A good analogy to a well-run auction fundraising event is a well-run circus. There is something for everyone, and the goal is for everyone to have fun. Something is always going on to see or do. The circus has its center ring and the main event. The gala auction event has its auction, always held on center stage. The event’s main attraction is the live auction.
An effective auction unfolds like a staged play, with a cast of characters and an audience. Auctioneers, spotters, runners, and models work together to present exciting visual imagery of the auction items. Just as high-flying circus performers dazzle from above while clowns below involve the audience, auction players tantalize bidders with descriptions and testimonials from the stage while players on the event floor directly engage bidders. The actors in this stage play involve the bidders and onlookers in an intense drama of rapid-fire bidding and entertaining competition. Side conversations are held with bidders and then repeated for all to hear. Models carry wearable fashion items or jewelry to bidders to “try on.” A rideable “green” electric lawn mower zooms between tables as bidders vie with each other to win it. A big motorcycle onstage is started with a roar. Bidders are pitted against each other, but always in a fun way. It is a grand play, in motion and in the round, because everyone, literally everyone, becomes part of the play.
Around the center ring of a circus are side acts. At the event the side acts are fundraising opportunities, such as bucket raffles and silent auctions under way when the center ring is silent. The circus midway has an arcade with its games and exhibits. So does a full-feature fundraising event have its own brand of arcade games of skill and chance. People who go to a circus are enticed to spend a little here, play a game there, take a chance at three-for-a-dollar, and so on. A well-run event has workers who know how to entice attendees to spend as they duplicate the circus barker’s call to play. The circus has its other attractions, many of which are free and add to the excitement. Food of various descriptions and things to buy are available.
The circus sounds like a friendly, fun place, and it can be, but don’t be fooled. Everything about the circus is geared to enticing the person who enters the gate to part with his or her money. Even “free” attractions are mere enticements to draw the crowd into paid attractions. So it is with the event fundraiser, but for one important difference. The charitable event fundraiser benefits a worthy cause. Silent and live auctions, raffle boards, bucket raffles, games, and merchandise sales booths are all there for one reason only: to entice attendees to part with their money for a cause.
Excerpted and adapted from the book, Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising by Rudolph Rosen. Texas A&M University Press.