Fundraising: The Art of Auctions

Posted by david on December 29th, 2010

Our friends over at Purina published this insightful article in their Rally to Rescue magazine. You can read the rest of this article below, or on their website:

Going once, going twice… auction fundraisers loaded with tickets to events, museums and galleries, plus numerous donated items, are helping nonprofit rescue organizations refuel their coffers. Anything is possible when it comes to an auction. Experience is the ticket in determining what works best.

When American Brittany Rescue (ABR) of Lincoln, Neb., began collecting items for its monthlong online auction to help raise funds for a retreat for senior Brittanys, organizers were ambitious and persistent.

“We sent press kits to potential donors telling them how senior dogs often have no place to go,” says Rhonda Carlson, president of ABR. “We appealed to the agents or PR people of celebrities with dogs and found in some cases we didn’t even have to make follow-up calls. The donations just came in.”

Autographed items from country music singer Alan Jackson, NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip, actress Jane Fonda and author Dean Koontz were headline attractions. Other top-line draws were reserve seat tickets to next year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, a two-night stay at a downtown Boston hotel, a six-day cruise, and two round-trip airline tickets.

Nearly 200 items netted ABR $8,000. The highest bid was $1,800 for the West­minster tickets donated by David Frei, director of communications for Westminster. Carlson plans to create a Westminster package deal with hotel and plane tickets for next year’s auction. Similar packages have gone for as much as $10,000 at auction, according to Frei.

Months were spent collecting, categorizing and photographing items that were sent to a site coordinator who posted the information online. As the auction drew near, organizers panicked, worried they may not have enough items.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t have enough!’” recalls Carlson. “So we scrambled even harder for donations.”

ABR advertised the auction to 4,000 people on its e-mail and newsletter lists and posted information about the upcoming auction on several Brittany Web sites. Rescue volunteers also spread the word. A countdown clock on ABR’s Web site ticked away the days until the start of the auction.

As for lessons learned, Carlson says next year ABR will limit the auction to two weeks. “A month was too long,” she says. “The highest bidding was in week one, then the bidding went dead until we sent a reminder that only one week was left.”

She also thinks organizers panicked unnecessarily. “We accepted items that didn’t even get a bid,” she says. “For future auctions, we’ll know quality of items trumps quantity. The best part is that every event we’ve done in the past gets better results the next time we do it. So, I would like to think next year’s online auction will be spectacular.”

A Fundraiser for ‘Stanley’
Not every auction entails months of planning. Lisa Haynes of Save Our Strays (S.O.S.) in Huntington, Vt., barely had two weeks to pull together an auction for “Stanley,” a 10-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix who was found abandoned in a locked mechanics’ shed in the middle of winter with two other dogs, one of which had frozen to death. He was going to be euthanized due to his age and health problems.

“No one would touch Stanley,” says Haynes, who refuses to turn away an animal “He had burns from feces on his feet, and his eyes were in horrible condition. He had cataracts, glaucoma and ulcerations, which had caused his eyes to marbleize in his head. We took him to several veterinarians hoping to save his eyes, but they all said he was probably in excruciating pain from built-up pressure and the damage was beyond treatment.”

The cost for surgery to remove Stanley’s eyes was estimated at $2,000. S.O.S. didn’t have the funds, but the Haynes were determined to help the dog who loved to be near people and cuddle on the couch. They scheduled the surgery and decided to hold an auction to raise funds to help cover the cost. Volunteers helped spread the word throughout the community.

“People really, really liked Stanley,” Haynes says. “When they heard his story, many were furious over how he’d been treated and wanted to help.”

An S.O.S. volunteer, Bev Soychak, was instrumental in getting a local restaurant to offer space and food and beverages for the buffet dinner auction. Among the donated items were a Vermont teddy bear, birding binoculars, a plush dog bed, and gift certificates to local restaurants and merchants. Haynes’ husband volunteered to be the auctioneer.

“We netted almost the full cost of the surgery,” Haynes says. “People were so generous. We held a 50/50 raffle, and the person who won $1,000 turned around and donated the money back to us.”

Best of all, the auction gave Stanley a new home. An attendee called two weeks after the event, saying she couldn’t stop thinking about the little dog. She adopted him the next week.

Pulling together an auction on such short notice was difficult, Haynes concedes, but worthwhile. As a result of the success, S.O.S. is planning an auction for next year.

“We’re starting earlier next year,” she says. “This was special because Stanley was in pain and needed the surgery, so we had to make it happen. He suffered for so long in filthy conditions that we had to give him a chance to experience a happy life.”

Tackling the Learning Curve
“The first year of our silent auction definitely had a learning curve,” says Johanna Morales of Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue in San Francisco. “You learn what works and what needs fixing.”

