In the second installment of this two-part series, Dolph and Dean Crownover, owner of My Benefit Auctioneer, continue their conversation about Getting the Audience to Shut the F*** Up at Your Charity Auction! Dean shares a real-life story to illustrate why warm bodies in a room do not equal charity auction success, and drives home the importance of reminding your guests why their support matters.
(5:25) Warm bodies in the room do not equal success
(6:09) Dean is Data King
(7:15) We want you back
(9:30) The organization is the superstar
(10:50) Two men in a bathroom: advertise everywhere
(15:15) REPRESENT: persuade the sponsor to keep “Mailroom Mike” at home
(18:30) Bedazzled: Hire that guy with the glittery jacket!
(21:15) Coy Bowles, call me!
Dean’s website: www.mybenefitauctioneer.com
To take advantage of Dean’s free one-hour consultation, call him at 404-403-9090.
Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. Today, we return to our conversation with Dean Crownover, owner of My Benefit Auctioneer. Dean is a leading charity auctioneer in the greater Atlanta area, and he really knows how to get the audience to shut the bleep up. In part one, Dean outlined his best practices for running the show on the night of the event, everything from having a great sound system to holding the fund-a-need first thing in your presentation. Today, we’re going to talk about the little auction that could. That’s the time that 30 people showed up when 200 people were expected, and spoiler alert, they hit it out of the park. Anyway, Dean will also share his conviction that you have to help the guests make the connection between what they’re spending and the lives they’re impacting. So, let’s jump back into our conversation with Dean Crownover,
Hey, Dean. Welcome back to the conversation. Tell me about the time when you were expecting 200 people at the event and 30 people (or about 15 percent) of those you’re expected actually showed up?
Dean Crownover: I got a call from a tiny nonprofit about an hour away from Atlanta – and I want to preface by saying I am not a gun-for-hire who just shows up and does the job. Most of my clients book me a year or more in advance, and we start working the minute they booked me. Thus, I have to be in on all the planning, or else I feel like I’m not going to be able to do a good job up there. Therefore, I won’t take a job. So, he called me desperate, the chair, nice guy, and as I listened to him (and this was three weeks before, by the way) he had everything in place for the most part. Just had to readjust a few things, right?
I said, “You know what, I’ll take you on, and here’s what we’re going to do. You need to go do this, this and this.” We had a good two-hour conversation. I sent him with his homework, and he was very diligent about it. When I got there, the room was set up wonderfully. Everything was in order. It’s 7:00. There are five people here.
Dolph Goldenburg: Oh, I have to say, I think that is everybody’s nightmare.
Dean Crownover: Well, we had seven live auction items, probably 50 silent auction items, a fund-a-need… The need was low because it was their first year and because it was only three weeks. I’m a big fan of setting a goal, and I helped them set the goal well under what we think that room could do because I want to be sure. But um, I think we somehow came to $9,000 for what they needed, with five people, very worried.
They started trickling in. Now, it’s getting close to 8:00pm. There are more workers and volunteers there and catering staff. We started talking shop and he goes, “Well, should we pull live auction items?” I go, “Maybe. Maybe we pulled this, this and this, and I could only do these.” Then at one point, it became a mess to pull things. I said, “Why don’t we just go the way it goes and let’s see what happens.”
At some point I just said, “Let’s see.” Now there’s about 30 people. We get them sat, and they are hooting and hollering. I mean they are really fun, and I go, “Let’s just start the show and let’s see what happens.” We did not make 9,000. We make 14,000 or 15,000 in the fund-a-need.
Dolph Goldenburg: Out of 30 people! So, an average gift of like almost $500 bucks?
Dean Crownover: Didn’t quite double it, but it was close. Every live auction items sold over 100 percent fair market value. Every. I do a gift card frenzy in between. That means where I’ll throw up a gift card and I’ll say, “Hey, here’s where the gift card is. Here’s how much it’s worth. But here’s how much I want for it.” So, for instance, Home Depot $100, I want 125 first bidder number up in the air. Well I had $25 and $50 one you out. I would add five, 10 bucks on top of it because I like getting overvalued for these sites. There was this one guy stood up and goes, “For a $25 card, I’ll give you 100.” Then everybody started doing it for those low cards. So, that went way great. They kept giving and giving and giving.
