How many live auction lots should we have at our fundraising event?

There are so many considerations that go into this question. Questions I would have for you are: what’s the culture and historical data of your event? How many guests are we expecting? What are our guests capacity to bid? What is our live auction sale price average? What is our live auction fundraising goal? How much time are you wanting to allocate to the live auction? The answers to these questions can help you determine the right fit for your event.

From my experience, I’ve done live auctions at fundraising events with 30+ lots and ones that didn’t have any, only a paddle raise. Pre-pandemic we were already seeing less and less live auction lots. It takes on average 90 seconds to 3 minutes to describe and sell each lot. Also some lots can be sold more than once and that typically is counted as one lot. School auctions typically have more live auction lots than a nonprofit event because they have class projects that can sometimes be unique to parent bidders from different class grades.

Without knowing the answers to the questions above about your event, here is how I would answer the question in short. I’d recommend you have 0, 3, 7, 12 or 15 max live auction lots.

(ZERO) Here’s why I’d suggest having no live auction lots. If you have limited time and are focused on introducing and cultivating donors to your cause this makes sense. Sometimes your fundraising event is about acquiring volunteers and other things beyond just fundraising, having zero lots that focuses primarily on the mission might make sense. I’d say 25% to 35% of the events I partnered on don’t have any live auction lots, only a paddle raise. If you don’t have any live auction lots and only a paddle raise, there is so much more work that goes into your run of show, communication to guests prior to the event, speaker(s) selection, event mission decor and auctioneers preparation.

(THREE) Each year, FSA Auctions partners with a nonprofit that has a very successful paddle raise with three live auction lots and a revenue enhancer. Our event has grown year over year and guests have had a positive experience and we’ve fundraised a lot of money! Guests arrive on a Sunday afternoon, enjoy a cocktail, bid on a a few dozen silent auction lots, purchase revenue enhancer opportunities and then sit down in a beautiful outdoor setting. Guests hear from a CEO welcome, hear from a board member, and then hear a very impactful beneficiaries story followed by a brief video. We do a paddle raise which has grown by 150% over the last few years (even through the pandemic) and we finish the event off with three brief live auction lots. One year we had a travel package, a custom private in-home chef dinner and a wine making experience with a limo. We’ve found as a committee that 3 live auction lots have worked well for us because of our day/time, donor demographics, and historical data. The 3 lots are the icing on the cake to a beautiful celebration and fundraiser.

(SEVEN) Why seven? It’s lucky, lol, just kidding (but not really)!! Maybe 3 isn’t enough and 12 is too much. Seven is most cases is the sweet spot (give or take 1 up or down). I would say seven is the average that works best for the majority of nonprofits. This would have a good mix of travel, wine/dine packages and unique experiences.

(TWELVE) 12 is typically the most lots you would have for nearly all events. It takes a skilled and professional benefit auctioneer that understands timing, pacing and audience engagement for 12 to be successful and not begin to negatively effect the guest experience. Guests will begin to lose interest, talk in the back of the room or distract the room by getting up and down and going to the bar/restroom. Post pandemic, FSA Auctions can’t stress enough the importance of a well designed and crafted run of show.

(FIFTEEN) 15 is really about it (with some exceptions). 15 is pretty hard to auction off under 30 minutes at a fundraising event and it risks going over 45 minutes. If 15+ makes sense for your supporters/event and you are partnering with a professional fundraising auctioneer this can certainly be done and successful.

Final thoughts….

As we started with, every event and organization is different. these are simply guidelines from experience that have worked for other FSA partners. Most live auction lots should be a minimum of $500 value or more. If less, it’s recommended they go to the silent auction or are packages with another live auction item. Look out for another blog soon on creative live auction lots, what lots sell best, what lots are trending in 2023, and more.


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