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Silent Auction Guide & Toolkit
Learn how to create a successful silent auction fundraiser. Silent auction strategies, timelines, auction items and how to organize and display them, how to close an auction and take payments, and other add on fundraisers to boost the bottom line.

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Learn from the experts! Discover the best selling auction items. How to get auction items donated. How to boost attendance. How to get more bids and higher selling prices. How to coordinating volunteers, staff and auction consultants.

Using the Bell Curve in Auctions

by Danielle Hamilton


Auctions are a lively fundraiser option, either as a stand alone event or as part of a larger dinner event. There is a specific strategy used for placing items for bid in auctions that will help bring in the most money for your charity. Use the Bell Curve strategy to your advantage in your next live auction.

Once you've gathered your auction items, review them according to their value and begin to prepare your catalog. If you are working with a professional auctioneer, s/he will help you create the catalog, placing the items in an order that will bring about the greatest income for your charity. However, if you do not have the benefit of a professional, you are not entirely on your own. Using the Bell Curve Strategy will help you place your items in the best order to raise the most money.

The first half of your auction catalog should include the items that are tangible. These are the pieces of artwork, paintings, sculptures, electronics, a signed memorabilia item, and the many themed baskets. These are items that the bidders can instantly see the value of, and where they will practice their bidding. Start with the smaller valued items, and allow the bidders to work their way up to the higher ticket items in this portion of your catalog. This is the first portion of the bell, as you steadily start to climb to the top of the bell where your highest valued items will be placed. Your premiere items will be placed towards the top of the bell curve.

As you reach the highest ticket items in your catalog, you may wish to include a special 'raise the paddle' portion of the evening where the bidders are asked to make a donation to your charity. Higher dollar amounts are being tossed around at this point, so asking someone to pledge $100 or more at this point in the evening will sound like a wonderful idea to many bidders, and will help engage them in the excitement of the bidding. You'll want to be sure that this takes place between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way through the catalog of auction items, as you are more guaranteed that your audience is still with you, and getting quite used to the bidding feel and the higher dollar amounts. It's also best to put this segment in after a particularly successful auction item has been bid on and won.

After your 'raise the paddle' segment, you will be heading to the top of the bell curve where your premiere items are, and they you will start to work your way down to the smaller amounts at the end of your catalog. You will now place your intangible items, such as personal chef sessions, special experiences, tickets to a theater production or sports package, trips, hotel stays, bed and breakfast stays and lunch with local celebrities. These are items that have great value, but cannot easily be seen and touched at the event, thereby making it harder for a bidder to initially identify with its value. These particular items will not do as well at the beginning of the evening until the higher bids have been called out for the tangible items. Once that barrier is broken, then the higher dollar amounts are still in the minds of the bidders, and will easily be placed on the intangible items such as trips and experiences as they do have an excitement to them, but it takes some time to associate a high value to them.

Be sure not to place similar items one after another in the catalog, such as having two dinners in a row, or two trips in a row. But, also be mindful not to bounce around the monetary values too much. You want to aim for the steady, graceful arc in the rise and fall of the bell which will allow bidders to gently increase their bids toward the middle of the catalog and then slowly decrease their bids afterwards. This is not a steep slope to the top of a mountain! You want to leave plenty of wonderful, high valued items after the premiere items for everyone to bid on, particularly those who did not win one of the highest valued items.

By using this strategy, your items will bring in higher bids than if you were to place the items in the catalog at random. Starting with the tangible items such as themed baskets helps gather the attention of the bidders and gives them practice in bidding as they aim for the premiere items, and then segue into the experience items on your catalog. The excitement is maintained throughout the auction, and the items are instantly given more exposure and intrinsic value through the Bell Curve placement.

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About the Author:

Danielle Hamilton is the editor of www.HumaneFundraising.com and moderator of the HumaneFundraising Yahoo group dedicated to helping humane societies and animal rescue groups raise money for needy animals. Danielle focuses her research on fundraising ideas and events that can be hosted by time-strapped nonprofits with great results. A military wife with over 15 years of experience in fundraising and hosting events, Danielle has been working directly with animal nonprofits online since 1999.



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