CircusHave you ever thought about a live auction as being like a circus?  It’s true!  During the auction all eyes are focused on the stage to your ringmaster, the auctioneer.  Any great circus has many other performers to make the event a success.  Your auction also needs “ring people” to help the person on stage perform at his or her best.  (That is, to get the most bids on live auction items and ultimately the most funds raised as possible!)

This concept was one of the biggest take-away lessons from my interview with Dawn Rose-Sohnly. She has been serving as an auctioneer and auction assistant (or “ring person”) for more than 15 years.  Along with her sister Karen, she has helped raise millions of dollars for charitable organizations.

Here’s a short (2 min.) excerpt from our interview:

Sandra Sims: What can a non profit do to actually make the auctioneer’s job easier?

Dawn Rose-Sohnly: I think communication is key. If the auctioneer is new to the non-profit. Definitely point out key bidders. Explain the room set up. Are there key bidders that are sitting in the front versus sitting in the back?

The non-profit organization should always hire a professional bid assistant to encourage bidding and excitement to the prospective bidders. I think ring people are a key component to an auction.

Sandra Sims: You’ve mentioned “ring people” and “auction assistants.” What are those positions and what do they do?

Dawn Rose-Sohnly: Basically, it’s the same term. Ring people are the individuals that you see in the audience that are encouraging bidders to bid. They use a lot of enthusiasm. They’re very hard workers at what they do. They’re trained, they’re professionals and I have seen people that say I’m not going to bid anymore and that ring person will get in front of them and that person will bid five times after that. It adds the excitement and enthusiasm to an auction. On all of our charity auctions we always use ring people.

Sandra Sims: Give me an example if you can of what a ring person might do to encourage that bidding?

Dawn Rose-Sohnly: A ring person might go up to him and you’re working with the public so you’ve got to realize your space in between that bidder and it’s really reading the public, but you might get in front of that person and say you may want to bid one more time. This is a great cause, it’s going to a great non-profit organization; if you bid one more time, the other person may not stop bidding and you could be the high bidder. That might be one technique of how they do it.

Sandra Sims: A lot of it like you said is reading the audience?

Dawn Rose-Sohnly: Yes, definitely. Over the years I have been able to tell which bidders are going to bid and which ones do not. It’s body language, it’s looking at their eyes. I don’t know, I guess I’ve just got that knack because I can tell when somebody is going to bid or when somebody is going to hesitate and I can have somebody tell me even as a ring person on the benefits that I’ve worked, they’re not going to bid one more time, but I know that doesn’t mean no. I can always get them to bid additionally.

Dawn went on to describe the benefits of having ring people and several successful auctions where assistants were key to driving up the fund total of the event.

During our one hour interview Dawn also shared:

How to choose a great leader for the auction committee chairperson

A success story of an auction that raised $78,000 with only 40 items!

How to divide up item acquisition & other event planning tasks amongst committee members

How to set minimum bids and bid increments

How to determine which items go in the live auction vs. the silent auction

How to add revenue to your event with a “bidding frenzy” and a special appeal

What to look for when hiring an auctioneer so that your auction is as successful as possible

Success tips from Dawn’s favorite charity auction that raises more than $100,000 every year

The complete one hour audio interview and transcript are included in the Secrets of the Charity Auction Experts seminar series.

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Posted on 27 May 2009

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. mariasullivan says:

    A pr of Patriots tickets were donated to our school, to be auctioned off at a fundraising dinner this weekend. The donor will only donate if they go for slightly above face value ($400). What shouldI opening bid be and whatI is proper wording for pre advertising that theyI must sell for minimum set by donor?
    Thanks!

  2. Sherry Truhlar says:

    Hello Maria,

    Are these being sold in the live auction? If so — and if you’re using a professional auctioneer — don’t worry about an “opening bid.” Your auctioneer will manage this, treating it like any consigned item.

    If it’s a silent auction, the easiest solution is to start the bidding at the $401 . It will be a hard sell (it’s best to start items for less than full value). But if it sells, it will meet the donor requirements. If the location of the seats is good, make a splash with that in the description.

    If you are ready for something more complicated, you can start the item for less than full value … but include wording in the restrictions that says something like “this donated item must meet the reserve price before being sold.” It’s not ideal because it could generate a disappointed bidder who doesn’t read the fine print, but it’s an option.


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