How to Choose an Auctioneer

A fundraising auction is a unique environment that requires a skill set acquired only by conducting 100s of charity auctions. When you choose an auctioneer, you want someone who has been there, done that and “gets” you and your organization’s goals.

Choose an experienced charity auctioneer

A good fundraising auctioneer will put your organization’s goals first. They get into the planning trenches with you to help you maximize that critical time on stage. In addition, experienced fundraising auctioneers are skilled at knowing how to move an evening along, how to work a crowd, and how to engage bidders and encourage them to bid high without pushing too far.

Furthermore, fundraising auctioneers do their homework, prepare for and rehearse every item. Your fund-a-need is as important to them as it is to you. They know how to put their egos aside in favor of your cause.

Because someone is a beloved member of your community, does not necessarily make them a good candidate to engage your crowd as auctioneer.  Similarly, a popular radio or television personality may be great on the air, but could cost you thousands in lost auction revenue.  Celebrities build their careers by constantly focusing on their personal “brand,” it is unreasonable to expect them to suddenly drop this habit onstage because it is a charity event.

See them in action

Anyone can claim to be a great auctioneer, and all it takes is 60 seconds of well-edited video to make any auctioneer look good on stage. Insist on seeing a potential auctioneer’s performance in-person. Barring that, ask for unedited video of their last couple of auctions.

Unedited video may not be as sexy as a well-cut, highly produced piece, but it will tell you more about an auctioneer. Watch how the auctioneer introduces the lot: are they reading their own prepared script or reading straight from the catalog? Does it sound like they know what they are talking about?

Pay close attention to their pacing and how they engage the audience. Are they making fun of or fun with the crowd?

If possible, get video of them doing a “bad” auction. Anyone can make a good event look fun, a pro can make a bad event look good.

Insist on references, look for repeat events

The measure of a fundraising auctioneer’s ability to work with an organization to build a successful event can be found in the number of repeat events they do annually. Ask for references and follow up. Try to talk to organizations who are similar to yours, or have an event similar to yours.

Keep in mind that the most important references are from clients who have retained an auctioneer for multiple years.  A repeat invitation is the greatest testimonial.  A one-night stand is a red flag.

Ensure they are a fit with your organization

Your auctioneer is the embodiment of your charity and your goals of the evening.  You should feel that they represent the best of you.  In short, they must be a good fit.  Recently, we heard a tale of a high-end charity wine auction that hired a pair of auctioneers based on their entertainment value. The duo knew nothing about wine, gave no thought to the relevancy of their material to the attendees, and ended up leaving thousands of dollars on the table because they did not connect with the bidders.

Never pay a percentage

Run the other way from any auctioneer (or any electronic bidding company) who wants to charge you a percentage of your evening’s proceeds.  Don’t just run; flee from anyone even suggesting charging a percentage for the fund-a-need. Quite frankly, we find that approach unconscionable. [See Greg’s blog: “Why No Auctioneer Should Charge a Commission”]

At Reynolds & Buckley, we built our business on flat fee compensation. Our goal is to help non-profits succeed in their work and make a reasonable living along the way.


Auctioneer licensing in the United States is inconsistent at best. Many states require that auctioneers be licensed, even fundraisers. Others, like California, simply require an auctioneer to carry a bond.

Familiarize yourself with your local laws and ask any potential auctioneer to make sure they can conform to them. Reynolds & Buckley’s auctioneers each hold licenses in multiple states.. We maintain our licenses in all states where we are employed and become licensed as our client base expands.

Look for the Benefit Auctioneer Specialist designation

The National Auctioneers Association offers the “Benefit Auction Specialist” designation, for  auctioneers looking to focus specifically on charity auctions. It is a one-week program that teaches the fundamentals of being a good charity auctioneer.

The BAS designation in and of itself shouldn’t be a potential auctioneer’s only selling point, and doesn’t indicate that any particular auctioneer is qualified to do your event.  But it can be helpful in finding an auctioneer with a commitment to addressing the specific needs of non-profits.

Both Greg Quiroga and Ed Gold of R & B have this credential.  Too bad there is no “emeritus” title for David.