They are my favorite story because the next year, 150 or 200 people showed up and we made the same amount of money. Warm bodies in the room do not make a successful event. If I can tell any of you planners out there right now, it’s not about having 100,000 people in that room. It’s about those who can afford to attend and spend and have an emotional connection. These 30 people had the emotional connection. They loved this organization. They wanted this organization that dealt with kids, probably fifth grade up, and they wanted them to succeed, and I wanted them to succeed. They just showed up and gave.
Dolph Goldenburg: So, let’s talk about that, getting people who can attend and spans. You mentioned it in the first half of the show as well and I was hoping we would get there and the second half. How do you identify those folks that can attend and spend, and how do you actually get them there?
Dean Crownover: That’s the age-old question, right? First, I’m a data king. I’m all about going through the last couple of years and seeing that if you use any kind of software to manage guest who gave, you can manage donors, too. You can literally run a report and see who spent what, put it in descending order, and those are the top people you invite. Give them free tickets if you need to. Call them. The simple act of calling. You can send them an email, but I mean physically call them. More organizations are afraid to get on the phone. I’ve talked to more executive directors and director of developments and volunteers. They’re so afraid, and I’ll give you a great story. My son’s school – first year there wasn’t even a school – we were trying to get it built, and we had an auction, and it went wonderfully. One of the top sponsors gave $5,000 to get us going. The next year, school’s now open two days before. I ran into that person and I said, “Hey, are you coming to the bid?” They said, “Nobody invited me. I don’t know anything about it.” I said, “What? Nobody called you?” Top sponsor, right? Nobody called. They said, “Yeah, you know, I had my money waiting, and now I’ve given it to others. I can give maybe a thousand.” That’s a big lesson. Call them and invite them; let them know we want them back. That gets lost in translation between different committees a lot of the times.
Dolph Goldenburg: Part of my life practice on things like that is I call (and these days, nine out of 10 times you get voicemail), and then I immediately follow up with an email that says, “Just following up on my voicemail.” That way I kind of summarized what I was calling about, and I say, “If it’s easier for you to respond by email, feel free to do that.” What I like about that is it hits the person twice and makes it more likely I’m going to hear back
Dean Crownover: They know that this is real. This is not somebody reading off of a script. They know we generally want you back because if they gave that much and they bought that much, they care about this organization. You know, I had another organization. I had two or three board members at different events that I was working – because a lot of the same audience shows up at these at three different times – come up to me and go, “Oh, are you working such and such?” I said, “Yeah.” They go, “I’m a board member, and I didn’t even know we had the date booked.” I don’t know how that they let that happen, and this happened three times. How does that happen? How do you not talk to your core members first and your core givers first?
Let them know we want them. So, that’s number one: mine the data. Make sure they know they’re wanted, and we want them there. Then number two is cultivating at the event and before the event, what I call prep the bidder. I have a guidebook that my client gets that includes… It’s a guide book I’ve written so when I can’t answer questions for them or they just need a quick reference, it’s all laid out. Everything we talk about is literally laid out as a master checklist. It has video links in it and one of them is prep the bidder. You cannot prep the bidder enough to me. That means letting the bidder know before they get to the event and at the event why they’re giving. Why are we here? Who are we supporting? Again, the organization is the hero.
They’re the superstar, and we need to let people know how their dollar going to change a life. Because that’s all they care when I come and give at the fund- a-need, how’s my dollar – come Monday morning – at changed somebody’s life for the better? We got to show him that. I’m a big fan of tell them what you’re up against, and then tell them where you’re at. Meaning hypothetically, it could be like one of the things I preach is during the pre-event and while they’re having their dinner and walking into the ballroom – a rotating slide. Don’t just put a logo slide up there that does nothing for you. Put a rotating slide, and every other slide might have a sponsor, but the other slides have a fact. For example, “Did you know, we helped x amount of kids every year, but we still have x amount of kids on our waiting list?” Your donations will help get to them.”
Little things like that. There are two places that everybody visits. You know where they are?
Dolph Goldenburg: The bar and the bathroom!
