Gala Auctions are traditional in-person auctions where guests are assigned bidder numbers which they use to place bids on paper in a Silent Auction and by raising a bid paddle during a live auction. During the event, the auction team uses the software to check guests in, record purchases/donations/winners to create carts for each guest before inviting guests to check-out to pay (in-person and/or from their smartphones).
Here are some tips and things to consider when organizing a Gala Auction:
Best Practices and Tips:
- Best Practice: all event expenses should be covered by ticket and sponsorship revenue. The proceeds from the auction itself should be pure profit. This rule is particularly useful for events run by a committee of volunteers - if part of the team is pushing for an "extravagant" expense - your response can be "that would be so cool - we'd need another sponsor - can you take the lead on finding the funding for it?"
- Tickets are the mechanism for generating bidder numbers - and bidder numbers are required for gala check-in and check-out - so each guest attending a gala must be issued a ticket (these can be free and/or entered internally and/or sold online and/or imported).
- If you want couples to share a bidder number and cart, setting up a couples ticket type with "link guests" enabled is the easiest way to do that.
- If you offer complimentary tickets to teachers or staff, create a coupon code they can use to "buy" their own ticket(s) online rather than coordinating rsvps then entering their information internally.
- Be sure to preview item descriptions and bid sheets as you add your initial items to the catalog - so you can adjust your naming convention and description formatting as needed to get the display you're looking for.
- Organizing items on tables within the software makes it easier for your team to setup the silent auction on the day of the event, but reorganizing items in the software can require a fair amount of effort. For smaller auctions, it's often easier to skip the software reorganization and simply layout the silent items as desired/space allows and use table signage to indicate table closing times.
- Heads or Tails or a Dessert Dash are excellent (and profitable) games that also serve as good warm-ups between dinner and the live auction. The best part? You don't need to procure a big prize for the winner. . .
- If you are doing a "share the pot" prize for a raffle, consider offering a credit toward auction purchases rather than cash.
- Set up stations and roving sales people to sell raffle and game tickets for easy access and better visibility. Sellers can note bidder number and qty purchased on a tracking sheet for later data entry - or record each transaction directly on a tablet.
- Don't wait until a tracking sheet is full to send it along to data entry. Instead, have runners collect tracking sheets from all roving sellers and stations during lulls in data entry.
- Paddle Raise Pro-tip: If you plan to ask for donations at each donation level ("Who can contribute at the $2500 level?"), it's always a good idea to pre-arrange a commitment to donate at the highest level with at least one of your most reliable supporters. Starting too high and only hearing crickets is awkward for everyone - better to confirm (or adjust) the level of your highest ask in a private conversation prior to your event.
- The emotional arc of the evening should build to the paddle raise. Reserve your most emotional presentation, speech, video for just before the Paddle Raise to maximize the giving when the audience is most receptive.
- Replace the $25 and $50 levels of your paddle raise with $5/mo and $10/mo options to collect more money in a manner that is easier for small donors.
Things to Consider or Avoid:
- What's the difference between a $30k auction and a $50k auction? A professional auctioneer. It's tempting to think that your auction is too small and your community too informal to need a professional auctioneer - but a good auctioneer almost always pays for themselves by getting more money for your live auction items. An auctioneer does so much more than calling out bids - they often have great tips and leads for procurement, they advise on which order to offer items to build momentum (peaking with your paddle raise) and they are adept at reading the room and maximizing bids because they understand the dynamics of conspicuous spending.
- Check-in Lines! Selling or distributing pre-sold raffle tickets/merch during check-in and finding a pre-assigned bidder number/packet always slow down the check-in process. Setting up a separate station to sell/distribute raffle tickets allows everyone to check-in quickly and guests wanting raffle tickets/merch can proceed directly to the station (or get a drink first to avoid an existing line). Keep Swag bags etc generic and assign bidder numbers at check-in (off the top of the pile) to avoid having to find a particular swag bag labeled with a name/bidder number as guests randomly check-in. Allowing guest to use the Advance Online check-in is a great way to confirm contact info and collect vaulted credit cards without lines - but you'll still need to distribute bid paddles (if needed) when they arrive so offer a separate station at the door for those just needing their bid paddle.
- Too many Silent items! Bigger is not necessarily better. Since silent-auction procurement is one of the most stressful, time-consuming jobs, you also run the risk of burning out a good volunteer if you try to get too many items for the number or guests and/or money in the room. A good rule of thumb is one silent auction item for every 2-3 guests (really!) If many of your items have 0-2 bids and/or sold for less than 50% of FMV, you probably had too many silent items.
- Too many Live Items! Limit your Live Auction to 8-20 items plus a paddle raise. We've all been to auctions that just went on and on - where bidding on the final items was apathetic and disappointing. Instead - end your event on a high note - with the audience still buzzing about the experience.
- If you offer a discount for a couples ticket, consider offering the same discount for an admit two ticket that does not share a bidder number to avoid the hassle of having to unlink friends that wanted the discount but don't want to share a bidder number/cart. Note: unlinking is easy to do until the linked couple has checked in - which is usually when guests realize they're sharing a bid number but don't want to.
- Check-out lines! Sending invitations to Self Check-out allows guests to review their purchases and pay online - leaving the check-out stations available for any guests with questions about their cart or who want to pay by cash or check.