The annual silent auction, called Ten Lives, is held in October. Proceeds from the event go toward the rescue’s veterinary expenses. Volunteers devote almost six months organizing the event. Over 90 people attended in 2007, the second year, and Give Me Shelter raised $15,000.

“Getting local businesses involved is key,” Morales says. “Now that we’re in our third year we have developed relationships with businesses, and we’re finding it much easier to get donations. The first year though was rough.”

Persistence is important. “Don’t make a pest of yourself, but make it clear to merchants that you’re still around, waiting for an answer,” she says.

Event items bring the most money, Morales says. “Tickets to the zoo, museum, ballet or even restaurants are wonderful. People love bidding on destinations.”

Give Me Shelter promotes its auction by displaying fliers, mailing postcard invitations to donors, and producing brochures that describe a touching story about a rescued cat. “This helps to loosen purse strings,” says Morales. “At the auction, we have posters displayed around the room of adoptable cats describing the ideal home and the cats’ needs. This, too, is heartwarming and prompts bidding.”

Getting the rescue’s name before the public also helps. “Make sure you have a Web site because people will go there to check you out,” she says.

In addition to the Ten Lives fundraiser, Give Me Shelter held its first silent art auction this year, with over 45 artists donating more than 60 pieces. Held at an art warehouse, the event included paintings and sculptures. Unlike the Ten Lives auction, people were not required to be present to win. The event raised $6,000.

“We are planning another art auction for next year,” Morales says. “We may possibly try to make it an annual event.”

Shelly Gordon, vice president of ABC Basset Hound Rescue in Buffalo, N.Y., agrees about the learning curve involved in planning an auction. “We got a good taste for what works well and what doesn’t at our first Bucks for Bassets online auction,” she says.

“We primarily marketed the auction to our database, so Basset Hound items were big sellers while generic dog leashes and beds didn’t do as well. I should have known better. Basset Hound lovers want everything Basset.”

The biggest mistake was including too much clothing. “We bought designer clothes off discount racks and had the items embroidered with Bassets,” says Gordon. “We had so much clothing that each piece only went for $50 to $60. I think the bids would have been higher if we’d offered fewer items.”

Another insight was the importance of keeping online auctions short. The monthlong first auction has been cut back to two weeks. “We also learned it helps to add new items throughout the auction and to send e-mail alerts to keep people coming back to the site,” says Gordon.

Having netted $15,000 the first year, ABC Basset Hound Rescue has high expectations for continuing the online auction. “Online is perfect for us because our members are statewide, and this allows us to involve every Basset Hound lover in the world,” Gordon says.

“Shipping the items out is another facet to holding an online auction,” she says. “Our local postal service actually did an article on us in its newsletter because they couldn’t believe this little Basset Hound nonprofit organization accounted for so much of their business.”

Southern States Rescued Rottweilers benefits from an online auction started by one of its volunteers on eBay Inc. Home­made quilts, blankets and dog beds are among the 25 new items offered each month. About $3,000 has been raised over the past two years.

A recent eBay auction of a Rottweiler photo quilt brought $232. “This quilt was really special and would make a nice heirloom for any Rottweiler lover,” says Bridgett Miller, president. “The quilt was made with rose rings on an antique white background. It features 37 photos of Rott­weilers currently being fostered by our rescue and those belonging to our volunteers.

“Our volunteer Helen Beaulieu puts ‘Rottweiler Rescue’ in the item titles so anyone searching eBay for ‘Rottweiler’ naturally finds her site, which links to ours,” Miller says, “She posts descriptions of our dogs that need medical treatment, which helps bring in bids. We’ve also been lucky to get volunteers who have found us through Helen’s eBay site.”

Noticing many repeat buyers, Beaulieu says, “I think people want to help the rescue. This is just one more way to fundraise that helps in the long run.”

Regardless whether it is a silent or oral auction, an online or e-Bay auction, auctions present many opportunities for rescue organizations. Fundraising, publicity, help for individual animals, volunteer recruitments, adoptions and general goodwill are just some of the benefits that come from hard work and dedication.
Tips on Planning an Auction

  • Give yourself the first year as practice to work out bugs.
  • Keep online auctions short for fast-paced bidding.
  • Withhold items to post throughout the auction and send e-mail reminders when new items go online.
  • Choose quality of items over quantity.
  • Offer “destination” items — tickets to the ballet, zoo, restaurants, etc.
  • Promote auctions through e-mails, fliers, word-of-mouth, personal invitations, and cross-postings with other rescue groups.
  • Build relationships with merchants. Be patient but let them know you welcome their donations.
Shelter Blog Homepage

Our mission (and passion) is to help get homeless pets out of the shelters and into loving homes. Let us know what you think! Suggestion & Comment Box

Special thanks to our partners The Wildest, Chewy, and PetBasics,
whose support makes our life-saving work possible.

© 2021, Kinship Partners Inc & Affiliates.