As your Raising Paddles Director of Client Success and Fundraising Ambassador I support you at every step in creating a successful live auction. When planning a live auction as part of your fundraising program, there is much to consider.

What Makes a Good Live Auction Item?

Unique experiences with mass appeal. Consider saving items like random art, jewelry, clothing for silent auctions or raffles based on individual likes and preferences. Keep reading for more ideas in, Consignments Add WOW to Your Auction.

Pre-event Communication

Create an attractive promotion with pictures and details for each live auction item and send it to each registered guest. Build this into your marketing plan. Promotions like this will provide donors with opportunities to check calendars, discuss with their partners and come to your event ready to bid. This is vital to the success of a virtual event with a live auction (See Live Auction Display for an Important Pro Tip).

Auction Paddles

Some prefer to provide plain auction paddles that can be used year after year while some print a donor’s bid number on the back of your event’s program booklet. Either is a fine option, we do recommend that wherever they are printed that they are large black numbers. This will help your clerk record accurately when the auctioneer can clearly see and read numbers aloud.

If your event has a seating chart and guests assigned seating, you might consider placing bid paddles/program booklets at their place on the table. You can add a small label with their name to ensure everyone has their own paddle. Often when it’s time to move from cocktails to dinner or for the program to begin, paddles/program booklets are forgotten. Your donors can’t give or bid without their paddle!

Pro Tip: Give EVERY donor a paddle, one paddle per person. As a Fundraising Ambassador, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen donors get so engaged in the fun, competitive action, and peer recognition that happens during a live auction and continue to bid because they’re enjoying raising their paddle.

Super Pro Tip: Also, we’ve found that you will see more participation in a Paddle Drop when every individual has a paddle. Don’t know what a Paddle Drop is? You’re missing out on major dollars! Reach out to me directly at, to learn more.

Live Auction Display

Create a highly visible table display for donors to browse the live auction items during the cocktail hour. If there is a program, we still recommend listing items with complete details there too. Too often, donors are busy visiting and won’t take the time to read a program. We recommended printing an attractive visual display with pictures and key highlight for each live auction offering. When creating a display consider its location. People naturally tend to gather around food and drink, therefore, lacing your live auction display in a well-lit area, near the hors d’oeuvres and bar is ideal.

As your Fundraising Ambassador I serve as the hostess of your live auction display. It creates a great opportunity to educate your donors about the live auction items, get them excited to bid and even go into the live auction with opening bids.

Pro Tip: We strongly recommend NOT including the value of any live auction items in pre-event communication or on live auction displays. This puts a ceiling on what the item could bring at your auction.

Consignments Can Add WOW to Your Auction

The key is knowing what would appeal to your attendees. From domestic travel, once-in-a-lifetime experience, world adventures and virtual experiences to wine delivered to your door – If you can dream it, we can find it for you. We have cultivated trusting relationships with over 40 consignment vendors that provide live auction choices and valuable concierge services. Our Raising Paddles team will act as a guide to and help find the perfect live auction items for any special event.

Pro Tip: Sometimes it’s as simple as asking. Asking the board and major donors what’s on the “bucket list” or where do they hope to travel next is a great way to open discussion about what they would be interested to bid on at your gala’s live auction. Plus, this is another donor cultivation strategy. Everyone loves to be asked, “what do you think?”

Finding Your Live Auction Highlight

One client of ours has created an intense buzz and donor competition around one particular live auction item, “A Fried Chicken Dinner”. Of course, this is no ordinary chicken dinner. It’s an in-home chef experience served family style with local beer, wine and all the makings of an “Instagram worthy” dinner party. It’s the highlight of their live auction. This experience has consistently sold at auction for $20,000- $30,000 (sometimes the organization is able to sell two packages). The entire room is invested. Those who aren’t bidding are encouraging those that are. Donors are on their feet clapping and saying, “raise your paddle again!” and “don’t lose it now!”

How did the organization achieve this? How can you create this type of live auction highlight at your fundraising event? I believe many things (some intentional and some maybe unintentional) came together to make this example successful, but here are a few things I see that set this fried chicken dinner apart year after year.

  • Branding: This organization branded this live auction experience with the name of the organization, theme, or mission.
  • Pre-Commitments: Having conversations before your event with top donors or sponsors that participate in your live auction can create competitive bidding.
  • Immediate Gratitude: It’s become known that the winner of this live auction item receives champagne service and a special dessert for their entire table. So, others at the table are really encouraging bidding. Additionally, the winner of this item becomes the superstar of the night. Year after year, I observe donors congratulate and thank the winning bidder for coming and for their contribution to the mission.

Our goal is for your live auction to not only be a memorable donor experience every year but for it to be a key element in your fundraising success. If you would like to learn more strategies for a fun and profitable live auction, reach out to any member of our team.