Benefit Auction Tips & Must-Know Terms
Say what you mean: A mini-dictionary of commonly misused benefit auction terms
While surfing the internet, I stumbled across an article talking about the use of jargon and how it can lead to misunderstandings. It got me to thinking about the terms we misuse in nonprofit auctions.
How much time do volunteers waste trying to “explain what they mean” because the auction terms change from meeting to meeting or from person to person? I’ve heard the same auction activity called different names by two school auction co-chairs. It wasn’t long before a volunteer piped up, “I’m confused. Are you talking about the same thing she’s talking about?”
Standardizing our terms brings clarity, so here’s my abbreviated dictionary of terms I often hear that lead to confusion among auction committee members.
1. “Items,” “packages,” or “prizes”
Call your donated merchandise items or packages, but avoid the word prize.
An item often refers to a single donation.
A package is something that could be a single item, or several single items combined into something larger. Packages are then sold at the auction gala.
For instance, the donation of a bike is an “item.” It could be sold alone (thereby becoming a package) or could be combined with a bike maintenance plan and a tire pump to create a more substantial package.
The term “prize” is often reserved to describe something that a guest has been awarded for no cost. Whereas an item or a package ispurchased, a prize is free.
Case in point, a bidder who has paid $5000 for a Napa Valley package in the live auction doesn’t say he "won a prize.” Usually he says, “I bought the Napa package” or “I won the Napa trip.” In neither case does he call his purchase a prize.
Bottom line: For clarity, don’t use the word “prize” when referring to the list of procured donations that will be sold. Refer to them as items or packages.
2. The “cash appeal,” “mission moment,” “raise the paddle,” fund a scholar,” and so forth.
The appeal is that portion of the auction when guests are invited to make a donation without buying a package.
About two years ago, I wrote a blog post listing almost 20 different names my clients have called the cash appeal. Find your perfect appeal name here: http://www.redappleauctions.com/revenue-generators/an-appeal-by-any-other-name-is-still-an-appeal-i-think-so/
Bottom line: The name chosen isn’t as important as the commitment to stick with the chosen moniker. You don't want your auction committee calling the appeal different names and possibly confusing guests or each other. Brand the activity to your event by selecting a name and consistently using it.
3. “Oral auction” versus “live auction”
A few years ago, one of my Richmond, VA clients asked when I'd be conducting the "oral auction." I was startled! I hadn’t heard that more Southern term before.
Technically, the word "oral" is correct, but realize that most benefit auctioneers will refer to it as a live auction.
Bottom line: When in Rome, I do as the Romans. I adapted my language to match the regional differences. But be aware that “oral auctions” isn’t so common.
4. “Catalog” versus “program”
A catalog is a listing of the items and descriptions available for sale. Most school auctions have a catalog. Though other material might be in the catalog (e.g. a Headmaster welcome letter, sponsor listings, advertisements), the intent of the material is to describe the items so guests know what is available to buy.
A program is more often seen at nonprofit auctions. It’s a smaller printed piece – sometimes it’s just a folded 8.5” x 11” of paper – that might list an agenda, information about the nonprofit, a listing of sponsors, or other information.
Bottom line: If you’re using both, call each by its correct name. If you’ve combined your catalog and program into one piece, pick a name and consistently use it to avoid confusion.
Eliminate confusion when planning your nonprofit auction by using the proper terms.
©2012 Red Apple Auctions Co. All rights reserved.
About the author
Nonprofit auctioneer Sherry Truhlar, CMP, BAS, CAI has been featured in national publications for her work with auction fundraisers. She teaches volunteer chairs easy ways to improve each auction’s financial return. Start improving your gala today by getting her FREE Auction Item Guide™. It lists the 100 top-selling items that sold for over value in charity auctions last year. Grab your FREE copy athttp://www.RedAppleAuctions.com.