This article was written in partnership with Shannon Eason from Raising Paddles.

Your annual fundraiser is one of the most important events of the year. It’s often the single biggest factor in determining whether or not you meet your yearly fundraising goals. You spend months brainstorming, planning, marketing, and coordinating with vendors. There are so many details demanding your attention that it’s easy to overlook the importance of the live auction. It’s also easy to overlook how much planning should go into an effective live auction.

It’s one of the most crucial parts of your evening to get right; a creative timeline led by a professional benefit auctioneer can help you blow away your fundraising goals (and under-investing in your live auction is one of the easiest ways to make sure that it under-performs). In this article, we’re going to walk you through three simple ways to get more out of your next live auction.

Auctioneer pointing at a donor in the audience raising their paddle.
Shannon Eason at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis’s 2022 annual fundraiser.

If you partner with a professional benefit auctioneer like Raising Paddles, they’ll work with you to make sure that you have great live auction items. They often have unique insight into what kinds of items are trending (and what you should avoid). Here are some general rules of thumb, though:


• Private dining packages with a well-known chef in your home. Super popular.
• Travel packages, like offering a luxury residence on the beach (don’t forget to include options for those that aren’t ready to travel abroad).
• Experiences; cooking classes, wine tastings, private tours, etc.

• Jewelry
• Artwork
• Medical Procedures (vasectomies, botox, enhancements, etc.)

These types of items—jewelry, artwork, and medical procedures—make for great silent auction items! They just don’t have the wide appeal that makes for a good live auction item (and, in the case of medical procedures, people may feel uncomfortable bidding on them in front of others).

Shannon’s Tip → Some of your items can be sourced really easily; sell things from within your organization; dinner with the pastor or the head of school, reserved parking spots, etc. These can be really popular, and they don’t cost anything. Get creative!

Table with a number of silent auction items on display. Several pictures, a Kansas City Chiefs football, bottles of wine, etc.
Examples of good silent auction items at the Kansas City “All Things Gala” fundraising event, presented by Raising Paddles.

We can’t say it enough: we absolutely recommend partnering with an experienced professional benefit auctioneer. They’re experts at focusing on the unique “wow” factor of each item, reading the room, and bringing new ideas to enhance your live auction experience. A professional is a must. That said, if you’re tired of doing Heads or Tails at every event, there are countless ways to make your live auction more exciting. Here are a couple of ideas that Raising Paddles shared with us:

The Golden Ticket

A golden ticket raffle allows a guest to win a high-value item for the price of a single ticket, and the organization has an opportunity to raise significantly more money on a single item than it would normally bring in during a live auction.


In a golden ticket raffle, the tickets are usually sold for $100 at a limited quantity (100-150 tickets). Offer a variety of travel options; you could have an international destination, a beach trip to Florida, a golf trip to Arizona, and some kind of all-inclusive option. The goal is to appeal to everyone. Round up your most friendly, extroverted volunteers to promote the raffle. You’ll want to have a display promoting the package options strategically located where it will receive a lot of attention (close to the bar). You may want teams of two to sell tickets so that one can handle the sale and one can handle the ticket. To give you an idea of the potential revenue, if you sell 100 tickets at $100 for a total of $10,000, then purchase the package for $1,995, your organization nets over $8,000! It’s a win-win!

Keep the logistics to a minimum. Purchasing a ticket should be simple. You can use two-part tear-off tickets (where the buyer keeps half and you keep half for tracking), electronic purchases, or a bid sheet to write their ticket number and name—whatever allows you to track sales with a minimal interruption of your guests.

Make a big production out of the golden ticket drawing. If you have remaining unsold tickets, create a frenzied “last chance” atmosphere to have the auctioneer sell them right before the drawing. If you’re allowing the winner to select one of the live auction items, announce the winner before the live auction.
The Last Hero

Tap into your donor’s desire to be a hero for your cause. Use this special appeal method to find the Last Hero for your organization.


