Between procuring donated items, tracking logistics, securing sponsorhips, promoting ticket sales and more, we all know charity auction events are a lot of work. So why do we still hold them? Nearly all nonprofits would likely say it’s because their organization or cause needs the money.

However, research by the National Auctioneers’ Association reveals the #1 reason 93% of attendees choose to buy a ticket is not to support your cause, but to HAVE FUN!

On one hand, nonprofits need to make money. On the other hand, guests want to have a good time.

How do we bridge that gap?

Enter the “3 E’s” of hosting a fundraiser that’s both fun and profitable, as coined by benefit auctioneer Danny Hooper:

1. Entertain
2. Engage
3. Extract

You may spend up to 12 months meticulously planning a lavish event that runs seamlessly… but without all 3 components working together, the night cannot meet its full revenue potential.

Read on for more on the 3 E’s and practical ways to incorporate these fundamentals in your next fundraiser.

1. Entertain

Gala_audience.jpgYour guests are making a significant commitment by attending your event: not just in the price of the ticket, but more importantly, the gift of their time. This is especially true if your auction is held on a weekend. (We all know those never come fast enough or last long enough, so to ask someone to give up a Friday or Saturday night is no small thing.)

Event hosts owe it to guests to provide an entertaining event that holds their attention through the night.

One of Danny’s favorite strategies to kick off an entertaining night is with an unusual or unexpected icebreaker…

“I’ll start off the night by introducing myself, then auctioning off a moderately valuable item like a basket of wine or flat-screen TV. I’ll initially ask for $10,000. Of course, no one goes for it. Then I’ll lower bidding to $5,000, then $2,000… Finally I’ll ask for $20, just $20, folks. Someone will put up their hand, and I’ll immediately say, ‘Sold! To the lady in green for $20.'”

The looks on everyone’s faces say it all. Guests are surprised and entertained, and best of all they can’t wait for the live auction to start.

Procuring buzzworthy auction items is another essential crowd-pleaser. If your charity puts up the same 10 items in your live auction each year, consider keeping the event fresh and entertaining with new items; predictability is a surefire way to take the momentum out of a live auction.

cuban_flag_in_door.pngExciting, big-ticket items like travel packages, exclusive Experiences and red-hot concert tickets add a priceless entertainment value for the whole crowd. Trips to Disneyland, New York City shopping sprees, tickets to Broadway’s smash hit Hamilton, a historian’s private tour of D.C., even a getaway to Cuba…These are fun to sell, add excitement and make the night fly by.

(Yep, you heard right—Cuba! Click to learn how you can send your donors on our brand-new “Havana Highlights” Experience.)

2. Engage

The focus throughout the event needs to remain on the fundraising. For an auction, this means procuring the right mix of exciting, affordable and high quality items.

With low quality items, your auction catalog may fail to generate any excitement with the crowd and, as a result, few bids. With items that are too high in value, the few people in the room who have money also have all the fun bidding, which alienates everyone else. (That’s never a good thing if you’re trying to build a sustainable event and strong support base for your organization and cause.)

For a comprehensive list of ideas that sell well in both live and silent auctions, with a wide range of prices and categories, click below to request the ultimate list of 400+ Amazing Auction Item Ideas.


Travel packages in particular are great at engaging most bidders. Since the majority of people have an annual travel budget and take multiple trips per year, travel is consistently a top seller at charity auctions.

3. Extract

Think back to your last flight. Traveling by air can be pricey these days, but the airfare was probably not the only expense of the trip. You may have been charged for baggage, snacks, drinks, seat choice, class upgrades, early boarding, flight changes…the list goes on.

Airlines have mastered the art of extraction. They know how to collect revenue from a wide variety of potential sources.

Everything you need to plan an event that Entertains, Engages and Extracts. Click below to try Checklist Builder free today.


“From a nonprofit’s perspective, this should be priority one, but most events are simply not designed to extract at their highest potential,” says Danny. “The best advice I can give is to stop thinking like a charity, and start thinking like a business.”

Holding a fundraising event is like opening a retail store that’s only open for 4 to 5 hours before closing its doors for another year. The limited time frame means it’s absolutely critical to look at every potential income stream.

Unlike an expense (like the venue, band, catering or decorations), an income stream is anything that generates revenue throughout the night. Here’s just a sampling of the different kinds of income streams a nonprofit can and should incorporate into their event:


As shown in the chart, an event can double its revenue by employing diverse income streams besides the silent and live auction.

That said, auctions are still the two biggest and most profitable components of a typical fundraising event. “That’s why I’m thrilled whenever I see a Winspire package in the live auction,” Danny explains. “These bucket-list Experiences generate plenty of interest and cost the nonprofit nothing if they don’t sell for a profit.”

Let’s say your charity auctions off Napa Valley Backroads & Railways, a Winspire package that includes airfare for two, a 3-night stay at the Meritage Resort and Spa, a wine train tour and more. The Nonprofit price for this package is $3,100. The suggested retail value of this package is over twice that amount, but the minimum opening bid can be set wherever you choose. If you begin bidding at $4,000 and it sells for $4,500, you’ve made an instant profit of nearly 50%; if it doesn’t sell, you don’t pay a dime. It really is no-risk.

8334-2-Tour-the-Vines-of-Napa-Valley-THUMB.jpegEven better, Winspire packages can be sold multiple times. If 3 people were bidding on the Napa package that just sold for $4,500, the auctioneer can then say, “Would all three of you buy the Napa package if it was offered at $4,000?” Most times, all three bidders will take the deal, and the charity’s profit from one package doubles to $3,000 in a matter of minutes.


You can learn all about the income streams and revenue opportunities shown above in Danny’s book, Easy Money—How to Generate Record Profits at Your Next Fundraising Auction Event.

If you have a charity fundraising event coming up, particularly a live or silent auction, we highly recommend signing up for Checklist Builder today. This groundbreaking resource is packed with recommendations and expertise based on the principles of the 3 E’s, taking the guesswork out of auction planning no matter what your budget, level of experience or team size may be.

It takes less than a minute to sign up (no credit card or transaction required), so try Checklist Builder and start planning an event that reaches its full potential.