I was standing in the confined space of Christie’s rostrum wondering how to break the ice. The guests from the Story of Christmas carol service at St Georges Chapel in Hanover Square had finally made their way over to the fine art auctioneer’s headquarters in King Street, St James’s and many had gathered in the principal saleroom for the evening’s charity auction. You need a good icebreaker at this moment. And you need an outstandingly popular opening lot. The Auction Gods were with me. Joanna Lumley, who had read at the service, was standing in front of me. She asked if I would auction her kiss. Oh how gorgeous! There was the new lot 1. I invited her to join me on the rostrum – fully aware that there was only really room for one. I asked for an opening bid of £50, promptly bid that myself and brought the hammer down before any other bids could be made. Having received my kiss, I went on to offer lot 2 – another kiss from Joanna Lumley. The ice was broken.
Live charity auctions are an amazing way to raise a lot of money for great causes. But I’ve found that they can fall flat if certain ground rules aren’t covered. The choice of lots is key – the best ones being those that are truly unique and almost impossible to value. Amongst my most memorable have been Ronnie Wood’s guitar, dinner with Dame Judi Dench, Jon Snow’s ties, Amy Winehouse’s dress and a full set of Teletubbies (sold to Ian Hislop for £2000).
The ideal number of lots is between 10 and 15. Any more and it becomes harder to keep the room interested – and quiet. Most functions these days will also include a silent auction where lots are displayed on screen and guests are invited to bid using an iPad provided by the organisers. This allows the charity to accept any number of donated prizes whilst keeping the live auction tight and focussed on the star lots.
Immediately before the first lot is offered, it’s important to remind the guests of the purpose of the charity and how the money raised from the event will be spent. This is usually done by a representative of the charity with the help of a film – but some of the most touching moments are when past beneficiaries attend to say thank you in person. I’ve seen full ballrooms silenced or moved to tears. That’s the time to raise money.
A great way to double the take for a lot is to invite the donor to offer a second identical prize – but for the auctioneer to keep this secret until the first prize has been sold and established a price. The auctioneer could immediately offer the under bidder another week’s stay at the chalet in Courchevel for the same price, for example. But be careful with art. The winner may not be too happy to discover that his unique piece is not so unique after all!
The charity auction format is adaptable to any event and it’s a fun way to raise money. With the help of Allsop, the fundraising committee of Land Aid will be inviting those in the property industry to use their Christmas lunch or dinner this year to raise donations to help young people experiencing homelessness. Colleagues could be invited to donate anything that others may want to buy. Prizes could include a weekend in a country cottage, a round of golf, unused sports season tickets, loan of a luxury car, work experience or even promises. And there will always be someone who would be only too happy to take the rostrum – or perhaps different auctioneers could take turns with the hammer.
Notes to editor
Gary joined Allsop in 1987 and was invited to join the Partnership in 1991. Since then, he has been head of the Residential Auction Department with Chris Berriman. The department is now the largest residential auction house in the UK and sells up to 2000 lots each year to a value of around £400 million.
Gary is vice chair of the RICS Auctioneering Group, a member of the RICS Auction Legal Review Group and a former member of the RICS Estate Agency Group. He is past chair of the RICS Agency Skills Panel and past chair of the ISVA Auctioneering committee.
Gary is the author of many articles in regular trade press, a frequent speaker at professional conferences and a regular charity auctioneer.
If you would like to get in touch with Gary, please contact him:
firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)20 7344 2619