Turn a Silent Auction Snore into a Hit!


Party Like A Madman

“We drink because it’s what men [and women] do.” – Roger Sterling (adaptation by us!)

Like millions of others, over seven seasons, I was glued to my TV for every episode of Mad Men, and devoured the next-day recaps from Slate’s TV Club, too. Was it the struggles and triumphs of the female characters in an era that so upended their collective sense of self, the existential journey of Don Draper, or was it just the in-office drinking, chain smoking, philandering, and covetable costumes that kept me watching? All of the above, for sure.

Now that it’s ended, it’s also certain that the inspired, original production will have a very long afterlife of online and rental viewership. Something so time-bound (set between 1960 and 1970), should prove quite timeless. (A topic for another post about event themes!)

We took a little inspiration from Mad Men a while ago, when we put together a “Party Like A Mad Man” silent auction package that wowed attendees and brought in a great return for the charity it supported.

Let’s face it — silent auctions can be BORING. The effort to secure the auction packages combined with the value of the auction packages can rarely be justified by the dollars they yield. We’ve heard auctioneers refer to them as the “appetizer for the deal seekers” and we usually recommend nonprofit clients find higher impact, lower bandwidth-eating ways to achieve their fundraising goals. Even big-name, big-impact gala clients of ours, like the Red Cross, are scrapping their silent auctions in favor of renewed focus on getting the right people in the room.

But there’s an exception to every rule, and when we saw an opportunity to delight with a grassroots nonprofit we support, we had a little fun.

When one of our favorite local nonprofits, Leadership San Francisco, asked us to donate an auction item to its annual fundraising event, we agreed without hesitation. Having gone through the leadership program ourselves, we knew the money would be put to good use developing future community leaders in the Bay Area.

After brainstorming several ideas (a barbecue set? a spa package?) we decided to put together a package that would nicely tie into the hot topic du jour: the start of Mad Men season!

We displayed the following goodies on a red lacquer tray, then wrapped the whole thing up with cellophane and a pretty bow:

  • Mad Men DVD Box Set (at the time, seasons 1-5)
  • Coupe glasses from The Stork Club
  • King Cube ice tray
  • The unofficial Mad Men cookbook
  • A veritable liquor cabinet of Bombay Gin, Bullitt Bourbon, Noilly Pratt vermouth, and Angostura bitters…plus napkins, toothpicks, and gourmet olives
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Ice bucket
  • The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics book

As hoped, the package was a huge success and auctioned for more than $300. It goes to show, with a little creative brainstorming, and some inspiration from one of television’s biggest hits, gift baskets — and silent auctions — don’t have to be boring!

“Only boring people are bored” – Betty Draper

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