Calling to Get Auction ItemsOne of the most frequent questions related to auction fundraisers is how to get auction items donated.  In the audio seminar series Secrets of the Charity Auction Experts Karin Costa gave many great ideas for auction items.

She also described in detail how to get those items donated.  This approach to getting items takes away the fear factor from asking and virtually eliminates the need to call complete strangers!

Here’s a short audio clip (5 minutes) from our interview, with transcript version below:

Sandra Sims: You have told us a little bit about how to come up with those ideas, by surveying your supporters and your board members and then sort of just brainstorming different ideas of experiences that you know your demographics may like. So you mentioned going to board members and having them make calls and look for items but what do you find is the best way to go about sourcing the items and experiences for the auction?

Practically speaking, do you have a list of volunteers who then go and make phone calls or do you do it more indirectly through sending out letters or what do you find is the most effective way to get the items in?

Karin Costa: Where we start is with an organizational meeting. Those people who are most connected within your community and with your organization should be those folks on the auction item acquisition team and I like to get those volunteers together and do just what we did, stimulate the ideas.

If Sandra Sims knows me and I am on the organizational committee, Sandra Sims knows that Karin was connected to the baseball industry. Therefore, if we contacted Karin, Karin could get us back scene work at a major league baseball stadium; she could get us on the field working as the grounds keeper or the bat boy; she could get us team merchandise; she could get somebody to come to our home and build us a ball pen or a batting cage with all the materials, the paraphernalia, the uniforms, the bats and the balls, okay. That is a connection.

So I give the group an idea like that, how they can build all different kinds of packages just by knowing me and my connections. So I tell them build a telephone tree of who you know, what they do for a living, what they do for hobbies and what their interests are and, from that telephone tree, we start building contacts and what skills, interests, hobbies, business services and products can these people offer and we specifically write down who we want to contact, what we want to ask them for and how much dollar donation we want value from them.

Sandra Sims: Oh, that is great. So you are putting it down item by item for each person ahead of time

Karin Costa: Ahead of time.

Sandra Sims: Yes, you know what you are going to ask for.

Karin Costa: Do not send your volunteers on an endless scavenger hunt because they will be worn out and that is where all of the frustration builds, where people say ‘we put all this time and effort into our event and we did not raise enough money or we did not raise any money’. If you start like a business and say: our product line is … because our market is … our target customer is … and these are the suppliers we have who are volunteers, are board members, are staff with all of these community connections, this is what we will offer and we will be different from every other organization who is holding an auction event in town.

Sandra Sims: So the members on your acquisition team, they have their phone tree, they know the people they are going to talk to and what items they are going to ask for. Are there any specific suggestions that you give them or script for them to use whenever they start calling people?

Karin Costa: I suggest that the person most connected to whomever is being solicited for that item or service donation contact the person first. So, if you knew me and you knew what my connections are, you would call me and say: Karin, we are putting together the fund raiser for XYZ organization. It is a benefit to raise money for … I know that you can support us. I am asking for a donation of your backstage connections to the local opera company so that I can learn how an opera singer is trained and actually be able to perform at my son’s birthday party. You ask me specifically because you know me; it is a friendly ask; it is a connected ask.

Sandra Sims: So during your brainstorming meeting one volunteer may come up with an idea of someone to contact but they might not be the right person to make that contact.

Karin Costa: True. Then we find out who it is – remember the movie and the play “Six Degrees of Separation”, who did they know, who did they know, who did they know, down the line. How far down the line do you have to connect in order to get to the ask? And you want the closest person to that connected ask to be the person asking. So you do not know me but you are a friend of a friend and that friend is who should be contacting me as the friendliest ask, the easiest, least fearful ask for a donation.

What a great way to go about getting items donated!  This takes out the need for cold calling all together.  It’s all about your committee working their network of contacts and making friendly asks.

You’ll get the entire one hour interview in both audio download and text transcript as part of Secrets of the Charity Auction Experts.

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Posted on 23 July 2009

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