How many items should we put in the live auction?

On average, an item will be sold every three to three-and-a-half minutes. Thus, 6 items will take 18-21 minutes, and 10 items will take 30-35 minutes. For many events, we recommend including 6-10 items in the live auction, depending on the amount of time you’d like to dedicate to your live auction, the number of high-interest/higher-value live auction items you are able to procure, the number of attendees you expect, and, most importantly, how much money you wish to raise.

As a rule of thumb, a bidder:item ratio of 10:1 or greater (i.e. at least 100 people in the room for every 10 live auction items) virtually guarantees a good auction. If you expect fewer than 75 bidders for every 10 live auction items, you should consider reducing your live auction inventory. For most charity fundraising auctions, this isn’t an issue.​

All of this said, KLM Auctions will be happy to auction as few or as many items as you wish.

Which items should go in the live auction? In the silent auction?

As a general rule, your live auction should be comprised of your highest value items, with special consideration given to items with widespread appeal (see next question below for examples of good and not-so-good live auction items.) 

Silent auctions are wonderful and very appropriate for smaller items ($10-$1,000 or more, depending on the size and scale of your auction) and items with a specific, but limited, appeal. However, you will always net more money for an item if it is sold live by an experienced fundraising auctioneer. So if an item will “fit” into your live auction (see timing rules of thumb in the question above), that’s where it should go. A combination of silent (for the smaller-ticket items) and live (for the higher-ticket items) is an excellent way to maximize revenue, create a fun event, and allow people of varying budgets to feel included.

What kinds of items make good live auction items?

Some examples of wonderful live auction items are:

  • Weekend or week-long stints at vacation homes, condos, resorts or on cruise ships
  • Unique outings or experiences (a day of sailing on the bay, a tour of something unique or not easily accessible, an airplane ride, etc.)
  • Dinners for multiple patrons at restaurants or private residences
  • Family outings/kid-friendly vacation packages
  • Wine/Wine tasting trips
  • Sporting events
  • Golf vacations
  • Poker Parties (very popular over the past year or two);
  • Desserts/Cocktails (winning table gets to enjoy them right away)

These types of items have widespread appeal, meaning most people in your audience would love to win any of these items at the right price. Items which are more difficult to sell in your live auction are often those which:

  • Have a more specific, narrow appeal, especially those with relatively expensive minimum acceptable bids
  • Take up a lot of space (like a giant sculpture)
  • Necessitate expensive installation (like a walk-in bathtub)
  • Require the purchaser to spend a lot of additional money (like a $3,500 gift certificate toward a cruise which will cost $7,000)
  • Are complicated or hard to understand

Keep in mind that while these items will be more challenging to sell in your live auction, they may sell in your silent auction. As you consider where to slot an item, ask yourself, “Would most people accept or use this item if they could get it for free?” If the answer is “No,” put the item in your silent auction and see if you get lucky
with one or two bids.

In what order should we arrange the live auction items? 

When planning the Auction Sequence (putting the items in order to be sold):

  • Mix it up — I.E. don’t put two dinners next to each other. Spread fun items and bigger-ticket items throughout the auction;

  • Start small — Don’t put expensive items first or second; people sometimes take a few items to warm up;

  • Put most expensive items around the middle or in the third quarter — This is when people usually pay the most. They‘re warmed up but not yet concerned that they have to get home to relieve the babysitter;

  • Save something especially fun or entertaining for last — This will incline the early-leavers in the room to stick around to the end. If you‘ll be holding a raffle, announcing the winner(s) immediately following the live auction will also help to keep the early-leavers in the room until the end.

How should we determine opening bids? 

At KLM Auctions, our auctioneers prefer to determine their own opening bids during the live auction, based on a number of factors. Many in the industry like to set opening bids at 30-50% of item “value” (which is not always easy to determine). We like starting at no more than 35% of estimated value and often even lower. Extensive industry research on this topic has decidedly drawn a counter-intuitive conclusion—the lower you start the bidding, the higher you end up. The reason is that low opening bids allow more attendees to participate and cause a lot of hands to shoot up right away, which creates a sense of excitement and a feeling that a particular item is “hot.” With a lot of hands in the air, your auctioneer will blow past the 30-50% of item value mark in a matter of seconds, and use that momentum to keep going and going. Don’t worry about starting too low — if the money is in the room, we’ll get it.

