Incentives To Light That First Bid Fire

Fundraisers have all been there—walking the auction tables, looking at bid sheets to see if new bids have been set and wondering why some sheets remain untouched.

Why has no one bid on certain items? How do you create that buzz and get that fire started?

It’s important to remember that people are procrastinators by nature. People who wait until December 24th to Christmas shop or April 14 to do their taxes are the same people who might be attending your silent auction. In fact, most attendees will wait until the last five minutes of your event to do their serious bidding. Exciting for them. Really frustrating for you.

How do you create that spark that gets bidding started? You can offer a first bidder incentive.  Keep in mind that first bidder incentive is strictly a strategy to get the bidding started, but and it may not keep bidding going. Also keep in mind that the simpler your bidding process is, the more bids you’re likely to have.

Offer incentives for the first bid.

You can make the incentives across the board, meaning that every first bid on every item gets a prize, or you can make the 1st line bid incentive on select items—those that you think might be difficult for people to start bids on. The first bidder incentive strategy is also used on high-priced items to start the bidding.

Typically, you can offer something relatively small as an incentive. You might offer a free drink at the bar, or two movie tickets and popcorn for a night out. Or you might offer something that doesn’t necessarily have monetary value, but instead is prestigious—lunch with the non-profit director or being principal-for-the-day.
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Highlight the first bid line on the sheet to show there’s an incentive attached. Use another font or highlight in a color to make it stand out.

Keep bidding simple.

Don’t ask bidders to write out a bunch of detailed information on the bid sheet like names or addresses or phone numbers. Instead, have a check-in station and register your bidders with a bidder number. You capture their pertinent information once (and keep it for future events!) and they go on their merry way with just a bid number. By writing the amount of their bid and their number on the bid sheet, bidding goes faster, you don’t create traffic jams around a particular item, and ultimately you get more bids. Also, people typically don’t like to get cutthroat with people they know, so they may be reluctant to go against a friend. A bidder number keeps them anonymous in the bidding war!

And whatever you do, don’t delay the close of your auction because you don’t have enough bids. It is a big mistake and the worst thing you can do. You simply must create that time pressure to round up all those procrastinators and herd them over to the bid sheets. If you delay the auction close, you’re delaying your whole event—perhaps food, entertainment, live auction and more. Your guests won’t appreciate it. Keep your eye on the goal–and that’s raising money as much money as possible!

Denise’s Advice

Note: Many states have specific rules that govern auction games. Make sure to check your state’s raffle licensing laws as well as your organization’s bylaws. Also, check on alcohol sales rules and permits, as well as firearms, if those will be available at your event or in the auction.
  • This is a particularly effective revenue enhancer if you have a lot of items in your live auction and you want to keep the energy up throughout.
  • Always consult with your auctioneer about this beforehand and let them choose which item(s) would be best for this revenue enhancer. It also helps to know your audience with this one!
  • Keep in mind that first bidder incentive is strictly a strategy to get the bidding started, but it may not keep bidding going.
  • Use the “keep it simple” approach. The simpler your bidding process is, the more bids you’re likely to have.

Some Personal Insight from Denise

One particular auctioneer orchestrated the anticipation of the competition so well that guests couldn’t wait to get their paddles up and be the first bidder. The item went for 2000% above its value, far more than had it been auctioned off in the traditional way! And the energy in the room remained high for the rest of the live auction!

This article is part of our 26 Proven Revenue Enhancers for Your Fundraiser eBook available as a free download. If you looking for new revenue enhancing ideas and how to incorporate them into your event—this easy-to-use lookbook is for you.

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