Hiring a Certified Charity Auctioneer

In honor of our upcoming webinar all about maximizing the timeline of your live auction, let’s talk for a minute about the most important person in the room: your auctioneer.

Your auctioneer is the quarterback of the night!

Think of your fundraising event as a championship football game. The game kicks off as the doors swing open. The clock has started ticking. Your team has only so much time to score as many points as possible until the opportunity has passed, and you have to wait until next year.

At a fundraising auction, once the game is underway, you truly don’t know what exactly is going to happen. You don’t know what opportunities are going to present themselves throughout the evening that you can capitalize on to generate unexpected revenue.

With the stakes this high, you need a quarterback that’s trained to deliver under pressure.

By investing in a benefit auctioneer, you’ve got someone at the helm calling plays, generating momentum and dodging common live auction pitfalls—think delayed start times, awkward transitions, out-of-order items and more.

Of course, it can be hard for auction organizers to justify the expense. So in today’s post we’ll answer a few common questions asked by real-life nonprofit pros and volunteers, including…

  • How can I sell our event committee on using a professional fundraiser auctioneer?
  • Why do we need an auctioneer if we have an emcee?
  • What should you look for in an auctioneer?
  • How do I find a qualified auctioneer?
  • How much does hiring an auctioneer typically cost?
  • …and more!

Read on for 4 common reasons nonprofits skip using benefit auctioneers – and how doing so could stunt their revenue potential in 2017.

Reason 1: We have an auctioneer donating their services for free.

It’s quite common for nonprofits to try to leverage generous offers from auctioneers in other fields – say art, cattle, automobile, heavy machinery and more. This is predicated on the assumption that they’re using the same skills to sell items.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Check out this video of benefit auctioneer Danny Hooper as he explains what sets fundraising auctioneers apart from other fields.

Danny adds, “If you were going to get a root canal and your neighbor was a proctologist that offered to do it for free, would you go to him, or would you rather go and pay your dentist? I’d be dead in my tracks if I tried to step into any of these other auctioneers’ roles.”

Selling art, estates, antiques, livestock and automobiles are highly specialized fields within the auction industry, as is fundraising. Other auctioneers lack the training and experience needed to extract money out of the entire audience.

Bottom line: Specializing matters. A benefit auctioneers’ tips, techniques, and strategies are best suited for selling big-ticket donations at top dollar.

Reason 2: We already have an emcee to lead the auction.

We hear this one time and time again:

Newscasters don't do auctionsOur hospital administrator is not a dynamic speaker, but the auction benefits that hospital.

We have a very demanding sponsor that insists on “leading” the auction every year. It’s very uncomfortable.

We have our local media personality or news broadcaster coming to the event, and they know how to speak to a crowd on the mic.”

Simply put, there’s a conflict of interest between important stakeholders and your fundraising strategy.

It can be tricky to balance the needs and demands of all involved, but the focus must stay on fundraising the entire night. An inexperienced auctioneer, no matter how extroverted or energetic, is simply not aware of the various income streams and tools at their disposal for extracting that revenue from the audience. That takes away focus from the night’s goal.

Explain to sponsors and media personalities that fundraising auctioneers are specially trained to generate as much money as possible for the generous donations you’ve received. If you wish, they can serve in another public-facing role such as being the night’s emcee or giving opening remarks. They’ll likely be more than willing to participate in a different way.

Important note: The converse of this scenario – having an auctioneer, and expecting them to act as an emcee – can also hamper revenue. While it’s tempting to try and “get your money’s worth” from the auctioneer, the beginning of the live auction sets the tone for the rest of the auction. If you bring out the night’s main entertainment too soon, that takes all the fun out of the start of the live auction. Better to reserve the auctioneer to kick off the live auction with a bang, and have someone else lead the rest of the night.

Bottom line: Encourage everyone to keep the focus on your cause.

Reason 3: Hiring an auctioneer costs too much for our small event.

First, exactly how much does an auctioneer cost?

While we can’t give a real general estimate on fees, different professional auctioneers will charge based on their reputation and track record. Some auctioneers charge a flat fee, some that work strictly on commission and some work on a combination of both. So it’s always negotiable. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, get quotes and ask for references.

That said, you don’t want to only shop around for the lowest fee. Like any business, a low cost supplier is not always the best, so take a good look at an auctioneer’s track record and repeat clients. Go with the one who will bring back the most return on your investment.

Now let’s look at how much it would cost your event not to have the right person in charge.

Studies show benefit auctioneers haul in 50% higher bids in live auction, thanks to their specialized training and techniques as discussed above.

Additionally, consider this typical scenario…

Maximizing revenue from second highest bids in charity auctions

Let’s say you have a live auction of 10 items. For every donated item, there’s one successful bidder. For discussion’s sake let’s say they sell for $1,000 apiece, and you’ve generated $10,000. Sounds pretty good, right?

What concerns a fundraising auctioneer is what we call the second high bidder: the underbidder that put their hand up somewhere around $950 and stopped. Multiply that by 10 people and that’s $9500, a full 95% of the night’s revenue, that wasn’t captured in the Live Auction. Where does that money go?

Donors aren’t going to simply run to the silent auction and spend $950, because there’s nothing worth that amount there. This is not money they feel has to be spent at the event. So, 9 times out of 10, that $9500 walks right out the door when the evening ends.

Your fundraising auctioneers’ techniques and strategies for capturing that money via fund-a-need cash appeals, raffles, games, multiple sales and more, can make a huge difference.

Check out this infographic on the rigorous qualifications required to obtain a benefit auctioneer specialist certification – and the improved results this training brings:


Bottom line: The cost of hiring an auctioneer will be a fraction of the revenue earned from their leadership. (Want an easy way to hire an auctioneer for free? Read on!)

Reason 4: The board or event committee isn’t convinced.

Would you believe me if I said there’s a way to get an auctioneer for free?

First step – use the information in this blog post to show your committee you’ll do better with a fundraising auctioneer to quarterback that portion of your event.

Then, find an underwriter to cover the cost. It’s that simple!

To help, download the Winspire Sponsorship Kit. It comes complete with templates and examples to easily create your own professional sponsorship letters and forms.


Bottom line: Show the board an auctioneer isn’t a “cost” but an investment – one that can help your event acheive its true potential.

Where do I find a qualified auctioneer?

First, I recommend reaching out to your designated Fundraising Specialist here at Winspire for a free event consultation. We know reputable auctioneers in your area and would be happy to provide referrals. To schedule a call, simply fill out a contact form.


You can also click here to find a designated Benefit Auction Specialist with the National Auctioneers’ Association.

Bottom line: To generate record profits and acheive your true potential, make sure you’ve got the right auctioneer in the room.