Last night, I attended the Chiefs Ambassadors "pairings party", which is a pretty nifty way of extending the fund-raising impact of a golf tournament. Even though I was unable to play in the tournament today, I got to participate in the raffle, and bid up a few silent auction items. I have voiced my dislike of special events, but this one was well conceived. They did a good job of celebrating their successes, explaining who they are, thanking their volunteers, and raising a bit of money.
Most of my background is in the social service and education areas, so it came as a bit of a surprise to see cheerleaders walking around with guns as live auction items. My hat is off to the organizers, however; they knew their audience of jocks and wannabe jocks, and the bidding was enthusiastic. A few thousand dollars will go towards supporting the charities that the Ambassadors support.
How often, though, do you see botched auctions? Personally, I've sat through too many excruciating auctions where amateur auctioneers struggled to get opening bids for items that are either too expensive for the audience, or are otherwise inappropriate. Here are a few rules of thumb I've come up with during countless charity auctions.
1. Cars are too much for all but the most well-heeled crowds.
2. Expensive vacations only work if the specifics are well-publicized well before the auction, so that potential bidders can check calendars and recruit traveling companions.
3. Unless it conflicts with your mission or values, it's helpful to have an open bar prior to the auction.
4. If possible, recruit a professional auctioneer to handle the bidding; trust me, it's much harder than it looks.
5. A chocolate lab puppy will often bring in a lot of money, but there are those who say it is unethical.
6. No more than a dozen live auction items, please.
7. Always do a "Fund-A-Need", and line up somebody ahead of time to bid at the highest level. A lot of people at such events are guests of friends, and will repay the invitation by making a donation if given the opportunity.
8. Publish the items with complete descriptions as early as you can, and as often as you can.
Most of all, make it a fun event, so people will come back next year.
Obligatory Tangentially Related Joke: (A different version of this one was told by Mike Bell, a former end for the Chiefs.) Three guys go in for job interviews. The first one goes in and the interviewer says, "What's the first thing you see when you look at me?" The guy says, "That's not too hard, you've got no ears." The interviewer says, "That's it, get out, you'll never be seen around here again." The second man takes his turn and is asked the same question. The applicant replies, "Uh, you've got no ears." The interviewer throws the guy out, cursing and yelling that he'll never get a job with his company. As he is leaving, the second guy warns the third guy, "Listen man, whatever you do, don't point out that he hasn't got any ears. He's so touchy with the ear thing." "Okay," said man #3 on his way into the office. Once inside he is told, "Name the first thing you notice when you look at me." The guy answers, "That's easy, you wear contacts." The interviewer was flabbergasted, "How on earth did you know that, son?" "Easy! You sure as heck can't wear glasses since you don't have any ears!"