At a recent planning meeting where we were discussing repeat auction lots for an event, it came out that one of the donors felt seriously slighted because their lot was never redeemed. A buyer had paid top-dollar for the lot at the auction, and had yet to cash it in with the expiration date looming. The donor felt slighted, and was inclined not to make the donation again.
Over the past decade, we've consistently seen an average of 45% of auction lots purchased at fundraising auctions go unredeemed. This isn’t a function of the desirability of the lots being offered at fundraising events, but a reflection of the nature of supporting causes through auction purchases. People who make a purchase at a fundraising auction do so first and foremost because they believe in the cause; the desirability of the lot simply justifies getting caught up in the heat of the moment and (hopefully) overpaying.
Buyers assume that 100% of the money is going to the organization putting on the auction: if they don’t redeem the lot they will have still made a good donation to the cause. Most buyers also support more than just one cause, and often have shoeboxes full of certificates they keep meaning to redeem. Buyers aren’t trying to slight donors, they simply lead busy lives and have scheduling conflicts.
It is understandable that some who donate lots to an auction most often do so because they really were looking forward to making their event happen. There are a lot of possible solutions, such as putting the donor in direct contact with the buyer to coordinate the event, but they are all fraught with potential for disaster.
The simple solutions is to assure donors that their donation is loved: by you and the people who bought it. Their donation helped raise significant amounts of money for a cause they believe in. If the buyers haven’t taken them up on their generosity yet, it is not a reflection of how wonderful their lot is. It’s just more proof that we all lead insanely busy lives, and sometimes making time to show up and buy the lot is a major accomplishment, let alone making the lot happen.