biennial charity auction

The dangers of the biennial event

Producing a successful fundraising auction is no small challenge. A successful auction requires hundreds of hours of planning, solicitation, and marketing. It requires leaning on your closest supporters to bring their friends and contacts to support you. It requires a lot of work.

It is therefore understandable that many organizations would perceive holding their auction every other year as the solution – especially if they can raise enough in one night to cover two years of need. What we’ve found, however, is that holding an auction every other year is actually more challenging in the long run. 

Your Date is Your Date

When you hold an event every year, it becomes established within your support base. People have busy schedules, and getting something on their calendar is a challenge. Keeping it on their calendar is your responsibility. Do you hold your event in one of the two busiest times of year, spring or fall? Odds are, if you take a year off of your event, a good portion of your crowd is going to get invited to another event – and it’ll be up to you to win them back. Every. Other. Year.

Donor Cultivation Suffers in a 730-Day Cycle

Fundraising auctions are an established pipeline for attracting new potential donors. Auction events are a known commodity, and donors understand what is being asked of them when they are invited to a new event. Once a potential donor is “in the room” at your event, it is up to you to engage them and convert them to becoming a long-term donor. Inviting them back to your next gala is one of the more simple means of cultivation. Inviting them back to your next gala – two years from now – lacks imperative.

Institutional Knowledge Retention

One of an auction committee’s many responsibilities is to pass along the institutional knowledge of an event from year to year. Unless you have an incredibly well-documented event, much of the information on how to get it done lives in the heads of your staff and volunteers.  Staff and volunteers that may turn over.

An entire planning committee recently had to start from scratch on an every other year event because I was the only person left who had worked on their last auction, two years ago. All of the institutional knowledge was gone. Caterer? Auction lots? Recording of the previous auction?

The Message of We Make Enough

Every organization holds a fundraising auction out of need. What does it say about your need if you only need to do your auction every other year? There is a good chance that your large donors understand your needs well enough to keep you on their list of planned donations. But smaller, newer donors? The same donors you should be trying to cultivate in the long term? They are more likely to misinterpret your lack of annual event as a lack of annual need.

Auction Solicitation Challenges

Much like cash donors, the people and businesses who donate auction lots often have a finite number of donations they can make in a year. If you let them off the hook one year, you run the risk of losing them long-term. I’ve seen this happen in the most innocuous of ways. A donor who put their Italian vacation home in an every-other-year auction donated it to another event in an off year. And it did so well at that other event that they doubled it on the spot, taking away her ability to donate to the every other year event.

Maintaining Your Venue/Vendors

The competition for venues is extreme, and if you walk away from your venue one year, you better have a plan in place for getting it back the next. Same goes with your vendors. As a company we give our clients the first right of refusal on “their” date on a year-by-year basis. If an event chooses not to hire us one year, we’re going to do our best to fill that date the next year, even if they say they are coming back in two years. Our budget doesn’t allow for a two-year cycle of income.

If you are currently holding a successful event on an every other year basis, my goal isn’t to convince you to change your model. But if your event has become more challenging to produce every other year, or your biennial results are no longer meeting your needs, take a hard look at your goals and why they aren’t being met. More often than not, the challenges of producing an annual event are outweighed by the benefits.