Auction Games or Strategies to Maximize Fun and Giving


Golden Ticket

Golden Ticket Raffles offer a limited number of higher price tickets to win a high value prize - typically a choice of any live auction item.

Selling 100 tickets at $100 can be surprisingly easy for a buyer's choice prize and can increase participation when significant numbers of attendees feel "priced out" of the live auction portion of the event.


Enter Item:

Name: Golden Ticket

Donor: Your Organization

Type: Raffle

Quantity: Number of tickets available

Price: Rule of thumb - if half of your guests purchase a ticket, the revenue should equal or exceed the Fair Market Value of any of your live auction items (or at least most of them). Example: At your auction, the live auction item with the highest FMV is a week-long trip to Bermuda, at $12,000. You are expecting 300 guests. $12,000 divided by 150 tickets is $80/ticket. This is the minimum price you should charge for a Golden Ticket.

Uncheck the box labeled "Is Visible to Public" box

At the event, ask your auctioneer to announce that anyone present could win any of the live auction items for a fraction of its Fair Market Value, by buying a Golden Ticket.

Have someone well-dressed and charismatic walk through the crowd with a roll of 2-part tickets and a clipboard. As tickets are sold, two pieces of information are collected:

* Their bidder number

* Which live-auction item they wish to win (or they can be instructed to have a ready answer in the event they win).

The first piece of information is written on a sales tracking sheet of paper on the clipboard, and on the ticket which the seller keeps for the drawing. The buyer is handed the other part, and wished good luck. The ticket seller keeps the portions of the sold tickets with the bid and item numbers written on them until it is time to draw the winner; and takes the sheet with bidder numbers to the people entering sales into your database, at periodic intervals throughout the Golden Ticket sales window. S/he can exchange this sheet for a fresh, blank sheet; the data-entry volunteers click the "Sell a Bulk Item" button on the Auction Tasks screen to enter the ticket sales, using the sheet with bidder numbers as their data source.

Work with your auctioneer to determine the best time and method for drawing the winners name, but make sure that you have closed sales 10-15 minutes before the live auction begins, to give your data-entry people time to get the ticket sales entered and there is adequate time to designate what live item has been "sold".


Raffles are an excellent way to keep all of your guests involved in the evening. They are also an excellent way to ensure that you meet or exceed the Fair Market Value on an item that otherwise might not be the subject of a bidding frenzy.

At the auction for my kid's school this year, the raffle prize was a class visit from the local Mad Science team. This is a group that offers fun in-class, hands-on science presentations, and they are a reliable donor for our auction. It's always an item that the community is glad to see, but for some reason, never gets more than a handful of bids. So this year, we charged $10/ticket for a chance to win the Mad Science In-Class Field Trip for any class the winner chose (presumably, one of the classes they have a kid in.) With a FMV of $129, we only had to sell 13 tickets in order to cover the FMV, and we wound up selling over 50 tickets.

To do this:

- Enter the donor and prize item into your database, give it an item type of "Silent" and move it to a "table" near the end. Uncheck the box that is labeled "Is visible to the public".

- Enter a second item for the raffle ticket, (as type "raffle", of course) and make the donor your organization.

- Sell online (Donation or Ticket Sales), at checkin and/or have a charismatic and well-dressed individual sell tickets at your event, writing bid numbers down on a sheet of paper that your data-entry volunteers will use to enter the ticket sales into Tofino.

- Do yourself a favor, and close the raffle ticket sales fairly early (before dinner if you are serving dinner, before the live auction if you are having a live auction), to give your data-entry volunteers enough time to enter the sales. They will need about 10 minutes for 100 tickets, using the "Sell a Bulk Item" feature.

Sell your raffle-ticket bulk item to each guest who bought a raffle ticket, and record the winner by "selling" the winner of the raffle the prize item for $0.00.

Caution: Check your state law to see if online raffle sales are allowed.


Heads and Tails

Heads and Tails is a popular game. It is easy to play and is fun. Ask your auctioneer about it; many of them love the game. If you want to include it in your event, place a bid sheet on each table or in a certain area, with the amount it costs for each person to play the game.

When the time comes the auctioneer will direct the guests to look at the bid sheets for the game and then tell them the rules. Then he/she has them put their bidder number down and those who want to play stand up. Next they are directed to place their hand on either their head or tail. Then a coin is tossed and which ever it lands on is called out. Lets say heads turns up on the coin. Then everyone with their hand on their tail has to sit down. Then the coin is tossed again and the results called out. This keeps going until there is one person left standing. (If you are allowed to buy multiple tickets, make sure everyone knows the rules and knows how many they can buy. Do not change the rules midstream. For example, if someone buys enough to "game" the system and insure victory, it is not a reason to limit the number of tickets mid game so there is some suspense for everyone else.)

What this person wins is up to you. We have added up all the funds raised with Heads and Tails and give the winner 50% of that to spend on the auction. I have seen it were they win a special gift certificate for dinner or tickets to a popular play in town. This game is a good one to get the guests up and moving.