Note: This logic is not always true for silent auction items, particularly less popular ones where you are lucky to get one or two bids at any opening bid. But assuming your live auction items are “hot” (and if they’re not, they shouldn’t be taking up precious time in your live auction!) you will end up making more money with relatively low starting bids. 

Should we show estimated values in our live auction catalog? 

This is a topic which receives a lot of debate in the benefit auction community. Our thinking is that we generally like showing estimated values in our live auction catalogs, particularly when we think they’ll help to increase the bidding rather than create bidding ceilings.  Our logic is that:

  • Your patrons would like to know the values before they bid—wouldn’t you?
  • You’ll need to disclose these values for your buyers’ tax purposes at some point anyway;
  • Trying to “trick” uneducated buyers into overbidding doesn’t work.  Confusion breeds inaction—not overbidding.  People are more likely to bid, and even to overbid, if they know the fair value and are then convinced to bid more by a good auctioneer. 

Therefore, we recommend that you DO put a value on items that have established retail values—a week at someone’s condo in Hawaii, a diamond pendant, a painting, a Persian rug, or a case of wine.  

However, DON’T feel obligated to put a value on items with no real retail value—a dinner for 12 people at someone’s house, a ride on a firetruck with the firemen, or a classroom project. You don‘t want an arbitrary value in your catalog to create an unnecessary price ceiling, so just state the value as “priceless.”

How can we raise additional funds using a Fund-A-Need (FAN)?

(Also referred to as “Paddles Up,” “Pledge,” or “Special Appeal.”)

Strategically inserting a FAN element into your live auction can be one of the most lucrative decisions you can make for your event. This is where an appeal to fund something specific (or less desirably, to augment the proceeds of the auction event for your organization's general purposes) is presented to your audience to set up the auctioneer’s strategic ask for specific bid amounts, starting with the highest amount and working down in predetermined increments.   The amounts requested should be tailored to your event and appropriate for your guests, which may mean starting at $1,000 or starting at $50,000 or more.

Perhaps surprisingly, your FAN segment is often where our auctioneers can add the MOST value to your event.  How the specific cause is explained (or “sold”) and how the auctioneer goes about asking for the donations is absolutely critical to the success of your FAN.  KLM Auctions has a wealth of experience in this area, and we look forward to working closely with you to maximize this often under-utilized method of fundraising.

Incorporating a FAN element into your live auction is a great way for those who haven‘t bought anything to contribute (and not look like the cheapskate at their table in front of their friends). Remember that people attending a fund raising auction event are attending because of their support for the cause, and, especially if they haven’t or don’t plan to bid on and purchase any of the items offered in the live or silent auctions, may be able and willing to make a monetary contribution to the cause.  The FAN gives such folks, as well as successful auction bidders, an opportunity to make a meaningful monetary contribution of whatever magnitude they may consider appropriate in the circumstances.  When a FAN is conducted in a proper, professional manner, we are consistently impressed by how generous people can be when simply asked to make a monetary contribution. 

Where in our Live Auction sequence should we put the Fund-A-Need (FAN)?

(Also referred to as “Paddles Up,” “Pledge,” or “Special Appeal.”)

The goal of the FAN is to inspire patrons who are inclined to give additional money to your cause to do so at just the right time. 

  • Too early in the sequence? Some organizations hold the FAN early on or even before their first live auction item, because they perceive the audience is “still fresh.” We feel that inserting your FAN prior to or too early in your sequence creates a situation where too many of your big-money paddle raisers are holding out to see if they can instead spend that money on a live auction item. Additionally, there is a lot to be said for holding your FAN once the live auction has generated some momentum for giving.

  • Too late in the evening? Many organizations do their FAN after the live auction is finished or too late in their 20+ item live auction sequences. This is also a mistake, as by this time, attendees are tired from too much food and too many drinks, and the peak window has been missed. Putting your FAN dead last is not ideal as buyers often “mentally check out” and start thinking about getting home to the babysitter as soonas the last live auction item is sold. The exception to this rule would be where you have five or fewer live auction items

For these reasons, here’s what we recommend as a guideline. If you have:

  • 5 live auction items—put the FAN after the last live auction item.
  • 10 live auction items—put the FAN between items 8 & 9.
  • 15 live auction items—put the FAN between items 10 & 11.
  • 20 live auction items– put the FAN between items 12 & 13. 

