YES You do Need Bid Cards for a LIVE AUCTION

Zack Krone

Don’t fall for it. Its a trap! It is self motivated and it is advice offered by those who have never actually conducted a charity auction. I am a full time benefit auction specialist in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego (plus all over the country) and have conducted hundreds of  charity fundraising events. Its all I do and it is the benefit auctioneer whom you should listen to when taking advice about how to conduct a successful auction.

Lately there has been a rash of bad advice going around from those who have never actually conducted a benefit auction.This article is intended to share with you why you should use bid cards for a live benefit auction in the Southern California market.

The bigger the crowd the more risk and liability exists. It also comes with responsibility of the benefit auctioneer needing to be entertaining enough for all people to want to listen. We have to use every trick in the book to create an attentive and willing participatory crowd.

Sometimes events can get so big that they implode upon themselves and lose focus on what we are actually in the room to do…FUNDRAISE!

One of the most powerful tools used in an auction (and it’s been used for over 4000 years) is a bid card.

It doesn’t happen a lot but every so often a client or potential client contacts me and states, “We are doing a big event and not using bid cards.”

They make that decision without actually consulting with the one person who will be conducting the charity’s auction.

I understand… I used to be a development director myself. Issuing bid cards takes a little more work. You either have to have them pre-arranged at registration and hand them out or you have to pre-place them on the tables with their names on them. But at the very least give each person a bid card whether it is attached to their name/account or not. The point of the bid card is to seen. It is important for a bid to be seen by the auctioneer, and by the other bidders.

I know what you are thinking, “not everyone is going to have the financial capabilities to play along in the live auction.” That doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. Just because they don’t win an item doesn’t mean they don’t contribute. You need the base bidder to rise the tide so your heavy hitters are competing at a higher price

A bid card is made with the sole intent and purpose of being used in a fundraising effort. It’s personalized, it’s unique to the individual. It was made with the sole purpose and intent to be used.

Giving someone a bid card is a catalyst. It allows them permission to engage and invites them to do so.

It’s virtually a personalized invitation to participate. It’s the conduit that allows them to bid and be recognized with the greatest of ease. People are simply shy about raising their hand or napkin but a bid card is something you can hold up high and proud with absolute certainty and definitiveness that it is in fact a bid and not just an effort to flag down a waiter or wave to a friend. A bid card is raised with pride and purpose and bidding is a compulsory response to not just buying but winning. It its the tool used to engage those in competition.

Having an auction and not using bid cards is like trying to play tennis without racquets. You can hit the ball a lot harder with a racquet opposed to your bare hand.

Giving someone a bid card at a fundraiser is like giving someone $100 bill and putting them in front of a slot machine. Eventually that hundred dollar bill is going to get used.

I understand better than most that the majority of the people in the crowd do not have the thousands of dollars you win a live auction item. But it takes the base bidders to drive the price up

The sales price of a live auction item is aided by having more people participate. And when you have more bid cards in the air and the benefit auctioneer starts at an appealing opening bid you will rise the tide so that those who have the funds to win are spending more. Bid cards encourage participation!!!

I have used this analogy before but it makes perfect sense and is applicable to this scenario as well.

Imagine a glass and that represents the event. The water inside the glass represents the amount of money that’s in the room and the ice cubes represent the bidders.

Every time you add an ice cube into the glass of water the water level rises so much to the point that the water can overflow.

More participants equals higher sales. And more participants are garnished by several methods one of which includes giving them a easy and public way to bid.

Competition certainly drive to price. The more frequently someone bids the less it becomes about the item and the more it becomes about “winning.”

A race horse will run much faster when it see the horse its running against. Its just about what the auctioneer can see. It is what the other bidders can see as well.

And when you can see the person bidding against you ego can the competitive spirit can take hold (because they have a bid card as opposed to a napkin) and the bidders will rise to the challenge and engage in a competitive bidding war. A guest can be much more flippant and dismissive about an auction when they don’t have the necessary ingredients for competition.

Lets not forget that NOBODY is going to bid if they don’t have trust with the benefit auctioneer. It is a lot easier to trust the auctioneer (who is responsible for 80% of your revenue for that evening) when the bidders can actually see who’s bid the auctioneer is taking.

Finally a benefit auctioneer does not have to be as pushy or confirm a bid because someone could just have easily  raised their hand to wave to a friend or asked for more wine from a waiter when they dont have bid cards. When you have bid cards the auction can move with a lot more grace, energy momentum.

Let’s not forget that when it’s a large room there are people all over the place and the auctioneer has lights in their eyes. And when the auctioneer can see the bid and knows with a 100% certainty that it was indeed a bid  then he or she can take that bid and continue with the bidding process. Plus all of these people are in relative phases of inebriation and attentiveness and behavior levels.  The need for definitive confirmation is a priority.

Sometimes when there are no bid cards it allows an audience member to retract and hide. It makes it possible for the guest to have a exit strategy and say that they weren’t bidding…they were just trying to ask the waiter for more creamer for their coffee

“Bidders remorse” and backing out of the winning bid is much easier for a guest when there are no bid cards and that is an auctioneers worst nightmare… Yours as well.

The last thing anybody wants to see is an auctioneer have to go in reverse or try to recycle an item which is much more likely to happen when there was no physical confirmation of a bid which is what a bid card provides. Any auctioneer who tells you that you won’t need bid cards at an event where hundreds of people have been drinking is simply pulling your leg and trying to earn a paycheck. Which is so sad because they are intentionally taking advantage of your school or non profit.

I do too many events for my  income to be my primary concern… at this stage it’s a matter of success.

Do yourself a favor and realize that a relatively small expense of less than $200 can offer you a world of return.

Lets not forget there are a handful of wonderful revenue enhancers that have added 5,000 to 10,000 on average to any fundraising effort that require bid cards and can not be done using a phone, tablet or any other method.

Bid cards are an avenue to generate revenue pure and simple. Anyone who tells you otherwise has a selfish angle.

Too many things can go wrong without bid cards and less competition will surely occur and if you are green minded… dont worry you can recycle the cards at the end.

I am not about to tell a mobile bidding company how to do an IT interface or format their software platform. I am not about to tell benefit auction coordinating company how to enter the results of the event.

Take advice from the professional who actually conducts charity auctions. Anyone else who offers advice is not experienced or equipped with the knowledge to give you the correct answer.


Thank you for reading and I look forward to collaborating with you


Zack Krone

Benefit Auction Specialist

Founder and CEO of California Coast Auctions