit auction winners, because it meant traveling with ‘people who shared our values.’

As he spoke I could see the crowd becoming more animated and excited.  The bidding action was strong right out of the gate, and we ended up selling it for over twice the reserve and doubled the lot as well.  And the credit for the success of that lot goes to the gentleman who shared his actual experience, making the trip much more attractive and accessible to the audience.  That lot benefitted greatly from his testimonial – a real, human moment and a great reminder of why an organization has a live event in the first place.  

A testimonial can also be as simple as the auctioneer giving a previous winner a shout out and/or telling some of their story for them.  “Mr. and Mrs. X, who are here tonight, took this trip last year and loved it.” 

Not everyone is amenable to, or necessarily good at, talking about their experience in front of a crowd.  But if there is a previous winner of a lot at your event, and they have a positive story to tell about it, it’s a resource worth exploring.

Auction lot idea: “The Wine Spectator Top 100”

Wine is consistently one of the top-selling categories of auction lots in fundraising auctions, and the vast majority of charity auctions we conduct feature at least one or two “wine lots.” People like their wine and are often more than willing to overpay for it in support of a good cause.

But not every committee is comprised of wine lovers with expansive wine cellars, and sometimes coming up with a good wine lot is a daunting challenge. Committee members often don’t have the wines and don’t know which wines they should purchase to donate.

We’ve worked with a number of committees to come up with ideas for lots that can be achieved without necessitating a deep and expensive cellar. Lots that can be assembled at minimal expense to your individual committee members, but for which the collective perceptual value is very high. One lot that is the easy to replicate and consistently yields solid results is “The Wine Spectator Top 100.”

Every year Wine Spectator releases its list of the top 100 wines of the year. It isn’t simply a list of the 100 highest scoring wines from the previous year; the editors of Wine Spectator base their list on “quality, value, availability and excitement.” All important criteria when assembling an auction lot!

Wine is perennially popular, especially wine with provenance. 

Wine is perennially popular, especially wine with provenance. 

What this means is the wines on the Wine Spectator Top 100 are readily available and relatively affordable. Thirteen of the top twenty wines on the list have a retail value of $50 or less. Only eight of the entire list cost $100 or more.

I recommend creating a lot of at least ten bottles. “Ten of the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines” has a nice ring to it and is an achievable goal for most committees. Avoid duplication by agreeing as a group which wines you’ll be targeting individually. This ensures people have a clear direction and clearly defines the goals of the lot.

Here’s a dirty little secret: although it is nice to target the top ten wines on the Wine Spectator list, you really don’t have to have all wines from the top of the list. Wines from anywhere in the top 100 will work – as long as a few of them sniff the rarified air of the top of the list.

From a bidder’s perspective, the fact that someone else has pre-assembled a group of highly qualified wines makes this lot appealing. If the retail value is relatively low it, great! That gives people the opportunity to earn a higher tax deduction if they pay over value. And the many times I’ve sold variations of this lot, the final sale price has outperformed retail value.

Have a favorite go-to wine lot for your fundraising auction? Let us know in the comments below!

The multiplier effect of good sponsorship

Event sponsorship can have many potentially positive and negative impacts on an event, but the natural tendency is to focus solely on the positive. Planning committees tend to look at the amount sponsorship raised pre-event or the number of tables pre-sold. People seldom focus on, let alone proactively work to mitigate, the potentially negative impacts sponsors can have.

Good sponsors do more than "just" buy tables, good sponsors bring qualified guests who are prepared to engage with your event.

Good sponsors do more than "just" buy tables, good sponsors bring qualified guests who are prepared to engage with your event.

Obviously, sponsorships help generate income pre-event and can guarantee profitability before the doors open. Table sponsorships are an integral part of every large gala I work with and account for a significant percentage of the seats sold at many events. Raising money before the doors open is a good thing, but it is meant to be a means, not an end.

Challenges arise when sponsors make their pre-event contribution and then count their job as done. We see it frequently: the sponsor who uses their table as a chance to reward employees, clients, or some friends with a “fun party.” Or the worst-case scenario: the sponsor who doesn’t even bother to fill their table and lets it sit there, empty.

