Brilliant Fundraising - The $60K Chorus Auction

Photo © Tim Dwight

Photo © Tim Dwight

"Alright," the auctioneer boomed. "Moving on to Lot #17: Doggie Playdate on the Hudson River."

I started giggling. Now I've been to plenty of auction fundraisers before, but never in my life have I seen anything like a doggie playdate included in the lots. My amusement quickly turned to fascination, and then appreciation. I was becoming more and more impressed by this event.

Allow me to set the scene. This was my first time attending the annual auction fundraiser hosted by the Oratorio Society of New York (OSNY), a 200-voice chorus in NYC. The event was held in a beautiful church on Manhattan's upper east side, with scores of smartly dressed members of the Oratorio Society accompanied by friends and family. As the auction progressed, the attendees worked their way through a delicious plated dinner and glass after glass of wine - numbered paddles never far from reach.

When I've been to such fundraisers in the past, the lots tend to fall into a few common categories: vacations, gift baskets, luxury goods, etc. To be sure, those standard categories were represented at OSNY's auction (e.g. 5 nights in a London holiday flat, $1,000 min bid), but well over half the auction prizes were part of a brand new category that absolutely blew me away: social events.

Here's a small sample of such lots (you can see the full catalog here):

  • Mustard tasting (max 8 people, $15 min bid)
  • Sound of Music sing-a-long with dinner and drinks (max 26 people, $100 min bid)
  • Sunset sailing adventure on historic schooner with dinner and drinks (max 40 people, $150 min bid)
Photo © Tim Dwight

Photo © Tim Dwight

You might be scratching your head wondering how the heck they actually run these auctions - don't worry, I was confused at first too. Turns out, it's fantastically simple!

Let's use the mustard tasting (see above) as an example. The bidding starts at $15, with a maximum of 8 winners. If 8 or fewer people bid at the $15 level, all the bidders win. If more than 8 people bid, the price goes up, and the process repeats until the price reaches a point at which the number of interested people drops below the limit. Cool, right?

I could wax poetic about the many reasons I have fallen in love with this model for auctions, but I'll focus on a few highlights:

  • Making music together is a bonding experience unlike any other, and as a result, choruses are often intensely social organizations. These social events are, therefore, not only a chance to support your chorus, but an excuse to plan fun outings with your friends at the same time!
  • These social events easily support a wide range of price points, making the auction accessible to a much broader audience. You don't need to spend $1,000, or even $100, to support your chorus.
  • Small ticket items can raise significant sums of money. For example, even at the minimum bid, an event like the mustard tasting could raise over $100.
  • Mid-level items can generate a *lot* of revenue. The Sound of Music sing-a-long was so popular the price went all the way up to $150/person, and there were still over 20 bidders! You do the math.

Needless to say, the auction was a huge success. This year was their strongest yet, with total revenue at almost $63K and a net pull of $47K. Not bad at all!

I desperately want to try this with my chorus. Don't you?!

Note: Major thanks to OSNY's board for allowing me to share this with all of you.

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