We also like slotting a particularly “hot” and relatively expensive item right before your FAN to generate even more momentum and create an immediate environment where people are comfortable hearing high numbers. 

How can we double down on big ticket items? 

To turbo-charge your auction proceeds, you want to see if you can double down on some of your live auction items. For example, would Mr. & Mrs. Jones be willing to donate TWO separate weeks at their vacation home instead of just one? If they own it and don‘t rent it out, they probably will.  If so, we can surprise the second place bidder with the good news that they haven‘t lost after all, and that they too will get the week at the vacation home.

For example, let‘s say Bidder A bids $5,000 for the vacation, then Bidder B bids $5,250, then Bidder A makes it clear that he is finished bidding. Instead of saying “Sold!” to Bidder B, the auctioneer will announce that he has been told that Mr. & Mrs. Jones have generously offered TWO vacations, so Bidder A and Bidder B will each get a week at the vacation home.  Two weeks, two happy bid-winners, and you’ve effectively doubled your money on this item. Everyone wins!​

Note: There are definitely some nuances that must be in place for this to run smoothly. KLM Auctions has the experience and the knowledge to make sure this happens. Also, you probably can‘t and won‘t want to do this on all of your items because (a) you need the donor to offer the item twice and (b) if the audience perceives that they’ll always get their item as the second place bidder, then they won’t be incentivized to bid any higher whenever they are in the second place position, and the bidding could stall out early.

What personnel (volunteers) will we need to assist with the live auction? 

We recommend the following people:

  • One Host/MC
  • 2-3 Runners/Bid Recorders
  • 3-6 Spotters
  • Laptop/slideshow operator
  • DJ/music operator (optional)
  • Cashiers

KLM Auctions can provide you with any of these people, but you will get better bang for your buck by using volunteers from your organization. We‘ll lead a meeting with all of the volunteers prior to the start of the live auction, and your auction patrons will think they‘ve been doing this for years! 

Should we invest in an auction software package and if so, which one? 

Auction management software is a wonderful tool to assist you in managing a dizzying amount of details such as item procurement, tracking, and sales and the management of donors, guests and volunteers. Please see our PARTNER’S PAGE for links to some of our favorites, ask Keith for his suggestions and recommendations, and tell them KLM Auctions sent you.

These systems and others are remarkably flexible, fairly priced, easy to learn, intuitive to use, and seem to cover just about everything you’ll need.  This is the second-best place for you to spend money on your event (the first, of course, being the hiring of a professional BAS-designated benefit auctioneer).

These systems and others are remarkably flexible, fairly priced, easy to learn, intuitive to use, and seem to cover just about everything you’ll need.  This is the second-best place for you to spend money on your event (the first, of course, being the hiring of a professional BAS-designated benefit auctioneer!)

What about mobile bidding? 

Mobile bidding technology can be a wonderful tool for increasing revenues, simplifying and speeding up check-in and check-out, and adding more fun to certain events.  Again, please see our PARTNER’S PAGE for links to some of our favorites.  And tell them KLM Auctions sent you!

Should we include consigned items or travel packages and where can we get them? 

Including consigned items or travel packages in your live and/or silent auction inventories can make a lot of sense under the right circumstances.  Again, please see our PARTNER’S PAGE for links to some of our favorite companies providing these services, ask Keith for his suggestions, and tell them KLM Auctions sent you.

We want to incorporate music into our live auction. 
What’s the best way to do this? 

