Make the most of your auction catalog.

Make the most of your auction catalog.

An auction catalog is as basic to a fundraising auction as an auctioneer and bidder numbers.  Also referred to as a “program” or “booklet”, it is the printed document provided to auction attendees

A real workhorse, the auction catalog serves many functions.   It helps underscore your message about why you are raising money.  It can include a timetable of the proceedings, list sponsors and speakers, contain a message from the president or auction chair, present the menu and wines being served, itemize the rules of the auction, and, with advertising, generate revenue. In style and quality it can range from the exquisite to a simple low-budget handout.

Obviously, the most basic job of a catalog is to present the live auction items, in the same numbered order in which they will be sold by the auctioneer. It contains lot descriptions, donors’ names, disclaimers or time limitations, the “opening bid” number, and other details. It functions in tandem with a PowerPoint presentation.

So what happens when catalogs are either in short supply or not distributed?   Over the past few months I have observed both situations.

Scenario #1:  Not enough catalogs for the crowd:

The charity had a beautifully executed catalog.  To the envy of many other events, they were able to mail it in advance of the auction to give their guests a chance to preview their numerous (70+) offerings before auction day

But the glitch came when many people did not bring their catalogs with them. Starting at about lot #5, there was a scramble to get more catalogs.  When it was apparent that there were no more, many shared with tablemates, some commandeered copies, and others relied solely on the PowerPoint and auctioneers.  Gradually, over the course of the afternoon, a portion of the audience became less engaged. Ultimately, revenues were down.

How could this be avoided?

  • Put a sticker on the catalog that reminds attendees to bring their catalog with them.  Or, even print it as a “banner” on the cover.
  • Always print extra catalogs.
  • Use e-mail blasts to pre-sell items prior to the event.
  • As part of your post event wrap-up, take a sampling of your bidders to see if they prefer to get the catalog in advance of the weekend or upon arrival…or both!
  • Be sure you have enough screens so everyone and (not just those with the better seats facing the stage) can view the PowerPoint.
  • Have every gun in your arsenal working in sync in order to keep your audience engaged and bidding.

I took a quick poll of clients and here are two methods for calculating how many catalogs you need:

1)    One for every two people plus 10% extra.  Depending on budget, add 100 or 200 extra. There are roughly 600 attendees at this auction.

2)    One for every two people or individual plus 15%.  This group also offers a simpler version of the official catalog that is only available on auction night.  Attendance here is just under 500.

Finally, if your budget permits, print enough for every attendee, not just per couple.  On more than on occasion, David and I have seen spouses bidding against each other!

Scenario #2:  “Help Yourself” catalog distribution.

This was a huge event with over a thousand people.  Their catalog cover design had become a much-anticipated part of the event launch every year. Posters using the same design were distributed throughout the community for pre-event promotion.  This was an expensive and wonderfully executed catalog and event branding that was a source of great civic pride.

However, on the auction night, catalogs were not distributed in any way, but simply stacked on tables around the venue.  During the auction, many, many attendees were not following the proceedings and the crowd was more boisterous that usual.   Although ultimately the numbers were good, how much better would they have been if attendees followed what was being offered?

The lesson:

By handing a catalog and a paddle to an attendee at check-in, you are underscoring that the evening is first and foremost a fundraiser and secondly a great party. It is a signal that sets an expectation for participation.   By leaving the catalogs to random chance, you are sending a message that joining in can be a random matter too.


Give volunteers the task of circulating through the crowd once everyone is seated and distribute catalogs to anyone who wants one.

Leave a catalog at each place setting or every other setting.

Catalogs are an investment.  Put them to work for you as much as you work to create them!








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