Auction Donation Ideas

Getting enough auction items donated to sell at your charity event is a tough task. Sometimes, the best ideas for auction donations come from thinking outside the box about new or unusual sources.

Auction Donation Ideas

Here are some auction donation ideas you may not have thought of, courtesy of Sherry Truhlar of Red Apple Auctions. Sherry is an auction consultant and a professional charity auctioneer, so she knows what she’s talking about. Read her auction tips in the guest article before

Where to Get Auction Donations When No One Is Donating

Your auction committee was excited about the gala until the donation rejections piled up. Sound familiar? Perhaps businesses in your locale are tapped out. Or maybe your group isn’t the “premier” organization in town and you’re struggling to secure better donations.

If you’ve been directed to plan a gala that includes an auction, but you’re coming up short in the acquisitions area, here are some ideas.

Auction Consignment Items

Hands down, the best way to raise money in an auction is to sell 100% donated items. But when you can’t secure a donated item, the American way is to buy it at a discount.

It’s called consignment.

Companies that deal in consignment are often specialized. Some focus on travel, such as trips, cruises and airfare. Others might provide sports and Hollywood memorabilia. One consignor I know runs a brisk business selling female-friendly items like costume jewelry, furs and handbags.

Consignors tend to either charge a base price or offer a 50/50 split. Most common is the base price. The consignor offers you items with the expectation that each package will sell for more than what you paid.

Say the consignor offers you a $300 handbag for $150. If the handbag sells for $230, your organization makes $80, the spread between $230 and $150.

Many offer a “no risk” policy, meaning that you won’t pay for an item unless it sells. If no one bids on the $300 purse, you’ll mail it back to the consignor and owe nothing.

Other consignors work from a 50/50 split. This means that when the item sells, 50% of the sale price pays the consignor and 50% stays with your charity. If a trip sells for $4,000, your charity receives $2,000. If the trip sells for $1,000, your portion is $500.

Unlike base price consignments that have a minimum sale point that may not be reached, the 50/50 split offers the assurance that the item will sell. It’s impossible to not make some money!

But because of the greater risk involved to the consignor (remember, his commission is in your hands), some only offer these packages through a professional auctioneer. The consignor seeks the assurance that a professional is overseeing the sale, making it less likely that the package will be sold for a bottom dollar price.

Advantages: With one phone call, you can secure interesting new items for your auction. Often consignors who deal in smaller items like jewelry and paintings will personally work at your event, thereby freeing up your volunteers for other tasks.

Disadvantages: The cost of using a consignor can be great; once the money is counted, the consignor may take home more cash than you. Also, be sure to check a consignor’s references to ensure he has always delivered on what was promised.

Rent A Database

You know you’ll get a higher response on your solicitation letters if you address the letter to a real person versus “To Whom It May Concern,” but tracking down the correct person, title and address can consume hours. Who has that kind of time?

Bypass that work by renting a procurement database. When you rent, the company that owns the database is responsible for keeping contact information current. You craft your letters, the owner of the database mails them, and you wait for donated items to arrive.

The database also allows you to strategically target submissions. If your guests love spa packages, use the database to mail letters to 500 international spas. Is golf a crowd favorite? Send 1,000 letters to golf courses and merchandisers. Lean heavily on the companies you know your crowd will enjoy.

Silent Partners is one such database company. As a bonus, mention this article to receive a discount.

Advantage: Your time will be spent crafting a compelling letter instead of updating an outdated procurement database. It’s also likely that the items you secure will be of higher quality than what you could have achieved using personal connections. Finally, because the items are 100% donated, when you sell an item for $700, all $700 remains with the charity.

Disadvantage: You must allow enough lead time to prepare a solid letter, mail the letters, and give the donating company time to respond. This is a numbers game. The more letters you send, the more donations you’ll receive. Don’t buy a small portion of the database and expect to hit a procurement home run.

Amazon Wishlist

Once reserved for bridal registries and Christmas lists, Amazon Wish List is now used by nonprofits seeking in-kind donations. You can add items to your Wish List from any Web site, making it easy to track everything in one place.

