Meet the Expert:
Hi, I’m Dave Wille, founder and co-owner of AMS Chicago, a fundraising consulting company based in the greater Chicago area (with studios in St. Louis, Kansas City and Scottsdale). Our focus for over 15 years has been on helping non-profits and other charitable organizations enhance their fundraising efforts, and results, through free fundraising consulting and select consignment items and experiences.
We currently support over 300 local charities with their fundraising events by providing unique signed and unsigned sports and entertainment memorabilia, local (Chicagoland) experiences, and expert destination getaways—all on a consignment basis. There is no upfront cost, the charity only pays the consignment price for items they sell, and any unsold items are returned at no cost. Our AMS consultants work side by side with each charity to help them strategically select the items most appropriate for their anticipated audience, type of event and time of year. We believe ‘less is more’ and find that historically organizations will raise 2 to 4+ times the consignment price in their fundraising events. All AMS consultants have been on the fundraising side of events, and we work hard to ensure there is both ‘fun’ and ‘fundraising’ in all events we support.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the best way to source items?
By far the best source of items for your charity event will be straight donations. These cost the organization nothing, and all dollars raised go straight to helping support your cause. If you are lucky to have a support base who can continually provide donations, and donations that are valued by those attending your charity events, auctions and raffles, you are in great shape. However, for many charities they find that gathering donations is very time consuming, tedious, difficult, and they continue to receive the same donations year after year. Those are times to selectively include some consignment items in your next fundraising event.
When should I consider using consignment items?
When you see you have gaps in the donations – that’s the time to consider including some consignment items. Consignment items can fill in those gaps and provide some needed ‘excitement’ to your auction or raffle by providing items you normally would not have donated. And any consignment item or experience should both raise money itself, and provide that energy so that guests ‘bid up’ other donated items as well! Consignment items can also be used to provide a ‘choice of’ items – consider a raffle where the winner gets his/her choice of a signed sports item from 3 different local teams. You can secure the 3 items on consignment, increase your bidding as most people love ‘choices’, and then only pay for the one consignment item which is selected (the other two items are returned at no cost).
What do I look for when selecting a consignment partner to work with?
Just that, a partner. Consider a fundraising consultant (or consignment house) that wants to help YOU raise the most dollars for your cause, not move the most items off their walls. There needs to be a trust factor in terms of the quality of the items, so get some references and/or make sure you visit and talk to the consultants/owners directly. Do all signed items have a certificate of authenticity? Do they have a range of price points available to meet your various needs and gaps? Do they allow you to select as many or as few items as you feel you need, or do they have a minimum required? Do they have a set consignment price for each item, or are there some hidden fees or do they also ask for a percentage of dollars raised?
AMS Chicago is a preferred partner to 300+ charities over the years. We retain our relationship with those charities because we provide high quality items and experiences, unmatched client service, set consignment prices about half of the retail value (so charities have the upside revenue potential), no minimum or maximums, and we are there to help you select items and work with you directly throughout your fundraising process.
How important is the authenticity of signed items?
Having a hologram and/or certificate of authenticity for any signed item, from a renowned source, will definitely increase the value of the item and thus your fundraising dollars. All signed items from AMS Chicago come with a certificate of authenticity from the athlete/celebrity, his or her agent, or one of the 3-4 highly respected third-party authenticators. We also work with organizations who have signed items donated to get those third-party authenticated prior to their charity event, when possible. We do find that having the authenticity with any signed item, donated or on consignment, can yield results up to double that of an unauthenticated item.
How many auction items should I have in my event to maximize the fundraising dollars?
The general rule-of-thumb is one item for every 4-5 guests – but that can vary based on the event and other fundraising activities you have going on. It’s better to have fewer items and generate more competitive bidding and thus more dollars raised, than having too many items. But it is also important to have a wide enough range of items and price points to meet the needs and interests of your anticipated guests and attendees. This is even more important with virtual events and online auctions as the breadth of donors and sponsors and bidders increases immensely. For these events we tend to see a few more items and experiences included, but key here are items that will look ‘great’ via an online photo since bidders won’t necessarily see and feel each item.
What items sell the best? What items should we look to include in our next auction?
The key is to include items geared towards your invited guests and supporters. Local experiences always do well, as do select ‘getaway’ trips. And yes, personal pet portraits, particularly being shut in due to COVID, are popular. If you have a celebrity in your ranks, create a local experience with him/her. If you are a school or religious organization, preferred parking is one of those experiences that cost little (or nothing) and can raise interest and dollars. Sports items always seem to do well, and entertainment items are now creating more energy and excitement. And providing guests with a ‘choice of’ items (via consignment) have also done well!
What strategy is best for pricing items? Should I provide the ‘value’ and list a ‘buy it now’ price?
An effective and creative pricing strategy, just like creative packaging, can increase interest and thus bidding and thus fundraising dollars. AMS Chicago works with many charities on their pricing strategy at no cost to the organization. For some auction items which will have a broad appeal we might see a lower opening bid (relative to the value of that item) as we know there will be lots and lots of bids. For items with a more limited appeal, the opening bid might be higher so that dollars are raised if there are only 2-3 bids on that item. Generally adding a ‘value’ for each item is helpful as it can encourage people to bid higher. But some of those items likely are ‘priceless’ and should be listed as such (aka, a celebrity experience, a one-of-a-kind item, etc.). And yes, we do like to see a ‘buy it now’ for those attendees who might just like to put down a bid, win the item and then experience the rest of the event. But generally, no more than one-fourth to one-third of those items are ‘buy-it-now’.
What should I look for in technology and auction software to help support my next fundraiser?
Again, look for a partner – someone with expert software who is also there to help you maximize that software for your specific event. Are you doing an in-person event or virtual? A live auction, silent auction, raffle, or all of these? If online, are you communicating via text or email or both? Will they be there for your next event, and the one after that? Many technologies have these capabilities, but ease of use and having online or personal support is critical, particularly with your first event/set-up. And more and more we are finding that charities want and need to use these technologies to better communicate their ‘cause’, which is generally the most important thing a charity can do to increase their fundraising! The Trellis technology is expertly geared for this communication, and several AMS/Trellis clients have benefitted from this technology in their recent events – raising more dollars than in past fundraisers.