What’s the difference between a ‘bid spotter’ and a ‘bid assistant’ at your annual gala? Usually, several thousand dollars. I like to think of the old adage, “I’m not rich enough to buy cheap shoes”.
While many organizations see the no-fee volunteer bidspotter as a benefit to the gala’s bottom line, the truth is that most of these well-meaning volunteers (most of whom you begged to help) have little to no impact on the gross proceeds generated in a live auction and special appeal. In fact, they can actually cost you money.
A bidspotter is usually just that: a person who stands yards away from a bidder and waves their hand at the auctioneer to make sure that the bidder is recognized. That’s it. They ‘spot’ the bidders. The difference between a spotter and an assistant is this: the bid assistant knows how to encourage a bidder to give more, and at the same time, will actively seek out competing bidders, encouraging both bidders to want to win the competition! In professional auction parlance, a bid assistant is called a Ringman (yes, many ladies are ringmen, too!). There are national competitions where winning ringmen earn a LOT of money, along with lucrative contracts to travel nationwide, working sales for automobiles, heavy equipment, benefits and charities and other types of auctions.
Volunteers are not as dynamic, definitely not as vocal, and have no experience in reading an auction bidder’s body language. They tend to hang out near their friends, and aren’t attune to bidder tendencies.
While hiring a professional ringman or bid assistant may cost money, the impact they make on an auction is immeasurable. At a recent benefit, I watched two professional ringmen, each encouraging their bidder, bring a level of competition to bidding on a single item that was valued at $15,000 to a sale price of $50,000! Had those two professionals not been there, the level of excitement would have NEVER continued at that level, and the item would have sold for tens of thousands less. Did the investment in professionals pay off? You bet! How many professionals do you need? It depends on the size/layout of the room, but a good starting point is 1 per 100, and the ratio goes down as crowd size goes up. So if you’ve got an event with 100 people, 1 or 2 will be fine. If you’ve got an event with, say, 500 attendees, maybe 3; at a recent gala with 1,000 people, we had four who covered the room expertly (but they were all top-shelf, experienced guys!).