If you have a DJ at your event and he is set up in the same room, inserting music into your live auction can be a fun way to help introduce items. If you plan on using music clips, we far prefer to have each item’s music begin immediately after the auctioneer says “SOLD” on the previous item. For example:

  1. The auctioneer says “SOLD” for item #4;
  2. The DJ immediately plays the designated music for item #5 as people applaud and the auctioneer makes his way back to the stage–this serves as a great lead-in to the upcoming item;
  3. After 5-10 seconds, the DJ fades down the music and the MC begins to announce item #5;
  4. The auctioneer auctions item #5, eventually declares it “SOLD!,” the DJ plays the music for item #6, etc…

While by no means mandatory, brief musical interludes can be fun so long as they’re done in a way which doesn’t slow down the item introductions. Seamless continuity is important to maintaining the momentum and audience interest in a successful, fast-paced auction.

Additional tips: 

  • Include a video or slideshow at the beginning of your auction to tug at heartstrings (show your beneficiaries, demonstrate your need, and spell out the benefits that will be achieved with the proceeds of the evening’s events);

  • Start your auction during dinner. When people are eating, they are in their seats, which is a good thing.  Don’t worry about wait staff walking around—your auctioneer would far prefer to compete with the wait staff for people’s attention than to compete with the bar a half-hour after dinner is over. Be sure people can see any actual items that are for sale (either have the item there or include a picture in a slide show or Powerpoint presentation—preferably with bullet points highlighting the details of the package on the slide as well);

  • Be sure to describe each auction item in your catalog with such specificity as may be necessary and appropriate to advise potential bidders of exactly what is being offered.  This is especially important with respect to intangible items like trips, vacation rentals, meals with celebrity chefs or hosts, and various types of outings and experiences.

  • Number your live auction items and the pages in your catalog, and use your Powerpoint slides to show item numbers throughout the auction, so everyone can, at a glance, confirm what item is currently up for auction at any time;

  • Consider having several donors pitch their own items (i.e. If Mr. & Mrs. Smith are donating a dinner for 10 people at their home, and one or both of them have a lot of personality, consider having them pitch their dinner to the audience). This can serve to make the evening more interesting, and they may do the best job at selling their event;

  • Always put the bar in the same room as the live auction. If you can‘t do this, put it as near to the live auction room as possible. This should be self-explanatory; 

  • The ideal room size and configuration is just big enough to fit everyone in and with just enough chairs to accommodate everyone (too small a room is better than too big). Don‘t have far too many chairs or open tables — let there be too few chairs and then have venue staff bring in more chairs to accommodate late-arrivers.

  • In promoting attendance at your auction event, do whatever you consider appropriate to get your most likely big bidder/donors (who are fondly referred to as “whales”) and their friends to commit to attending the event;

  • Seat your whales up front. You know who your big bidders are from past years‘ auctions, so seat them near the stage or dance floor so that they will be sure to get the attention they deserve,

Becoming a client is easy. Simply call 415-350-8523 or send email to to learn how KLM Auctions can help to make your upcoming auction a raging success!

Frequently Asked Questions

To learn more about how

KLM Auctions can help you with

your next benefit auction or charity fundraiser, simply call or email us: 


Contact Us

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These are just a few questions that may come up during your auction planning process. KLM Auctions is always happy to answer any additional questions you might have. Simply call 415-350-8523 or send email to to discuss your individual questions.

Why should we spend money to hire a professional fundraising auctioneer? 

While inexperienced volunteers are well-intentioned, generous people, there is no way that they will be able to generate the returns that you will be able to achieve by using one of our professional fundraising auctioneers who is specially trained and qualified to maximize the bidding--and thus the selling price--on each of your auction items. With rare exception, our professionals will “pay for themselves,” usually upon the sale of the first few live auction items. Think of it like playing poker with a professional poker player. The amateur at the table might win a hand or two, but at the end of the evening, the experienced pro will always come out way ahead. 

On the other side of the spectrum, there are a lot of talented auctioneers who do well selling cars, cows, and couches, but don’t specialize in charity benefit fundraising, and thus can’t deliver the right “feel” for your event. We often hear, “The guy we hired last year was nice, but he was boring, or too “sales-y,” or he came off like a ‘wet blanket.’” Our fundraising auctioneers have been selected for their engaging personalities as well as their auctioneering prowess, and have been trained by Keith to leverage their skill at maximizing bidding while providing a fun and exciting experience for your guests. 

You and your fellow organizers have just one evening this year to raise a significant portion of your annual budget.  Don’t squander it with the wrong auctioneer!