The opposite of this is when sponsors see their contribution as an opportunity and leverage their donation to help generate more donations. We need sponsors to commit to utilizing their position of influence to help create more supporters for your organization by bringing people of potential to the table.

The way they do this is by strategically seeding their table with individuals who have capacity and making sure that those individuals understand their role at the event. It doesn’t have to be as brash as, “I’m expecting you to come spend money and support this cause.” But sponsors believe in your cause for a reason, and if they share their passion for your work with potential supporters in their network, it will yield short-term and long-term benefits.

When sponsors take this approach, they apply a multiplier to their initial donation that can be felt the night-of your event. In this way, a $10,000 table sponsorship can yield $25,000 in contributions – if the right bidders join the sponsor at their table.

This approach also helps fill your donor development pipeline with potential long-term donors. Once a potential donor is “in the room,” it is up to you to meaningfully engage them, motivate them to contribute, and cultivate them for future support. But it only works if they are qualified individuals who come open to being engaged.

These sponsor conversations are not always easy to have – no sponsor wants to hear that their cash gift isn’t enough. It is important that the right person discusses it with your sponsors and that the message is couched in utilizing their generosity to help create even more success for your organization.

Sponsors support you because they believe in your work and they want to help you change the world. Engage them on a deeper level, it will be more rewarding for all involved.

The top 10 most exciting lots of 2016

At the end of each year I comb through every auction lot I sold and compile a list of the “most exciting” lots I sold that year. It’s an arbitrary assessment, based on the uniqueness of each lot, the creativity that went into the lot, the buzz generated at the event, and how much it sold for. A lot doesn’t have to be a huge seller to be included here; it just has to be exciting.

In 2016 the Warriors remained one of the best-selling tickets in the Bay Area, Hamilton became understandably hot, and chefs and vintners remained the rockstars of fundraising auctions.

One interesting trend was the continued growth of buy-in parties. As buy-ins gain acceptance at more and more fundraising auctions, committees and donors are becoming better at assembling creative buy-in experiences. This year three buy-in experiences made the top 10, including a SWAT team experience that generated over $50,000!

Once again, the goal of this post isn’t to inspire you to duplicate these lots. My goal is to inspire you to create your own stellar lots, so I can include them in my next best-of list!

So here are my most exciting fundraising auction lots of 2016, presented in no particular order.

On Broadway

Enjoy a trip to New York City to see Broadway’s most sought after show, Hamilton: An American Musical on Broadway.

This package includes two round-trip main cabin seats to New York on Virgin America, accommodations for two people for two nights and three days in New York. A collection of Kendra Scott jewelry to get you ready for the show, and two tickets to see Hamilton on May 13th at 8:00 pm at Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Escape From Alcatraz! 

Experience one of San Francisco’s great unsolved mysteries for yourself! Join Water World Swim and First Graduate’s Ann S. on an adventure that people rarely have the opportunity to explore—an Alcatraz to San Francisco swim. Perfect for those in triathlon training, or just another day in the life of the average thrill-seeker, this package includes transportation by boat to Alcatraz. Before the main event, you’ll receive one private swimming lesson, along with one group practice. Then set out on the San Francisco Bay for the most memorable journey of your life!

Buy-In Lot: Napa County Sheriff SWAT Team Adventure!

This daylong session is as real as it gets without being in harm’s way. Ten adults will live out their fantasies and partake in a day of heart-pounding adventure with tactical training, demonstrations, instruction in the use of special weapons, and SWAT Team assault exercises.

This truly unique opportunity includes Sheriff’s Department transportation from a central point to and from the SWAT training site in Napa County.

Firearms instruction will include a variety of specially selected weapons under the supervision of SWAT team experts. Besides sharpening your aim, our “good guys” will expose you to a simulated SWAT team invasion where you will be asked to play a role that will test your instincts and judgment under pressure.

Firearms and law-enforcement related auction lots do surprising well across genders. Don't pigeon-hole an auction lot because of your own preconceptions.

Firearms and law-enforcement related auction lots do surprising well across genders. Don't pigeon-hole an auction lot because of your own preconceptions.

Travel lunches will be prepared, but water will be the only drink served. Only the guns can be loaded during the exercise!