Dean Crownover: Absolutely right. Put the fund-a-need on every bar printout on a dollar store frame and in the bathroom, the same thing. Every vanity. I have some clients that we’ll tape up, and I told them to tape up the live auction, put it in every stall. This is no lie, no lie. I was at an event and went into the bathroom. I was washing my hands and this guy was at a stall. He looks up and he goes, “Wow, they got a hunt. Did you know they have this hunt?” He started this conversation with me. For those who don’t know, men in bathrooms really dealt like talking to each other, but it was working.
That was a first time he saw it. It’s in the program. It’s everywhere. There’s a live auction display, but that was the first time he saw it. Think about doing the same thing for why we’re here. I tell my clients a third of that room should be about your organization, table tents, facts, figures, give that to me during the fund-a-need. I want all of that. I try to tour of the place. I try to really understand their [event]. I am their ambassador for the night. I try to understand what they do and collect a lot of facts and figures anyway, and I had them over-give me those things. I have plenty of arsenal. If they know why they’re here, they will give.
Dolph Goldenburg: Dean, I also know that there are probably some listeners right now that are asking or saying to themselves, “Okay, Dean we get it. We need to get people to our event who can attend in spent, but two-thirds of all of our tickets go to sponsors and they just send an email out to their company and it’s often the people who are like, ‘Oh yeah, I’d like a night out with my spouse or a night out with an open bar or whatever.’”
You know, maybe they don’t have the means to spend. They can show up, but they can’t spend.
So, Dean, how do we make sure that our sponsors give their tickets to people who can attend and also spend?
Dean Crownover: That’s the million-dollar question. If I could have some kind of APP that did that, it would be a kazillionaire. There’s no real easy answer to this, but I was talking to an expert about this and she told me some stuff that I just thought was fascinating. I share with my clients this process. Sponsor bought a $10,000 table. Ten people. If it’s not a high-profile organization, a lot of times the executives don’t show up, so yes, they pass them down. The worst-case scenario is they give them to Mail Room Mike, as I will call him. Nothing wrong with the mail room guy; please don’t send me letters. I’m just giving a hypothetical here. Mailroom Mike can’t afford it yet. Can’t afford to spend. Mailroom Mike wants to come and get drunk and hang out and eat and all that, right?
But Mike is not there to support yet, so he’s not what we want. She said, “Here’s what you do because it’s still hard to get emails from the people that are going to come. We don’t know who’s coming until they show up sometimes.” When you’re selling that $10,000 table. Here’s what I want you to say, and I want you to say to your contact every time you talk to them that we’re very hopeful that the executives from your organization will come to this. I think they’re going to absolutely love it. It’s going to be enlightening. You are partnering with us and us with you, and we want to share this with you that night. If they can’t make it, we know that you will get these tickets to the best people who will best represent your organization.
If Mailroom Mike shows up and gets drunk and makes that organization look like a fool, that’s not good. Your 10,000 was so appreciative and so important, but it’s not the complete follow through. You want someone who will come and represent, and usually that is going to be somebody who can get or that person will invite other likeminded people. The way host committees work is that if I invite you to my event, you’re going to invite me to yours at some point down the line, which I’m going to go to. So, host committees are great because they are vetting people and getting them there. They might not understand why they’re giving yet; that’s the organizations job to prep that bidder before they get there and when they come to show why it’s important to give. The sponsor knows why they’re there, that sponsor person but not his guest. So, the organization’s job is to turn them into lifelong givers or patrons. His job is to [inaudible] them and get to that table, but just keep reminding them, we know you’re going to send someone who best represents your company, and that changes the whole thing.
Dolph Goldenburg: It also sounds like as you’re talking to board members about selling tickets or putting together a table as a host or whatever, having that similar conversation with them and saying, “We don’t just need you to fill your table. We need you to fill your table with people who will come and spend.”
Dean Crownover: Right. I had a case where, during the live auction now, I sold a trip for 25-grand and I’m moving on to the next trip when somebody runs up to the stage and goes, “He just turned it back in. He can’t really afford it.” I found out later that I don’t know if they were sponsors or what have you, but this is a case that his boss was at the table next to him. This guy got drunk, and he overextended; maybe he wasn’t even drunk, but he overextended. That happens because you get caught up in the moment. I’ve seen where people want to look good. This was a celebrity-driven event, high celebrities, so maybe he was trying to show off. Who knows?