The Last Hero is an exciting and profitable way to end your Direct Appeal (aka “Fund a Need” or “Paddle Raise”) by giving a big prize to the very last donor.

Most direct appeals start high and work downwards; first asking at the $5,000 level, then the $2,500, then the $1,000, and so on. The Last Hero starts at the lowest donation level of the direct appeal and works to find the last donor. The last paddle raised will be the Last Hero.

The most important thing for guests to understand is that they can raise their paddle as often as they want, but that every time they raise their paddle they’re making another donation. Because this can cause confusion, clarifying the rules is very important. While the emcee or auctioneer covers the rules, project them on the screens.

Select an item that donors can compete for, such as an expensive bottle of wine or similar prize. Some events have two prizes that the Last Hero can choose between. Once you explain that you are going to end the direct appeal with a bit of fun, to find “the Last Hero,” and that this hero will get the big prize… get ready for the excitement!

A teaser at the beginning of the event is always helpful. You can announce all more traditional ways for guests to make a difference (the live auction, silent auction, fund a need, etc.), then announce the Last Hero.

This revenue enhancer creates excitement just when guests thought that the event was moving to the next predictable part of the evening.

When the donations slow down, warn the crowd that when you say “going once, going twice, sold,” the final donor is the Last Hero!
A .gif of an auctioneer and her assistants throwing bidding paddles into the air.
Shannon Eason facilitating a paddle drop at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis’s 2022 annual fundraiser.

Special appeals go by lots of names. “Fund a need” (or “fund the need”), “fund the future,” “paddle raise,” “mission moment,” “direct appeal,” “spotlight”—whatever you call it, a special appeal is all about creating the right energy. It’s a chance to set the stage, cast your vision, and connect people to your mission. There are, broadly, three ways to create a successful appeal:


Tug on people’s heartstrings. Turn down the lights, direct everyone’s attention to a video telling the story of one of your recipients (or bring up a speaker to provide a personal testimonial), really have people dial in on why their support matters. Connecting people to your mission will not only help you raise more money that night, but also help with creating legacy donors.

EXAMPLE (created for Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis):

Shannon’s Tip → Don’t play your videos at (or plan your live auction for) the end of the night! People are tired, they want to go home. Start your auction/appeal during dinner. Make it the main event.


The emotional approach doesn’t always make sense. If you’re raising money for a school, for example, there may not be a heartbreaking story to tell about your students. Instead, you should focus on celebration. Highlight student accomplishments, show off how exciting your programs are, talk about the success you’re seeing; the room should be cheering between every giving level.

EXAMPLE (created for Lutheran High):


Obviously the other approaches also communicate information about what your organization does, but sometimes you really want to focus on something specific. The trick is to keep it interesting; you can have your auctioneer sit down with someone from your organization on stage and have a conversation about what donations at each giving level are going to provide, for example.

EXAMPLE (created for the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township):

FAQs (with Shannon Eason):

1) How do you know what order to auction off your items in?

Start with something that isn’t too expensive and appeals to everyone. Put your most expensive items in the middle, and then end with less expensive items again. This will make sure that the runner-ups who *wanted* to win the big, expensive items will still have a chance to bid on something else once they’ve lost.

2) When should you close your silent auction?

Whenever you want, as long as it’s not during the live auction! If you close it during the live auction, people will just be on their phones, checking to see if they won the items they were hoping for. Besides that, there’s no wrong way to do it. Some organizations will close it just *before* the live auction (to encourage attendees who didn’t win to bid then), and some will leave it open until Monday. Totally up to you.

3) Should the special appeal come first, or the live auction?

Either is fine, although it may depend on your organization. For organizations with an older audience, you may want to start with the special appeal. That’s why they’re there. You risk losing their interest with a live auction. A younger audience, on the other hand, may be more excited by the live auction, and then you can carry that excitement into the special appeal.

Shannon’s Tip →Never use long tables at your venue. As people try to talk over each other to people seated at the other end of the table, the volume gets crazy. Keep table groups small.