Try to avoid this at your non-profit, says GALA GAL Jenelle Taylor
A client called today for advice. They’ve planned to feature a safari trip as one of the live auction items for their event in a few weeks. When I read the description a few days ago, I realized with some surprise that this was not a typical sightseeing safari trip – this was a hunting safari!
I’ve seen and sold a number of safari trips, but they’ve always been photo safaris, or – said another way – photo shoots, not actual shoots.
My dad was a hunter, though I am not. Even though I would greatly prefer to only shoot things with a camera, I understand that a portion of the population worldwide shoots for sport and challenge. I’m comfortable promoting this item during the live auction alongside the other trips and experiences.
However, some of this organization’s supporters called to complain today, with the expectation that the trip will be pulled from the auction.
What should you do if some people feel an auction item is controversial?
Whether it’s selling a puppy, dinner with the embattled mayor, a hunting safari or countless other potential hot buttons, how should your committee proceed?
- Pull the item from the auction? After how many complaints, 1? 5? 25?
- Only pull the controversial item if the complaint comes from a major donor?
- What about moving the item from the more visible live auction into the silent auction?
- Should you try the “Sealed Bid” method for this auction item, so that if no one bids, no one knows, but if folks do bid, their names and amounts are known only to the committee?
- Or how about sending an e-mail blast or newsletter notification for interested parties to place bids via fax or email or text prior to the event?
- Keep the item in the live auction, but work hard to identify someone on the staff or committee or patrons interested in the item and willing to quickly raise a bid card, ensuring that it sells easily if other bidders don’t materialize?
There’s no one right answer, of course. While you may not want to bend to a few disgruntled voices, you also don’t want those voices to complain even more loudly on Facebook or the nightly news if they feel dismissed.
Ask yourself, what could possibly go wrong if we auction this item?
As your committee tries to “think outside the box” for atypical auction items, if you don’t have these conversations early on, you may find yourself – like my client – scrambling to find a solution 1 day before the catalog goes to print.