Scott Freeman helps charities take their benefit auctions to the next level
by Wendell Ward
Scott Freeman loves being able to match up buyers and sellers so that everyone wins
Even with his four-plus decades of pairing buyers with sellers in win-win situations, Scott Freeman still thrills at the idea of putting items up for bid. When describing his style as a professional auctioneer, Scott can't help but break into a rising, rhythmic chant: "Three hundred dollar, now four, now four, can I get five, five hundred bid, can I get six, will you give me six, and six, six hundred dollar, let me see seven, seven, seven hundred dollar-"
And, sold! To the highest bidder.
Scott's excitement for his profession never wanes, a profession in which his reputation for integrity is steadfast. Scott is known as a man who always looks out for the best interests of his clients - as well as his crowd - on both sides of the deal.
Scott has helmed auctions all across the country, selling everything from cars to kitchens, vacation packages to sports event tickets, industrial equipment to live animals - and he's incredibly grateful for the success he's had doing what he loves. Recognized nationwide as a talented, principled professional and an expert in his field, Scott especially values the work he's done for non-profit and charity organizations here in his hometown of Hampton Roads.
CHKD, Norfolk Collegiate, Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School, and the Susan G. Komen Organization have all turned to Scott to help take their fund-raising auctions to the next level. Scott is a graduate of the National Auctioneer's Association Benefit Auctioneer Specialist Program, an intensive course designed to teach professional auctioneers the planning techniques that create successful benefit auctions. With his experience and education, Scott feels confident guaranteeing organizations will be happy with the amount of money his auctions raise, or he returns his fee. As of yet, no one's asked him to do so.
Here, Scott explains why hiring a professional auctioneer is one of the most important actions an organization can take to ensure they raise the most money at their benefit auctions.
What should organizations look for in a professional auctioneer?
Aside from a having a reputation that can be verified, a good auctioneer should be motivated to help, should take the time to get to know about your organization and your cause, and be genuinely interested in what you are trying to accomplish. For me personally, the relationship has to be a good fit. It's also of utmost importance that the auctioneer have a thorough understanding of the details of the packages up for bid. I like to know early on what packages are being auctioned, so that I can advise on the best way to present them. With this knowledge in hand, through both experience and instinct, I can read the audience and look for the subtle cues from the crowd that allow me to pinpoint the big bidders and generate the maximum bid for each item.
What are the three most important factors non-profits should consider when planning a benefit auction?
Organization, organization, and organization. Auctions aren't something you can wing, because there are so many aspects involved. This is why non-profits should consider hiring a professional auctioneer at the outset, to help them plan from the very beginning - and they need to start early. Whether it's implementing an efficient registration and checkout system, making sure the packages to be sold are presented in ways that generate the highest bids, deciding how the room will be arranged and where the auctioneer and the audience are positioned - to the lighting, the catering, the dï¿½cor - there are so many details playing a part in an auction's success or failure. A professional auctioneer can advise an organization on all of these details, any one of which done right or wrong can mean success or failure.
You say "audience." Do you mean the potential bidders?
Yes. And I say audience because organizations need to have the mindset from the beginning that an auction is a grand event that, in many ways, is like a show. It has to be entertaining and full of surprises. You want to create that "wow" factor. If the event is memorable and unique, the attendees will be inspired to bid high, because they'll be having so much fun getting caught up in the excitement of it all. And then they'll want to come back next year. One of my most important functions as an auctioneer is designing the order in which each package will be sold in order to generate the most excitement - and the most money. I also recommend having a Master of Ceremonies for added pizazz during the auction itself. A team of auctioneer and emcee combining forces during an auction can be unstoppable at raising money.
Speaking of money, how do organizations determine how much their items are worth and what amount they might be sold for?
All items, whether tangible, like a vehicle, or intangible, like dinner with a local politician, have a fair market value, and that value must be disclosed. Ultimately, it falls on the donor of an item to determine its value, as they will likely be writing off that amount on their taxes as a charitable deduction. At auction, whatever a buyer pays over and above the item's disclosed value can then be written off by the buyer. The IRS has definite rules regarding how organizations handle the pricing of their auction items, and those rules are very specific. As an auctioneer, I can advise organizations on the actual value of their packages, where to start the bid, and the probable dollar amount of the highest bid.
What kinds of attendees should organizations hope to have at their benefit auctions?
The crowd itself will most likely have a connection to the organization, or they wouldn't be there. But it's also a very good idea to generate as much buzz as possible throughout the community, and a good auctioneer can help advise on marketing. Regardless, everyone who attends must feel in their heart a desire to participate, and must really want to help the cause. Also, they should be in a position to donate, because charity auctions aren't really about selling - they're about giving. With this in mind, it's helpful to express gratitude to the bidders after the auction is over, to let them know how much you appreciate their involvement. And while you're thanking people, don't forget your sponsors!