How to Have a Successful Auction Without a Lot of “Stuff"

First Unitarian Church of St. Louis logo

Winter means AUCTION TIME for many of our congregations! Recently First Unitarian in St. Louis, MO tried some new things with some surprising results, including paying for an auctioneer. All auction expenses were offset by dinner ticket sales and a 50/50 raffle. Food, decorations and music for the night were donated. The paddle auction raised MORE MONEY than the silent auction. Read on to learn more. If you have questions, contact Emily at Emily@jaycox.org.

We recently held a successful church auction without a large number of high dollar auction items. We focused on “intangibles:” services, event tickets, dinners, and group outings.
In addition to raising money, my goals were:

  • Minimize logistical headaches
  • Provide opportunities to participate at all income levels and length of membership.

A “Paddle Auction"

After the silent auction, dinner, and live auction, we concluded the evening with a “paddle auction” (as in “hold up your paddles”). This is an appeal without specific items to bid on. You can appeal to a specific church program, or the overall mission.

First, the auctioneer set the expectations. He talked about some aspirations for the church that we haven’t been able to meet during our regular canvass, and asked them to be generous. Then I described aspects of our church’s heritage and role in our lives that are worthy of support.

Our auctioneer worked down in intervals from the top of a bid pyramid (we started at $1000) to $50. (Some auctions go down to $10). As the excitement built, people found a level where they were comfortable and jumped in.

Working with a Professional Auctioneer

Lessons I learned from my experienced charity auctioneer, Jonathan Miller (who also advised me on what to put in the live vs. silent auction):

  • When people come to your auction, they are predisposed to spend something. If they weren’t a winning bidder, or didn’t see anything that appealed to them, they’ll leave with that money in their pocket, unless you ask them for it.
  • Solicit some bids at the top tiers ahead of time.
  • Report the results of the silent auction before the live auction starts, so that people know how much they have left to spend on the live auction.

While all the components of the auction helped create a sense of ownership about the event, over half the money we raised was from the “paddle auction,” simply by asking at the end of an event that people felt good about.

Emily Jaycox, auction chair, First Unitarian Church of St. Louis