By Sherry Truhlar
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.
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
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
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 (www.4silent.com) 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.
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
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.
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
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
Disadvantage: It’s time consuming.
Applying for, tracking and following up
with each company is an exercise in organization
VACATION RENTAL CLUB FOR DOGOODERS
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 Geronimo.
com. 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
Currently the company offers 20 highend
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
Disadvantage: At this time Geronimo
is focused on adding properties to
its database. Developing the auction
piece will follow.
ONLINE MAT CH FOR 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 DonationMatch.com
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. MM&E
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.