After you’ve setup the list, send e-mail blasts to supporters with a link to your list. This tool might be perfect for those individuals who are happy to give, but have had no luck procuring donations on their own.

Advantage: It’s convenient to have new merchandise show up on your doorstep. And since you will be selecting the items, you never need to worry whether something will be appropriate for your auction.

Disadvantage: Some clients have found Amazon Wish List difficult to set up. However, once it’s done, future auction organizers can use the same account.

Search Online

If your local chain store declines to donate, don’t be surprised. Many national chains manage all donation requests from their headquarters. Before driving to your local mall, first consider visiting a corporation’s Web site.

Most companies will have you complete an online donation request form. Many of these forms require similar information, so keep a spreadsheet handy with your organization’s particulars (e.g. mission, 501(c)(3) number, gala statistics). After you submit your request, it’s a waiting game. Some companies promptly issue you a letter of acceptance and follow it with a donation. Others just send you a donation. Some never respond.

Advantage: From the convenience of your own computer, you can procure donations nationally.

Disadvantage: It’s time consuming. Applying for, tracking and following up with each company is an exercise in organization and persistence.

Auction Vacation Rentals

Remember the luxury vacation-rental industry? A few years ago, individuals bought pricey memberships to vacation clubs that allowed them to reserve discounted homes for their family vacations. The recession hit and many of these clubs disappeared or adapted.

For benefit auction organizers, one evolving company to watch is The Web site is new this year, but could offer an interesting option for your auction, especially in coming months. The premise is that homeowners register their properties (usually a second or third home) on open dates, offering a discount of at least 20%. Fifty percent to 100% of the rental revenue is then donated to a charity. Most of the homes are set up to go to the renter’s preferred charity, not the homeowner’s preferred charity.

Geronimo foresees a time when your guests could select from among hundreds of discounted vacation properties while attending your gala.

But in all fairness, the system isn’t quite ready.

Currently the company offers 20 high-end vacation homes ($5,000 to $15,000) in a traditional flat fee consignment offering. The homes are lovely, but the steep base price means they aren’t appropriate for most charity auctions.

But imagine if the majority of your guests could buy more affordable vacations? There may soon come a time when during the span of your event (or after, using a private label Web site), you can offer guests economical vacations with your charity receiving a hefty portion of that rental income.

Advantage: Vacations are a popular auction item and a variety of reasonably priced rentals ensures all your guests can participate. Once Geronimo’s service is firm, your charity could raise thousands without ever sending a procurement letter.

Disadvantage: At this time Geronimo is focused on adding properties to its database. Developing the auction piece will follow.

Online Database For Matching Donors

A business owner in San Diego grew tired of filling in all those donation forms for different auctions. She decided that if she was frustrated with the inkind donation process, others must be as well. To solve the dilemma, earlier this year she launched as a way to connect charitable businesses with nonprofits seeking donations.

Companies list their donations in the online database. Nonprofits seeking donations scroll through the list to request items. Businesses like the standardized online form, which makes it easy to submit and track in-kind donations for auctions, raffles and gift bags. Nonprofits enjoy the convenience of having a collection of ready-made donors in one place.

Advantage: It’s easy to use and could easily expand your donor list.

Disadvantage: The database is still in its infancy and heavily focused on the San Diego market. Participating businesses may not offer ideal items for your auction.

In a nutshell, there are many ways to procure items. The best way is reaching out to those you know to secure a 100% donated item. But when those donors aren’t donating, you’ve got these tools in your back pocket.

About The Author

Benefit auctioneer Sherry Truhlar, CMP, BAS, teaches planners of fundraising auctions how to maximize revenues for greater success with their nonprofits or school galas. Her expertise has been tapped by national publications (e.g. Town & Country, Washington Post Magazine, AUCTIONEER, The Eleusis), television programs (e.g. E! Style, TLC), and conferences (CMP Conclave, National Auctioneers Association Convention, regional MPI groups). Her company, Red Apple Auctions, offers auctioneers, classes and products. Learn more at www.RedAppleAuctions.

More Auction Tips

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