A well conceived agenda is one of the most important benefit auction elements for success

For many non-profits, a charity auction is the largest annual fundraising event. If you’ve participated in the planning and execution of a benefit auction, you know fundraising auctions are demanding and complicated. There’s a lot to do and many important decisions to make. Setting the date, selecting the venue, deciding on admission prices, selling tickets, providing on-line registration, procuring auction items and promoting the event are among the tasks that must be accomplished. So much to consider and do, but the event agenda will have a far greater impact on your event’s financial success (and flow) than any other decision you make.

Fundraising gala auction events generally have 7 components.

  1. Cocktail/ Social Hour
  2. Silent Auction
  3. A Message from the Organization
  4. Sit Down Dinner
  5. Live Auction
  6. Fund-a-Need. (Fund-a-Need is when attendees are given the opportunity to make cash donations to the non-profit.
  7. Entertainment Music, Dancing, DJ etc.)

In a properly conducted benefit auction gala , roughly 70% of the non-admission revenues result from the live auction and fund-a-need, while 30% of the non-admission revenues are generated by the silent auction. 90 minutes is plenty of time for a successful silent auction. The silent auction should be conducted from the time the doors open until the end of the social/ cocktail “hour”. It’s important that your benefit auctioneer performs some emcee services and effectively “counts down” the closing of the silent auction with a sufficient sound system so attendees clearly understand when the bidding will close. This bolsters silent auctions revenues and creates a bidding frenzy during the final minutes of the silent auction. At the close of the silent auction, attendees should be directed to take their seats for dinner, keeping to the planned agenda. Salads should be placed on the tables just before guests are seated. Winning bidders should immediately be determined and a report of the silent auction results (by bidder number, not name) should be placed on every table. This should be done prior to the start of the live auction so serious supporters know how much money is left in their “support budget.”

Identifying the “window of opportunity” for the live charity auction

Thousands of fundraising auctions are conducted across the United States every year but many are not be achieving their full financial potential. (The necessities of hiring a professional benefit auctioneer to keep the agenda on schedule as well as other critical factors are reviewed in our other blog articles). The importance of conducting your live auction during the optimum “window of opportunity” is immeasurable. A truly successful live charity auction requires the entire audience to be seated and attentive. If you miss this “window of opportunity”, your results will not likely reach their maximum potential. Let’s recount about this so called optimum time to conduct the live benefit auction of your fundraiser.

Most people will sit comfortably for an hour. On average, fifteen minutes are required to serve dinner and get the “live charity auction” segment of the fundraiser gala started. When attendees have finished their meals, they wish to socialize and it becomes difficult to direct their focus upon the upcoming agenda items. When dinner is concluded, it’s time to chat, get up and do something else. Human nature is impossible to change, but must be anticipated and accommodated. When dinner is over the crowd’s attention is elsewhere and the optimum time for live auction has passed.

Dinner is the one time during the event where the entire crowd is seated and their attention can be easily captured. The window of opportunity begins once dinner has been served and lasts for 45 minutes. When attendees are eating dinner they are more interested in enjoying their meal than socializing. On average, 80% of your attendees are not interested in participating in the bidding. For these attendees, the live auction becomes part of the evening’s entertainment. We receive rave reviews from attendees who did not bid, yet enjoyed the action, excitement and competition of the live benefit auction. This is reinforced by the cheers and applause offered when a winning bidder is determined.

The largest adversarial factor of benefit auctions event is chatty attendees. The financial impact of attendees who have reengaged in socializing and are no longer focused on the agenda is substantial.

Closing thoughts; give your charity fundraising auction agenda as much thought and attention as any other element of the charity auction or gala. Be sure to discuss the number of live items being offered with your benefit auctioneer and be sure that they can be presented within the “window of opportunity.” Most importantly be sure to stay on schedule. (Please see our blog post titled “3 Common Charity Auction Errors“) Don’t allow any delays . Agenda variations as they will compromise your results. Make your next benefit auction or charity gala fundraiser is a smashing success!

We welcome you to visit our other blog entries or visit or website for more information about charity auctions and fundraising galas.