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San Francisco charity auctioneers and fundraising consultants » Value vs Opening Bid

Value vs Opening Bid

Value vs Opening Bid

The question always comes up as we start working with a new client;

“In the catalogue should we list value or opening bid?”

In fact the choice is broader than that.  I have used the following options over the years, each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Value.  The advantage is that it is straight forward.  We are not trying to trick the bidders into over bidding through ignorance.  The main disadvantage is that it acts as a barrier telling the bidder to bid this high and no higher.  There is a minor secondary problem.  Sometimes the donor includes a totally unrealistic valuation.  In that case what value do you list?
  2. Opening Bid.  The advantage is that there is one less decision for auctioneer, making his or her life easier. The disadvantage is that it removes one of the best tools in the auctioneers toolbox.
  3. Estimate .  I use a simple formula to determine an estimate based on the value.  I list a estimate of 10% down and 50% up.  For example, if a lot is valued at $1000, I would put the estimate at $900 – $1,500.  The advantage of this method is that does set the relative value of all the lots and it also starts the bidders thinking about the higher price.  The disadvantage is that the upper price level sets an impenetrable barrier.
  4. Priceless or equivalent. I understand having to list the occasional  lot as priceless.  Literally no one knows the price.  The advantage is that while the term priceless just means no known price, big or small, the tendency is to assume a high price If you list  more than a few lots this way it becomes precious.
  5. Leave it blank.  The advantage is that it is really easy.  In many ways the whole purpose of auctions is to determine a price and whatever a lot sells for is the true value of the item on that day.  The disadvantage is that it can be confusing for the bidders.  The Central Coast Wine Auction has never list any prices or values and it has worked well for years. The reason is that Archie McLaren, the founder and executive director, writes the most complete, detailed and best promoting catalogue in the business.

Unfortunately there is no one correct answer to this except to stay with whatever system you are currently using, as any change may confuse your audience.  If you are hosting a first year event I would recommend choosing from options one, two or three.  If you are as lucky as a couple of our events you would label the value as “Opening Bid” and just go from there.


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