This past spring, one of my clients experienced a higher-than-usual 9.5% no-show rate at their benefit auction. If all of the no-shows had been seated together (they weren’t), it would have amounted to over three empty tables.

A significant number of no-shows impacts your event. First, you’ve likely already paid for the food so that is an incurred expense. Second, fewer guests means fewer people to bid on merchandise. Third, if it’s obvious there are a number of guests missing, it may have a negative affect on the guests who are present. “Where is everyone?” will be the question of the hour.

To reduce auction no-shows, here are four ideas:

Communicate with your attendees regularly. Consistently send e-mail updates to registered guests. Remind them of your mission, your gala activities, and so forth.

Promote your gala up to the very last minute. “We’ll see you in three hours! Don’t forget to bring your auction catalog!” might be silent auction ideas your last message. If you are using an autoresponder email system, use it! You can create as many emails as you want and have them automatically sent at the time and day you choose. It’s a time-saver.

Create a last-minute incentive to attend. Announce that a sponsor has just made a wonderful donation, and you have “a special gift” for the first 50 registrants that night. If the gift is something truly worthwhile, advertise it! “The first 25 bidders to arrive will receive a Tiffany key chain (valued at $45).”

If volunteers tend to be your no-shows, bribe them. Offer them food or a special (free) raffle drawing only open to volunteers. One organization I worked with in Washington, D.C. offered volunteers the chance to win two concert tickets to a performance of their choice. The bucket was in the volunteer room with paper slips and a sign telling volunteers to enter.

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