Ready to launch a charity auction? If you’re new to the process, you might not realize all of your options when it comes to securing auction items to sell then donate money.

1. The traditional way is to ask friends, family, and businesses to donate an item.

This is the most common approach and generally garners you the greatest returns. The donor might give you a product from their place of business or agree to let you sell a one week stay in their vacation home. Of course, you can always ask for a cash donation instead, but some volunteers find it more comfortable to ask for a donation in-kind than to ask for cash.

Advantage: These items are completely donated. If you sell an item for $500, your non-profit keeps $500.

Disadvantage: Your crowd might be willing to spend more on a more unique item, but your procurement team might lack the personal connections to secure those items.

2. Consigned items might be used to supplement your donated items.

A consignment company offers hundreds of ready-to-sell items for a reduced price.

Typically the charity pays only for the items that sell. If your charity opts to use 20 consigned items, but only 10 sell at the auction, your non-profit will pay for those 10 items purchased.

The difference between the consigned price and the sale price is what your charity keeps. So if the consignor offers you a signed painting for $500 and you sell it for $700, your charity keeps $200. You pay the consignor $500.

It’s not uncommon for consignors to specialize in their offerings, such as Hollywood or sports memorabilia, art, jewelry, exclusive packages to unique events (like the SuperBowl or an anticipated concert), or unique vacation packages.

Advantage: It’s easy. With a phone call, you can have your auction filled with fabulous items that could “uplevel” your event with one-of-a-kind experiences and products.

Disadvantage: You might “miss the mark” and select items unpopular or too expensive for your crowd. Although you won’t need to pay the consignor for this blunder (remember, you pay for what you sell), you missed the chance to sell a 100% donated item.

Let’s borrow a term from economics: opportunity cost. Precious time and space that could have been spent showcasing and selling a 100% donated item was foregone in order to promote the consigned package… which earned you nothing (if it didn’t sell).

There is also some controversy about whether bidders should know whether an item is consigned. Some bidders become irate once they learn that $500 of their $700 donation was going to pay a consignor. We’ve heard comments like, “I would have rather just written you a check for $700.” This is a discussion for your auction committee.

3. Another strategy for procuring auction items is to rent access to a database of proven donors.

Soliciting items is time consuming. A chunk of that time is spent on research. For instance, you’ll get a higher response on your solicitation letters if you address your letter to a real person… not “To Whom It May Concern.” But tracking down the right person, their title, and address takes time.

Additionally, people change jobs frequently. The contact at Company ABC who sent that great donation last year may have left her job. Now you need to find out who the new contact is and re-submit.

If you rent a procurement database, the company who owns the database is responsible for keeping the names and addresses current. And because the database is enormous, you can can target the right businesses for your crowd.

Do you think your guests will love bidding on spa packages? Use the database to send out letters to 500 international spas and see who sends you a gift certificate. Is golf a crowd favorite? Send 1,000 letters to golf courses and merchandisers. You can lean heavily on businesses you think your crowd will like.

Once your letter is crafted, the owner of the database will mail your letters. At that point, you sit back and wait for the items to pour in.

Advantage: It’s easier. Rather than spending time calling different companies and tracking down each person in charge of approving donations, the research has already been done for you. Your time can be spent writing a compelling letter.

It’s also likely that the items you secure may be more plentiful and of higher quality than what you could have achieved using your personal connections. And because items are 100% donated, the full value of the item’s sale price remains with your charity.

Disadvantage: There is a cost associated with renting the database. And to a great extent, this is a numbers game. The more letters you send out, the more donations you’ll receive. You can’t skimp on price, buy a small portion of the database (such as 100 names), and expect to hit a home run in your procurement. This is about scale — you must commit to renting enough of the database so the law of averages will kick in and you’ll get the donations you seek.

Called the “Queen of Benefit Auctions,” fundraising auctioneer Sherry Truhlar, CMP, BAS has been featured in national publications (The Washington Post Magazine… AUCTIONEER) and on cable television programs (E! Style… TLC) for her trend-setting work with auction fundraisers. In addition to servicing clients through an elegant and playful auctioneering style, she specializes in a variety of popular online classes to teach volunteer auction chairpersons the simple steps for improving the financial bottom-line of their charity auctions. Her free or nearly free auction ideas are used by hundreds of charities, and her popular, FREE Auction Item GuideTM is downloaded by dozens each day who seek auction procurement help. GET YOUR OWN FREE GUIDE (listing the 100 top-selling items you can sell in your auction) AT

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