Following your heroic day on the range and at the assault building, you’ll unwind at a special reception at Trinchero Family Estates in St. Helena. Fine wines and tasty food will be served so that the whole team and your instructors can raise a toast to your bravery and valor! Your performance will be critiqued and awards will be presented by Napa’s finest, including Sheriff John Robertson himself.

We recommend you get a good night’s sleep the night before this exercise!

Opening bid: $5,000 per person

Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski with Peay Wines – Dinner for Eight in Your Home

Chef Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of San Francisco’s James Beard award-winning State Bird Provisions and The Progress will bring their modern, original culinary sensibilities to the table as they collaborate on a five course feast for eight guests in your home.  The unique and delicious dishes are sure to have your guests talking about Old World traditions and New World inventions as if they are natural companions – much like these talented chef-proprietors themselves! And, of course, a special dinner calls for a special wine.  Andy Peay will introduce his handcrafted wines.  Peay wines come from a vineyard ideally located to produce superior fruit to which the Peay family adds their wine making knowledge. 

PLUS! Stuart is throwing in guaranteed reservations at State Bird Provisions for the next year. Any time you want to eat dinner, give them a call and you’ll be in!

 “Sully”– New York Movie Premier and After-Party

Walk the red carpet like a star at the New York premier and after-party of the upcoming Warner Bros. Pictures film, “Sully,” from Director Clint Eastwood, starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney.  Not only was Sully the inspiring keynote speaker at our gala last year, you may also remember him for serving as Captain during what has been called the “miracle on the Hudson.”  This upcoming film details Captain “Sully’s” once in a lifetime experience, and this package is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The winner of this package will receive:
● First class roundtrip airfare for two (2) to New York
● Two (2) tickets to the movie premier & after party, date TBD
● A 3-day, 2-night stay at the Marriott Marquis

Luxuries in the Wild

The ten lucky travelers who snag this lot will escape the realities of everyday life and spend four memorable days floating down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness with the best outfitter in the Northwest, Far and Away Adventures. This unique experience is like a deluxe safari on the river … high-end luxury “glamping” with exceptional, personalized service in some of the most remote and stunning terrain in the country. Accompanying you will be your favorite rock stars of wine, Kosta Browne. Dan Kosta himself will be in attendance to keep you satiated with some of the most sought-after selections from their vineyards.

Start each morning with a tasty breakfast cooked and served by your guides. Spend the day however you wish. Maybe enjoy a few hours each day fly fishing under the direction of an expert guide, or explore the hiking trails and old mining cabins along the shore. Cool off with a swim alongside the rafts. Paddle your own kayak for kicks. Marvel at the wildlife in Impassable Canyon. Or just float along in peace, basking in the pleasures of such an awe-inspiring place.

As the light fades each day and you lounge by the banks of this gorgeous river, glass of your preferred Kosta Browne wine in hand, Steve Lentz, chef extraordinaire from Far and Away Adventures, will delight you with delectable organic gourmet dinners. After your meal and more outstanding wines, share stories and laughs around the campfire before falling into bed under a blanket of stars, tired and fully satisfied, only to wake up and do it again the next day. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?

[Editor’s note: The Warriors were so hot in 2016 that I had to cheat and include two of their lots, just for contrast]

Warriors #1: Everybody Say...“WARRIORS!” Playoff Tickets!

Make a big splash with Steph and Klay and three of your friends

Head to Warrior’s ground for round 2 of the NBA playoffs with three of your blue and gold wearing friends! Golden State is having an epic, record setting season and is well on its way to another NBA Championship! You’ll take a limousine to and from the game from your home and have awesome lower level seats in the Oracle Arena. And you won’t even have to worry about what to wear—included in this package is an official Steph Curry All-Star Jersey!

Warriors #2: Warriors Game in Style: Helicopter Ride to Warriors Game for Four

Talk about arriving in style! Four people will enjoy a scenic helicopter ride from the Santa Rosa Airport to the Oakland Airport and a short limo ride to your seats at the Golden State Warriors game! You’ll sip on libations from Jackson Family Wines on your way there and enjoy the Jackson Family Wines wine area on the mezzanine.

