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How to Maximize Profits from a Fundraising Auction Dinner

written by: DebbieHenthorn•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 6/14/2011

A fundraising auction dinner is a great choice for many non-profits. Live and silent auctions provide the entertainment while utilizing buy local fundraising techniques and seeking underwriting or sponsorships for supplies or facilities leaves more money for the charity.

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    A fundraising auction dinner combines two financial efforts in one event. The admission ticket provides a meal with some profit, while an auction raises the bulk of the money and provides entertainment.

    During a silent auction, items are displayed with bid sheets so that attendees can write down their bid. The competition can become fierce, especially for high-value items. A live auction utilizes an auctioneer - professional or not - to take live bids on one item at a time. A fundraising auction dinner that takes advantage of the live auction has built-in entertainment, reducing the actual event budget.

    Large organizations such as WPBT2 in Miami, Florida incorporate auctions as part of their annual fundraising. No matter the size, any non-profit can utilize auction techniques in conjunction with their fundraiser dinners.

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    Types of Food for a Dinner

    The menu for a fundraising auction dinner can be as varied as the charity as long as it is a profitable dinner.

    Smaller organizations may choose a main dish of spaghetti, lasagna or burgers and brats. A more elaborate gala might have a choice of three main dishes available. The setting and the charity as well as prior campaigns will set the dinner tone. Providing a complete meal including dessert and non-alcoholic beverages could eat into the auction profits, but can be provided at little to no cost. Reducing or eliminating the cost of the meal increases the profits for the fundraiser.

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    How to Reduce Expenses

    The largest potential expenses for a fundraising auction dinner include auction items, food (catering) and location rental.The first reaction for most fundraiser committees is to ask for donations of specific items or gift certificates and moving on to the next name on the list when the answer is "no". To reduce the "no" responses, the committee should incorporate underwriting sponsorships and a buy local fundraising campaign.

    In order to pay the bills for items not donated, seeking underwriting or sponsorship donations from area businesses is key. A local attorney or insurance agent normally can't provide the ingredients for a salad, but their donation could pay for those items. Cash donations from businesses, local politicians and civic organizations can more than pay for the overhead of presenting a fundraising event leaving the attendees' admission and purchases as profit for the charity.

    Keeping those local funds in the community is important. Groups preparing their own fundraiser meal should ask the local market for a discount if it isn't in a position to donate the ingredients and supplies. This method helps circulate the fundraising dollars throughout the community.

    Signage at the event and a public "Thank You" in the local newspaper are absolutely necessary to circulate good will before, during and after any fundraising event.


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    Increasing the Value of Auction Items

    While individual auction items such as restaurant or hotel gift certificates may draw interest, packages can bring more dollars.

    A $50 restaurant gift certificate might bring a high bid of $25 and a single night in a $100 hotel room a bid of $40. However, if that $50 restaurant certificate were combined into a package with the hotel night and a pair of movie passes, the bid for a complete night of entertainment could reach $100 or more - still providing a discount for the winner. A certificate to a tanning studio or for a massage can be combined with hair care items from a salon to provide more value.

    Creating gift baskets to display the package items is another way to increase perceived value. Baskets and wrapping can be found at most dollar stores.

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