Lot Creation

How to: Sequence Your Live Auction

Once you have successfully solicited the lots for your live auction, the next big challenge is deciding on a sequence for them. The order in which you sell your auction items is equally as important as the items you are selling.

Every decision you make has the potential to earn or cost you money. Lead or end with the wrong lot, and you will not realize the full potential of those lots. Put too many similar items in a row, and you run the risk of alienating the bidders who aren’t interested in that type of lot. Lump all of your highest-valued items together, and one of those items is going to underperform.

The right sequence creates an auction that flows with a sense of narrative, that builds to high points, and embraces downbeats. Most importantly, the right sequence ensures that you make the most money with the items your team has worked so hard to secure.

We could spend hours discussing this topic, and sometimes spend hours working on the sequence for one of our client’s auctions. There is too much information to try and convey in this single blog post. So we’ll cover some easy to implement points.

An auction is like a locomotive: it takes time to build momentum

An auction is like a locomotive: it takes time to build momentum

Do not lead with your most expensive lot

Do not kick off your auction with your biggest lot, or even your third or fifth most expensive lot. The first lot in any fundraising auction is challenged. The crowd hasn’t settled down and people haven’t warmed up to the process yet. You need to build momentum, like accelerating a steam locomotive. Your first lot should be something that has a low retail value, but hopefully a high perceptual value. Or, at the very least, is one of your lower-end lots that is appealing, but won’t be disappointing no matter what it sells for.

Do not end with your most expensive lot

While it can be exciting to end an auction with a really expensive lot that raises more money than anything else at your auction, I guarantee that if you do so you are costing yourself money.  The person who comes in second on your most expensive lot is trying to give you money. More money than anyone else in the room. If the most expensive lot is last, they have no more opportunities to give you that money.

But if there are more lots after the most expensive lot, that second-place bidder will have opportunities to spend more. More times than not, they will wind up bidding over value on a less expensive lot. I observed one bidder stop bidding at $10,000 on an item, only to come back a few lots later and spend $6,000 on a lot that was valued $4,000. To top it off, she turned to her table and said, “I just saved $4,000!”

Give your donors as many opportunities to give you as much money as possible.

 Separate types of lots

Unless your auction is comprised solely of trips, do not place all the trips in a row. Spreading them out in your auction will ensure that the people who want the trips have ample opportunities to buy them, and that the people who don’t want trips won’t be bored by a parade of trips.

Alternate values

The most successful method of ordering an auction is to build momentum, like accelerating a locomotive. Once you have momentum, you can’t expect every lot to sell at a high value. Every time something sells for a bunch of money, there is a buzz in the room that makes the next lot challenging. Embrace that buzz by alternating values, so you have mid- or low-level lots following expensive lots.

This creates a flow that embraces the natural tendencies of your crowd, and, most importantly, helps realize the full potential of the auction lots in your auction.

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 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!  

Creating desirable packages for your live auction

Procuring enticing packages is one of the most challenging aspects of organizing a fundraising auction. Solicitation committees often get hung up on comparisons to other events and focus on the lots they see doing well at other fundraising auctions.

And while there is value in learning from one’s peers, we never encourage our clients to focus on specific auction lots. It can be frustrating, and it seldom yields results.

Relationships are the biggest selling auction lots.

Relationships are the biggest selling auction lots.

For example: I’ve sold “Breakfast with Bo Derek the morning after the auction” for over $20,000. This was wonderful for the event that had Bo as a supporter, but it is useless to the rest of you reading this right now (unless you are good friends with Bo as well).

Instead, we encourage our clients to focus on the types of lots that sell best and then work to find the most desirable packages in each of those types. There are three levels of desirability across all types of auction lots: Retail, Access, and Relationship:

  • Retail is the ground floor of desirability in an auction lot. If your attendees can find a price for it online, they’ll bid accordingly. There are types of auction lots that do fine when sold as straight retail, such as trips. Generally speaking, however, it is the least desirable.
  • Access denotes an experience bidders could not enjoy otherwise, something that is not available through retail channels. Lots that offer access engage your crowd to spend more, and make your auction more memorable. 
  • Relationships are the hottest selling lots in any auction we do. “People support people” is one of the oldest adages in fundraising, and nowhere does this prove more true than onstage. Relationship lots offer access to a “celebrity,” and the definition of celebrity varies.

Creating attractive packages for the live auction is one of the most crucial elements of the pre-event planning we consult on, and one of the areas upon which we focus the majority of our consulting. As such, we’ll be discussing this and brainstorming desirable auction lots in person at our upcoming workshop: “Raise More, Right Now: Advanced Fundraising Auction Strategies.”

Create your own traditions for your fundraising auction

2016 marks the 35th year that the Sun Valley Center for the Arts has held its annual wine auction. 2016 also marks the 22nd year that Atkinson’s Market has donated a collection of seven 3-liter bottles with an image of Sun Valley etched and painted across all seven bottles.

It is a big, impressive, beautiful lot. It is a definitive collector’s lot, and you see previous sets on display in major donor’s homes all over Sun Valley. And over the course of the past 22 years it has raised one million dollars.

The Atkinson's Market annual collection of etched and painted 3-liter bottles is one of many traditions at the Sun Valley Center for the Art Wine Auction.

The Atkinson's Market annual collection of etched and painted 3-liter bottles is one of many traditions at the Sun Valley Center for the Art Wine Auction.

Every year the image on the bottles changes, making each set unique. Discussions about the art on the bottles, who bought it last year, and who is interested in it this year are all part of the fabric of the weeklong event. Over the course of 22 years, the Atkinson’s Market lot has become as much a tradition as the Wine Auction itself.

I see lots of other examples of traditions like this: the dinner that takes place every year in the same supporter’s home, the trip to Italy to stay in one of the biggest donor’s vacation villa, the chilled magnum of champagne to open the auction. Whatever it is, traditions are a valuable part of any fundraising auction. Traditions provide a sense of continuity, and hopefully make things easier for your solicitation team by not requiring a major revamp of your auction every year.

Whatever your traditions are, acknowledge them, embrace them and make them a part of the fabric of your event. And if you don’t have any traditions yet, now is a great time to create your own.