Recorded: Welcome to The ReWork with Allison Tyler Jones, a podcast dedicated to inspiring portrait photographers to uniquely brand, profitably price, and confidently sell their best work. Allison has been doing just that for the last 15 years, and she’s proven that it’s possible to create unforgettable art and run a portrait business that supports your family and your dreams. All it takes is a little ReWork. Episodes will include interviews with experts from in and outside of the photo industry, mini workshops and behind the scenes secrets that Allison uses in her portrait studio every single day. She will challenge your thinking and inspire your confidence to create a profitable, sustainable portrait business you love through continually refining and ReWorking your business. Let’s do the ReWork.

Allison Tyler Jones: Hi friends, and welcome back to the ReWork. Today, I want to talk with you about one of the favorite topics of all time, which is marketing, and I want to talk to you about one of our favorite ways to market our business, which is through charitable auctions.

Allison Tyler Jones: Now, before you turn off this podcast or roll your eyes or throw your phone to the ground, I know that many of you have tried charitable auctions, and it hasn’t gone so well. I understand because I’ve had those negative experiences, but we’ll talk about those potential problems, how to fix them, what’s new in auction charitable marketing, and some quick and easy steps that you can take to make it work better for you and your business. Let’s do it.

Allison Tyler Jones: Let’s talk charitable auctions. Many of you have tried this before and you may have given up altogether. I know that during 2020, of course, all the auctions weren’t even happening because we couldn’t get together, and it seems like it’s been a long slow crawl out of 2020 for some of these charitable organizations to come back. Either they’ve reinvented, they’ve quit having their auctions, they’re doing it in a different way. A lot of the silent auctions are going all online, and it’s just changed. The entire landscape of charitable auctions seems to be shifting, and we can shift with it.

Allison Tyler Jones: So I want to talk about some of the common problems that I’m hearing and that we have experienced with charitable auctions in the past. One of the things I hear very often is we go to all this effort, we donate, and then nobody ever redeems, so we never see anything from it. Or some of these organizations are such a pain to work with. You have new chairman every year, and so it seems like there’s no continuity from one year to the next, and you just can’t seem to develop a good process for working with an organization. Or maybe nobody bid on your auction donation, and that always makes you very sad. Maybe someone bid, so all good things, they actually called, you booked them, and then they were so incredibly price sensitive or kind of jerky and you couldn’t even sell to them, so that left a bad taste in your mouth.

Allison Tyler Jones: It’s happened. And this is not an uncommon problem because many of the auction winners are just, they’ve got a drink in their hand, they’re socializing, they’re like, oh, look, there’s a photographer. Okay, I’ll bid on that. Some of them are looking for a deal. All they want is what is included with the gift certificate, and they haven’t been exposed to your pricing. They don’t know how you work. And so that can set you up for failure.

Allison Tyler Jones: So if all of those negative things are possible, and if we know that all of those negative things have happened, why am I tooting the horn of charitable auctions? Well, because this is one way that we have built a great new client pipeline for our business that attracts our ideal client and brings new, well qualified clients to us every single year. And I want you to have the same success in your business.

Allison Tyler Jones: Let’s talk about what is causing some of these problems. That very first one I mentioned. Well, they never redeemed them, so we haven’t gotten any business out of it. I have talked to many portrait photographers that say this as a positive thing, like, well, you donate, you get the credit for it, but they don’t ever actually redeem, and they think that that’s kind of a positive thing. To me, that’s a fail. I want them to redeem it because I want a new client. So what we do is we make sure that part of the condition of our donation is that we require the organization that we are donating to, that they release the contact information and the name of the auction winner to us, and that is part of our restrictions or our requirements on the donation.

Allison Tyler Jones: So that’s number one, what I would say, is that when you’re donating and you’re filling out that donation form require that the organization within seven days of the close of that auction that they call you, email you, however they’re going to contact you, and let you know the contact information and the name of who won that auction. And if they don’t call you, you call them. That has really increased the number of auction winners who actually redeem those gift certificates.

