How to Step Up Your Procurement Part I: Low Cost Items

Step Up Your Procurement with Quality Items

Recently, here at the Greater Giving blog, we received a question from a reader.

“Hi! We’re clients of Greater Giving and were just reading your article about ‘Best Practices for Mobile Bidding,’ [link] and we wanted to know more about these ‘quality items that guests will be willing to bid on, and bid high.’

We’ve bundled items successfully for a couple years, but I believe we need to tweak even more to get to the kind of quality items you mention here. Can you help?”

Scouting out and soliciting those quality items that bidders just go crazy over is harder than it sounds. But we’re here to help! We know what it’s like running the same benefit auction year after year: getting creative with your big-ticket packages and live auction items starts to get tricky. We’d like to infuse you with some new ideas about brainstorming and finding those special live auction items.

The Fabulous Formula

There’s one formula for acquiring creative, best-selling auction items that just can’t be beat:

An item that can’t be purchased or acquired elsewhere


A unique appeal to your specific audience or your audience’s specific interests


A quality auction item that generates high bids

Keep this in mind as you and your auction committee brainstorm ideas. Make a list of the connections your organization has through staff, volunteers, sponsors and board members. Even if you don’t have a connection to a particular individual or business that you can tap, but you have a really great idea, always reach out and ask! The worst they can do is say, “No.”

Famous people: Do you have access to a celebrity actor, famous musician, or well-known athlete? Ask if he or she would be willing to attend a lunch with a fan (or another kind of social event). These kinds of items are great because they cost only the price of a lunch, but can sell for much more—especially if your celebrity is beloved within your organization, or a person of interest to your cause. I once attended a benefit event for an after-school tennis program that auctioned off a lesson with a pro tennis player, and it was the highest-selling item at the event.

Unique and exciting experiences: Offer tickets or entry into an exclusive place, like a high-end restaurant, club, or a local attraction that sells out quickly or would otherwise be difficult to acquire. Here are some ideas:

  • A single (important) game in a season pass ticket
  • A meal or item made by a famous chef just for the purchaser
  • Tickets to a sold-out concert or reunion show

Think local. Could you obtain special access to a local resource? In the country, you could offer a guided horseback ride through a beautiful locale that’s hard to reach on foot. Is your organization near an airfield? You could offer flying lessons. Are you in wine country? Perhaps a winery that doesn’t normally offer tours or tastings could open up for a special winner.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: Beyond items that simply cannot be attained with money, once-in-a-lifetime items are the kind that never come around again, and that seize-it-or-leave-it element (if played up by your auctioneer!) can drive bids through the roof. Here are some ideas:

  • A guest performance in a theater production, TV show, or radio station
  • A backstage pass to an event, concert, or celebrity meet-and-greet
  • A close-up experience with a new baby animal at your local zoo

Themed items/gimmick items: Think about what your specific audience needs—and think fun! If you’re a school, what about a set of twelve “date nights?” You could include childcare in the package, too, to set parents free for one night a month for a whole year.

Design your package as a whole. With enough creativity (and humor) you can take some fairly plain items and bundle them together for a fun and engaging overall experience.

Event Night packages: These always perform well because they can be received and enjoyed immediately (unlike most auction items), and can hugely enhance your guest experience at the event. Here are some great ideas for items to sell on the big night:

  • Glass of Liquid Sparkles: Have a particularly star-studded event? Make special champagne or bubbly available for sale by the glass at tables. Have volunteers walking around with glasses that are for sale; put cute or sparkly wine glass charms that guests can keep.
  • Instant dessert: Have a chef create a dessert right at a guest’s table!
  • The Best Seat in the House: Leave your best table empty and offer seating there as a bonus auction item.

Sell event night items in your silent auction so they can be enjoyed afterwards, during dinner. If you decide to sell event night packages in your live auction, make sure it’s early enough in the schedule so your bidders have time to receive and enjoy what they’ve purchased. Multi-sale packages, like the glasses of champagne, are huge revenue-generators because you can sell them multiple times to anyone, at any time. (Give your champagne dealers iPads to record sales with Greater Giving Storefront.)

Free and Low Cost Items: Some of the most effective items have no cost to acquire, but yield the most competitive bidding—usually because they are the most emotional. At a school auction, for example, “Principal for a Day” is an imaginative, zero-cost item that stirs up a lot of enthusiasm. Best of all, you can easily double and sell it twice (with the principal’s permission, of course!).

Consider a one-of-a-kind, numbered, stuffed bear handmade by a beloved member of the community and a benefactor of the cause. Handmade items, or items with an emotional connection to a founder or benefactor (such as something previously owned or worn by that individual), make great low-cost, high-performance live auction items.

Other free and low-cost ideas:

  • Pizza party or after-school event with a favorite teacher
  • A “date” with a firefighter, police officer, or other eligible bachelor/bachelorette
  • Beer or wine made by the founder

Tap into your audience’s connection to your cause and their passions as a community, and that’s where you’ll find your “quality auction items”—and hopefully start a bidding war!

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