I found out later that his boss was like, “You are buying that trip,” because I didn’t have time to resell it. We had to move on, and it’s hard to go resell it. So, I understand that he got a really good talking-to the next day. This is a case where maybe the boss brought Mailroom Mike and didn’t think. I can guarantee you that guy. He’s not coming back. It’s like at the Oscars a couple of years ago; the people who hand out the envelopes goofed up at the end. You know, you get caught up in it. You want to bring people who absolutely know why they’re there and know what they can spend and so it takes years. It’s not something you’ll get 100 percent overnight. You have to just keep filtering through the data filtering who’s coming, but show them why they’re coming, let them know who’s lives are changing. That makes all the difference in the world.
Dolph Goldenburg: Right. Makes Sense. So, Dean, before I let you go, I’ve got to ask you an Off-the-Map question. I ask everybody and Off-the-Map question, and when I went to your website, I saw you in the most fabulous blue sequined blazer ever. So, my question is selfish because I have to go get one myself. Where on God’s beautiful green earth did you buy that jacket?
Dean Crownover: I’m not going to tell you. You will find it yourself like I did. It is my trademark. I get more jobs, and I’ll tell you the history of that jacket. I get more jobs because they go, “Hire that guy with the glittery jackets.” I have about 25, 20. No, I’m looking in my closet. I have about 20.
Dolph Goldenburg: No Way. You have like 20 glittery jackets?
Dean Crownover: Yeah, absolutely. I buy them every couple of weeks. I got a couple of new ones coming. Here’s what happened. When I first started, I would wear the normal black Tux, and I’d stand in the back. My first gigs were small so I would just stand in the back, waiting to go on by the buffet or whatever. A woman came up to me and she goes, “We need more green beans, get us some more green beans!” She thought I was a waiter, which I was for years and years and years. I would just kind of laugh and I said, “Yes ma’am, I’m going to get right on that.” I got them some green beans. I went, “You know what? I’m trained show now.” I was making a living as a full-time actor then. I did a lot of live stuff and I go, “This is not what I would want to see on stage anyway.”
Everybody wears this. I’m going to take a chance. I thought that’s what you had to wear because I didn’t know better. I said, “You know what, I’m going to try something.” I had a friend of mine build me a jacket; it was cool, but it wasn’t enough. He worked at a costume store, and right next to it, were these glittery jackets. I bought a bunch of them, and I ended up wearing that. I got my shoes, too. My shoes are usually two tone, white and black tips. More people recognize me by my shoes and my jackets, and now they have become their own thing.
Let me give you an example. Twice, I’ve sold my jacket onstage for $5,000 to somebody in the audience for the organization.
Dolph Goldenburg: Wow!
Dean Crownover: And that was organic.
Every gig, somebody comes up to me at the end, they go, “I would have brought your jacket.” I said, “Why didn’t you shout, why didn’t you yell? I would have sold it to you.” I was doing one Saturday night for 1500 people, and it was a situation where it was a big band – I think Zac Brown band – and they had a live auction right before. So, I came out before they started playing, and I’m onstage. I have this purple glittery mermaid jacket that changes colors when you rub it, right? I let my client, by the way, pick the colors. [inaudible]
I let them pick, and they love it. They love it, and I love it too.
They tell me what color, and sometimes I’ll bring two or three and switch out. Anyway, Zach, the client picked the purple, and I’m up there selling and [Coy Bowles] who’s one of the guitarists, the greatest guy, ran up after the concert, and said, “Hey, he wants to wear it on stage.” I hand it to him and said, “Take it man and wear it.” I have not seen that jacket sense by the way. When you come back into town, Coy, I would like my jacket back.
Dolph Goldenburg: Or at least a $5,000 check for charity, right?
Dean Crownover: Well yeah. I buy name tags, and I just realized yesterday my name tag’s in it. I got to go buy a new name tag to put on my other jackets.