Allison Tyler Jones: Next. Sometimes these charitable organizations aren’t super organized, they can be hard to work with. But I found that rather than letting them take the lead, I have my own process developed and we know exactly what we’re giving, we know what the donation looks like, we have our display kit together, we have our whole thing figured out. So when they call asking for donations, we don’t say, “Well, how do you want it and what do you want?” We say, “This is what we’re willing to do. This is how we do it,” and we roll that out for them.

Allison Tyler Jones: So having a process and knowing what it is that you want to donate ahead of time, before somebody contacts you, is a huge advantage because then you’re not at the mercy of, like we say, sometimes these chairmen or co-chairs or the people that are running this year’s gala, they’re volunteers, and it’s usually not the same group year after year. So each year that group of women or men are new and they don’t necessarily know exactly what’s going on. So you can actually be a huge asset to the organization by knowing how you work, having your ducks in a row and letting them know, this is what we’re going to donate. This is what our sample looks like, and here’s our information. And they just are like, “Oh, this is amazing. That’s so great. Thank you so much.”

Allison Tyler Jones: The next problem that what happens when no one bids on your stuff? Well, I don’t ever want that to happen for you. And what usually causes this is that you don’t have a great display. You have a sad, little, old, digital picture frame that has your images scrolling through the little picture frame or maybe an old iPad that’s dirty and ratty, and it’s just sitting there on this little table with your beautiful images scrolling through. That is never going to attract the attention, it just looks like what everybody else is doing. So to create a display that is comment worthy and attracts attention is definitely the way to go. That requires you to show what it is that you want to sell.

Allison Tyler Jones: If it’s a silent auction, for example, on a table in a ballroom, which is what these usually are, and somebody is walking by, there are probably a lot of different offers on that table. Everything from a gift certificate for Botox, to a gift certificate for CoolSculpting, to a gift certificate for a set of golf clubs or a vacation or whatever. There’s a lot of different things competing for attention. And the other thing competing for attention is the socializing that’s going on. So I want to have a piece of my artwork as big as I can get it, on a great looking easel, with an image that’s going to attract attention so that my display is clean, the frame looks amazing. It’s not just some old thing that came as an error from the lab, and we decided to use it as an auction sample. Not that I haven’t done that in the past, I think we all have, but I’ve realized, no, it needs to be my best work and it needs to be something very intentional.

Allison Tyler Jones: If it’s a private school auction, I want to have the age of the kids in that sample be the age of the kids that are going to that school. Or if it’s an older demographic, maybe it’s a multi-gen session. Whatever is in that picture is going to attract the people that are walking by it. My ideal client, I want them to be attracted by what is in that actual picture, that portrait, and then that the frame itself is great, that it’s big, that it looks great and attracts attention.

Allison Tyler Jones: Now, what if the silent auction is online? A couple of the auctions that we work with have both. They have an in-person set up that has tables and the silent auction samples everywhere, like I just described, but then they also are having that silent auction online as well. When you have something in person and when you are showing something online, those are two very different ways of seeing something. In person, I want it to be a large, beautiful portrait.

Allison Tyler Jones: If the silent auction is online, I don’t want my donation to be just a beautiful portrait digitally above the description of my donation. I want my potential clients to see an actual installation photo. So I want it to be a portrait that I have taken installed in someone’s home. Now, if you don’t have something like that, then you can just buy stock imagery of a room and put it on the wall. You’ve seen these everywhere. If the silent auction is online, that it be an installation photo rather than just a pretty picture, because that’s going to communicate to somebody bidding on your donation, “oh, it’s hanging on the wall”. That’s who I want to work with. I want to work with a portrait photographer who is hanging portraits on the wall.

Allison Tyler Jones: And then in person, at the silent auction, if they’re actually standing in front of it, I want them to see not a digital picture frame with images going across it, because that’s communicating digital images, I want them to see an actual finished piece, a finished product. So showing what you want to sell is crucial.

