A Model for Successful Benefit Auctions: Alaska Native Art Auction

Kathy Kingston Auctions Alaska Native Art

Photo credit:  Frank Flavin Photography

Kathy Kingston, Fundraising Auctioneer with Miss Alaska, Peggy Willman, dressed in traditional Yupik regalia.  This stunning mask “The Singer” by Perry Eaton brought $4,500 at the 8th Annual Koahnic Broadcast Corporation Alaska Native Art Auction in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2003.

By Kathy Kingston, CAI, BAS, Kingston Auction Company

The 8th Annual Alaska Native Art Auction raised over $207,750 to benefit non-profit Koahnic Broadcast Corporation in Anchorage Alaska.  This exemplary event is recognized as the top Native Art auction in Alaska, attracting more than 300 loyal bidders including leaders in corporate, Alaska Native, political sectors, as well as philanthropists and art aficionados.

Original traditional and contemporary Alaska Native artwork featured 40 live auction items and over 125 silent auction lots of stunning masks, carvings, paintings, traditional weaving, paddles, jewelry, dolls, and baleen and grass baskets.

This event has soared from $6,000 the first year to over $207,750 plus an additional $130,000 funder match this year.  Further, Koahnic’s signature event has engendered dedicated supporters statewide.   How did they achieve this remarkable success?  Here are some strategies that can propel your non-profits clients to the next level of fundraising.

Organizational Commitment

The Koahnic’s steadfast support for their signature auction includes:  staff to assist detailed planning by a diverse and talented auction committee, superb live and silent art items, strong support by leading artists, a solid core of committed volunteers, active participation by the Board at all levels, and dynamic involvement and skillful orchestration by a professional auctioneer.

Fund Raising & Friend Raising

Developing relationships is crucial to successful fundraising.  Koahnic actively positioned this art auction as a major “power networking” event through targeted outreach and careful guest list creation.    Benefit auctions provide an excellent way to identify and cultivate new donors and to showcase non-profit cause.  Corporate sponsorships and media partners add leadership, new revenue, in kind support and visibility.

“Fund-a-Future” at the Live Auction

Specific “Fund-a-Projects” allow all guests to make a meaningful contribution at their own level, for a specific attainable project.  Koahnic incorporated a “Fund-a-Future paddle raise” in the latter stage of the live auction that brought an extra $65,250 for their endowment.  By brilliantly leveraging a 1 for 1 match by two national funders, the total multiplied to $192,750 on top of regular auction profits!

Silent Auction Strategies

Promote and close the silent auction in staggered sections to maximize bidding opportunities.  Auctioneers generate excitement and dollars with motivational banter about silent items, closing times and why bidders should support the non-profit.  Koahnic initiated an Automatic Bid/Guaranteed Bid on silent auction bid sheets; thus the high bidder can agree to pay a premium, typically 150% of the value for the privilege of closing the bidding outright, increasing profits and guest convenience.

Multi-Media Excitement

Use large screens that feature photos or power point to enhance items and focus guest’s attention.  Intricate items and complex packages really benefit from this approach.  Koahnic jazzed up the live auction with upbeat music to introduce items and closed silent sections with stirring native fiddling music.  Volunteers wearing their native regalia held the art items at the live auction.  Color photos of auction items on their web page marketed the items and provided an excellent preview and buyer motivation.

Encourage Philanthropic Bidding

Ask the guests in your opening remarks to bid over value, then reward over-bidders with a special gift such as chocolates or wine.  As the auctioneer, you are an extension of the organizational and their cause that evening. Throughout your bid calling, inform guests the importance of their support and what how the funds will be used.  Encourage guests to invest in the mission and you will boost profits that evening and foster a dynamic climate for future giving.

Kathy Kingston is President of Kingston Auction Company and specializes in benefit auctions and fundraising consulting.  She provides state-of-the-art auctioneering to maximize fundraising efforts and to increase profits.  Headquartered in New Hampshire, Ms. Kingston conducts benefit auctions throughout New England and the US.  She has recently expanded her fundraising auction seminar series and is writing a book on Fundraising Auctions.

Afterword:  Native Art Auction

Koahnic Broadcast Corporation is a non-profit, Native American media center headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska. Koahnic is an Athabascan word in the Ahtna dialect meaning “live air.”  Their mission is to be the leader in bringing Native voices to the region and the nation

Former governor of Alaska, Bill Sheffield praised this Koahnic Broadcast auction, “this benefit auction is one of the finest fundraising events in the state and showcases the art and culture of Alaska while raising significant revenue and awareness for Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.”

More than $102,500 was raised from the live and silent auctions, plus an additional $65,250 from “Fund-a-Future” and $40,000 from sponsorships and table sales combined.   Expenses were reduced by $22,000 of in-kind contributions.

Some pieces of note include:  an exquisite umiak model, which is a traditional skin boat sold for $6,000 made by Jacob Adams, president of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation; Rebecca Lyon’s contemporary Alutiiq visor brought $1,800; and an intricately carved whale bone and ivory piece by Ronald Apangalook fetched $7,500; Terry Rofkar’s Raven Tail weaving raised $1,700  Other well-known Alaskan artists included Alvin Amason and John Hoover.