My jackets allow the guest to know who I am. They allow the client to know where I am, too. Guests come up, and it starts a conversation that leads into who I am, why I’m here, and then that starts talk about the organization. It’s a wonderful segue. Now, I’ll see other auctioneers see my jackets and, yes, you can go copy, you can do what you want, but each auctioneer is going to wear that jacket differently and be different. So, I’m never worried. Other auctioneers have like [Scott Robertson] down in Florida have these vests and are known for those vests, but again, it’s not about what we’re wearing, it’s about that organization. It helps draw the guest to us so we can promote that organization, and I love it.
Dolph Goldenburg: So, I’m going to be attending the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts Gala later this month. I believe you’re the auctioneer there. I’m planning on wearing a fabulous blazer. Don’t worry. It won’t be one of your sequined, really shiny ones, but I’m going to try to give you a run for your money if I can.
Dean Crownover: The client has not told me yet which one, but she knows I have because I’ve been doing them for years, so she knows, and I have a couple new ones. I’ve got to show her. So, I love to wear the new ones. I have a cheetah print gold lamé sequent one I got the other day, and I have a new
just that client, it was a pro Bono gig because I do a certain amount of pro bono. Listen, I would do this job for free now if I could. If I was a millionaire, I would do it for free. Nobody call me up and say that to me when you’re trying to hire me because I will deny it, but I would love to do this for free because I love this job! I love being up there! The minute that I am bored or the minute that I have not given it a 110 percent, I’m out.
I have more guests come up to me and go, “You look like you’re really having fun,” and I really am, even though sometimes they’re very stressful. The stress can be amazing. Much more than you would think, but when I’m up there, and I feel it’s going well, and the jacket is just part of it obviously, but when I feel like we’re doing good work and at the end of the night I’ve raised more for them than they’ve gotten, and I’ve helped change lives myself, man, I feel good about it. So, for some weird reason, the jackets, every time I buy one, it helps me think, “Oh, maybe we’ll make more with this.” I don’t know why. It’s just an extension of me, you know.
Dolph Goldenburg: Let’s face it. You like to buy those kind of jackets and it brings you joy.
Dean Crownover: I can write them off. I know it’s like looking for the holy grail, trying to find this new best jacket that a client wants. Orange and green are the hardest. Pink was really hard, but now I got a handle on that. I’m one step away from having a green one made because that’s the hardest one to find. I don’t know why, but it is. So, go make me one, somebody.
Dolph Goldenburg: There you go. Well, Dean, it has been such an incredible time having this conversation with you. Thank you so much, and I’m especially grateful because I understand that fall is busy season for people in your industry, so thank you for being so generous with your time during such a busy season.
Dean Crownover: Oh, my pleasure. Absolutely. If even one little nugget helped anybody out there, I feel good about it.
Dolph Goldenburg: If listeners have not already gone to your website, if for no other reason than just to see the jacket that’s on your home page, they can go to www.mybenefitauctioneer.com, and Dean provides a wealth of information on his approach to working with nonprofits on guiding them through the best auction possible and more what’s more at his website. You can also find out how to get a free one-hour consultation with Dean, and you will get several good ideas out of that one-hour consultation. Whether or not you end up hiring him, you can find his number on his website, but I’m going to go ahead and give it to you. 404-403-9090. Hey Dean, thanks again for joining us today.
Dean Crownover: Absolutely. What fun this was. I now have to go write three auctions and three scripts for later this week. Last week it was five options, so this is kind of a break. Now, I got three coming up at the end of the week, but this is a great way to start out the week because now I’m jazzed.
Dolph Goldenburg: Nice.
Did you miss Dean’s contact information because you were trying to figure out how you could whip him up a spectacular green sequin jacket? No worries, dear listener. You can find all of today’s links and phone number at www.successfulnonprofits.com. Now, I love the conviction Dean has about making the world a better place by educating himself and his audience about the importance of the cause they’re supporting, linking dollars donated to lives changed is what nonprofit she’d be doing all the time. It would be just awesome, dear listener, if you would take the briefest of moments to subscribe to this podcast if you have not already, and if you want to go one step further, do me a solid and give us a rating on whatever podcast listening app you like. That’s our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
(Disclaimer) I’m not an accountant or attorney, and neither I nor the Successful Nonprofits™ provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been providing for informational purposes only and is not intended or should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.