One of the growing trends in fundraising auctions is the use of buy-in parties as live auction lots. Also known as “count me ins,” “sign-up parties” or “buy-a-spots,” buy-ins are auction lots sold on a per-spot basis (usually per-person or per-couple, but sometimes per-table, or even per-team).
Buy-ins can be a valuable addition to a live auction because they effectively lower the cost of participation in your live auction without reducing the amount you raise as a whole. This makes your auction feel more egalitarian and encourages more people to participate while maintaining or even increasing your bottom line.
And, contrary to what many believe, the price for a buy-in lot does not have to remain static. If there are more hands in the air than slots available, the price goes up until supply and demand balance. We’ve seen buy-ins lots start at $250 per person and sell for $1,900 per person for nine people! It doesn’t take a mathematician to recognize how big an impact that can be.
There are four keys to creating a successful buy-in lot: Date, Allure, Price, and Pre-Sales.
Date: Any buy-in lot needs to have a fixed date set in advance and publicized to your attendees. It is difficult to coordinate a dinner when one winner is in charge of working out a “mutually agreeable date.” It is nearly impossible to coordinate a dinner when eight couples are all comparing schedules and have equal shares of ownership. Set the date in advance and publicize it.
Allure: Successful buy-ins also have an element to them that is alluring enough to encourage people to hang out with potential strangers. It can be access to a venue, access to a guest of honor, or simply an activity that sounds fun. But in every case, potential attendees need to look at the lot and think, “Yes, I’m in!” without concern for who else is going.
Price: Set your opening bid at a level you are comfortable selling each slot for. If a donor insists that their lot sells for $500 per spot, you should start the bidding at $500 per spot. As mentioned earlier, the price need not remain static, but you need to plan realistically. If you have a party for 75 people, the price isn’t going up. That’s just too many hands for your auctioneer to keep count of to know if demand is higher than supply. But if you have a party with 20 or fewer spots, there is the potential for the price to go up – as long as your crowd is into it.
Pre-Sales: When the auctioneer says, “Now who wants to do this, let’s see those paddles!” it is extremely important that a few paddles immediately get raised. It lends the lot momentum and also proves that the experience is going to be fun. “Oh, hey, look: the Golds are going to be there. Everyone knows how cool they are, this is going to be a great party!”
Buy-ins are ideal in the school environment because of the built-in community to be found amongst parents. But we’ve also seen successful buy-ins at everything from Cal Shakes’ Gala to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts Wine Auction.
If you have never had a buy-in lot in the live auction before, your crowd is going to need some education both before and during the event. Make sure they understand the concept in advance. Get a few people or couples to commit to attending in advance, so the lot has momentum as soon as it goes up for sale. And most importantly, make sure your auctioneer takes the time to describe both the lot and the process, and commits to the process wholeheartedly. Buy-in lots can be daunting at first, but when successful they can bring in many new bidders and help you raise a lot more money.
Next up: creative ideas for buy-in lots.