Set up your organization as the donor for an Item - Heads or Tails - that is a raffle with a set price and plenty of quantity so that each guest can buy one. The sales get entered as bulk items.

The prize entry depends on what it is:

* If the winner gets to choose an existing item such as a silent auction item, enter it as a sale to the winner for $0. (Note entry Heads or Tails Winner will help later.)

* If the prize is a voucher, it can be acknowledged as a Cash payment at checkout. (Make certain that if the prize is understood to be a credit toward purchase so no negative cash flow occurs through volunteer missteps.)

* If the Prize is identified in advance, it should be entered normally so that the donor gets the credit use heads or Tails in the description and "sell" it to the winner for $0.


Feeding Frenzy

Feeding Frenzy is a solution to a problem when you have gift certificates or vouchers to local restaurants but they do not fit into a package. They lend no panache as silent auction items. The auctioneer sets the stage for the Feeding Frenzy which is quite simply that one by one these gift certificates become prizes to the first person/paddle that the auctioneer sees. It is used early in the evening to get people bidding and to do extreme things in public to be noticed.

More entertainment than fundraising, its entry in your database reflects that artifice.

- Create an item called Feeding Frenzy as a live auction item that is priceless or has no value assigned to it. The description should explain the game and each of the vouchers in the same way you would with a lot. (In fact, if you are reading this after having created a lot for a Feeding Frenzy, simply remove the items from the lot and leave the hollow lot as your Feeding Frenzy listing.)

-Enter each of the individual credits as a donation item not visible to the public and then "sell" them to the winner for $0. (You may find it useful to create a separate set of numbers or a table to put all the Feeding Frenzy vouchers so they will not get lost in the shuffle. )

-Work with your auctioneer to make sure that the spotters/recorders in the live auction and the volunteers doing data entry somewhere else have the same reference numbers and names so that the winners get their certificates smoothly at the end of the evening.

Dessert Dash

Most events where a meal is served have a dessert included but a Dessert Dash is a way to re-energize your food-logged guests, raise some money, and have some fun. Each table will have its own bid sheet where guests will write down their bidder numbers and the dollar amount they will give to be the first table to choose a dessert. It is the collective table bid that counts. Execution can vary based on space, your imagination and the auctioneer's experience. Tables can become collective bidders, one table might not get any if they are the lowest, etc.

In your software, there are many ways to set this up but all of them involve having a single item with adequate quantity and are entered through the bulk sales screen on auction night. The variations in entry only matter for tax purposes. The arguments may vary in strength depending on how it is actually done but because we are not tax consultants, we do not advocate any over the others. The choices are:

- Entered as a raffle with a fixed price acknowledged on the receipt but with no deductibility as a chance game. Each guest is betting that his table will be the highest total.

- Entered as a sellable item with an FMV calculated as the average cost per person of a dessert. The amount entered for each bid number is then applied against that FMV and anything above it is deductible. (Avoid the trap of thinking about cumulative table cost of dessert, donations, etc. as the table is irrelevant to taxes and your software.) Some guests benefit more, some less but this choice makes the argument that the total amount deductible is fairer to the tax payer and collector.

- Entered as a paddle raise so it is all deductible as as donation. The argument is that dessert was paid for with admission and any benefit from getting to choose a dessert in a different order is so nominal and diluted by the cumulative table effect as to be negligible.

Enjoy your dessert.

Wine Wall

Few things are as common to auctions as donated wine or as universally enjoyed as an auction winning. It can be carried home easily, it does not have to be used right way, it does not require redecorating the garden or living room and it can be shared with others. The challenge to the auction organizer is how to distribute the donations efficiently and make money. The standard solution is a Wine Wall.

Many variations exist on this theme but the central idea is that the identity of the wine is not know to the guest until after their purchase. Everyone pays the same and so some may be getting $7 table wine and others $35 vintage but everyone pays $20. If one has a "ringer" bottle, it makes sense to advertise that to drive sales of those looking for the big find. You may want to publish the entire list, wrap the bottles in plain paper to hide the labels, have guests buy a number on a grid that corresponds to a spot on a wine rack and then do a public drawing. We will not begin to cover the waterfront here.

In your software, enter the wine donations individually if you want donors to be thanked for specific bottles and get appropriate tax credit. Individual listings also allow for tracking a bottle and donor through the sales or award stage. There is no shame in making a bulk wine donation entry.

How one sets up the Wine Wall sales is a tax issue that we express no opinion about. Most choices are entered on the bulk item sales screen. The main options are:

- Create a raffle item called "Wine Wall" for a fixed price and the exact number of bottles so you do not oversell. Chance games have no benefits to the spender.

- Create a Sellable item called "Wine Wall" with a fixed price and and an FMV that is the average value of all the bottles.

- Record the fixed price sale of the wine wall against the actual bottle "won" so overpaying gives the guest a tax credit. (This is much more complicated than the alternatives and should only be done where the wine is expensive and your guests are wine lovers.)

Don't stop your wining.