Name Our Red-Tailed Hawk & Enjoy a High Desert Adventure for Four

The High Desert Museum’s most recent addition to the wildlife collection is a two month old red-tailed hawk that will be part of our stellar Raptors of the Desert Sky outdoor flight show. You can name this magnificent bird and learn about it and other soaring species during a field trip led by our Curator of Natural History and Curator of Western History. They will both accompany you on a two-day journey through eastern Oregon’s sagebrush steppe. It is a landscape rich with history—the ancient homeland of Native Americans once traversed by lost emigrant wagon trains, the scene of conflict between U.S. Cavalry and desert tribes and, for a time, the domain of California cattlemen and their buckaroos.

Naming opportunities often make for extremely engaging auction lots, especially with a program as beloved as the High Desert Museum's "Raptors in Flight".

Naming opportunities often make for extremely engaging auction lots, especially with a program as beloved as the High Desert Museum's "Raptors in Flight".

You’ll venture to Steens Mountain where subalpine landscapes of aspen-fringed meadows rise above the desert, with a spectacular view from the summit. There you will enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking glacial-carved canyons. We’ll visit places like Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, the chain of desert lakes in Warner Valley, the Warner Mountains, and Paradise Valley. This trip will take place during the late spring or early summer of 2017.

Your chosen name will be publicized on the Museum’s website and in our member newsletter. You will also receive a certificate of naming with a photo.

Buy-In Lot: Lunch with the Leading Ladies of Napa Valley

Back by popular demand! Beth Nickel of Far Niente Winery invites 25 ladies to join her and other Leading Ladies of Napa Valley in Beth’s lush garden on the grounds of Far Niente Winery. Joining Beth will be none other than Margaret Duckhorn, co-founder of Duckhorn Vineyards; Emma Swain, CEO of St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery; and Delia Viader, founder of Viader Vineyards & Winery. Be ready for a lavish afternoon of wining, dining and entertaining tales of their Napa Valley histories. With each course of the meal, the wines will flow and these ladies will dish, divulging wine country secrets and stories.

In addition, each will bring a favorite wine from her winery to give each guest as a memento of this most magical afternoon. Remember, what’s heard in the garden stays in the garden! This is a $1,000 per-person buy-in lot for 25 women. Date is not changeable.

Buy-In: Wing & Barrel Ranch Clay Shooting and Lunch with Charlie Palmer for 16

Escape to an exclusive and incomparable private hunting club in the heart of the wine country with 15 of your friends for a day of shooting, exceptional food, and fine wines at Wing & Barrel Ranch. Life-long friends Darius Anderson and Mike Sutsos, Jr. have spent their lives traveling the world following their passions, and these experiences are where the vision for this extraordinary club was born—combining a passion for the sporting life and all that surrounds it. Wing & Barrel Ranch brings together the best of shooting, food, wine and the wine country lifestyle. As renowned shooting coach Chris Batha’s only West Coast Sporting Clays Course, it features 15 fully automated fields, each containing three shooting stations. Please note that no experience is necessary and that everything (ammunition, guns and instruction) will be provided for you and your guests.

Guests will also sit down to an unforgettable lunch prepared by the legendary Charlie Palmer, Wing & Barrel Ranch’s Culinary Advisor and one of the most highly regarded chefs in America, critically acclaimed for his signature Progressive American Cooking. Lunch will be accompanied by delicious wines from Kosta Browne and CIRQ. You are invited to embrace a way of life, share the experience and surround yourself in this private setting created to make legendary memories. Join us on your journey towards realizing your finest passions.

Suggested Opening Bid: $1,000 per person

Bonus Lot: Escape to Vegas for Three Nights

Las Vegas and Elton John for Two
Your stylish Las Vegas escape begins at the modern, upscale five star Vdara Hotel and Spa, an all-suite, gaming-free hotel located in the new City Center complex, near the Bellagio Hotel.  Indulge in your grand luxurious suite located on the 53rd floor with a large spa-style soaking tub. The highlight of your escape will be the Elton John concert at Caesars Place on February 18th.  Sir Elton himself is providing you with his personal seats, plus two backstage passes to the green room.  End your escape with a dinner at the award winning Michael Mina Restaurant in the Bellagio Hotel, a gift certificate of $250 provided.  Plus we are including a $500 gift card on Southwest Airlines.  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!