Allison Tyler Jones: The next problem I mentioned comes at the end of what seems like a successful process. So we’ve donated, somebody bid, they won, we got their information. They either contacted us, we contacted them, and they have become a client, and then they are so price sensitive, all they want is what’s free. Or they’re giving us a hard time about our product or whatever because they haven’t been exposed to how it is we work or how much we charge.

Allison Tyler Jones: So that’s where it’s important to backup a little bit, where we were showing what we want to sell, which is finished product. So that in and of itself does qualify people a little bit because they can see, okay, wait a minute, that’s actually hanging on the wall and it’s framed, so that lets you know it’s going to be more than just a bunch of digital files. And then how you write your ad, how you describe your donation. You don’t want to just describe the donation like Allison Tyler Jones Photography is donating a portrait session and an 11 by 16 framed fine art print or whatever. You want to have a little ad copy before that to talk about who you are and what you do and how you work. Not everybody’s going to read it, but some will. And then they may not bid on you because they want a bunch of digital files, or somebody will read that and realize, oh, I actually do want a finished product. I want that hanging on my wall. That’s amazing.

Allison Tyler Jones: I found that some of the best clients we get from these auctions are friends of existing clients. So we’ll have one of our great clients be at one of these auctions, and I found that some of our best clients that come from these auctions are actually friends of our existing clients. And so when they call us, it’s something like this, you’ll hear a story, something like this. Oh, I was standing at the auction and I was talking to Alicia, and of course, we all love Alicia, and she just said, “You have got to bid on Allison’s donation over here. You’ve got to get your kids photographed.” I’ve been receiving her holiday cards for years. We’ve wanted to work with you forever, and I can’t wait to work with you because she told me how great it is. So those are usually incredibly qualified. When you’re hearing something like that from the initial phone call, that’s a really, really great sign.

Allison Tyler Jones: What’s not a super great sign is when somebody calls and says, “Oh, yeah, I mean, I just saw that you’re a photographer, and so we need to do pictures and we do them every year, and so I just thought I’d call you.” That can be great, could not be great, but you got to assume at that point that maybe they don’t know what it is that you do or how it is that you work. So before you go through all the process of photographing them and then trying and hoping to sell them something, you need to bring them into your sales process, specifically, qualify them. Let them know how it is that you work, what it is that you’re doing, and quote them some prices before you photograph them.

Allison Tyler Jones: Now, another common mistake that I see when it comes to donating to charitable auctions, and I have made this mistake myself, is in the donation itself. Either you’re donating way too much or you’re donating not quite enough. Let’s start with not enough.

Allison Tyler Jones: Most charitable organizations now that have been working with photographers, they don’t really like it when you just donate a session fee because they’re not getting something out of that. It requires them to buy something else. So they want whoever the winner is to be able to get something. For whatever they have paid for this donation, they want to be able to get something out of it. So we found that it’s been more successful to have it be a session plus a product.

Allison Tyler Jones: So how big? What is it that you’re donating? Well, you can really shoot yourself in the foot by not donating enough. Not enough would look like a session fee and an 8 by 10. Or a session fee and 10 files, or whatever. That’s just kind of like, eh, doesn’t really set your imagination on fire. The other mistake is donating too much. Donating something that requires a lot of time and effort, and that is a very low margin for your business, is a huge mistake. Like, oh, let’s donate a session, a location session, and then holiday cards. You’ve got to go on location, you’ve got to shoot that family. Then you’ve got to do the design. The holiday cards don’t have a very high margin, and for most people, they’re fine with just that, with just having the lovely experience with you in the park or at their home or wherever the location is, and then just sending out those holiday cards and never doing anything else with them. So that is a really good way to do a lot of work for no return.

Allison Tyler Jones: So think about what you’re donating. Is it enough? Is it too much? Things to think about? Looking at the profit margin of what it is that you’re donating and by profit margin, if that sounds confusing, just think, how much time am I spending on this? It needs to not be something that’s a huge amount of time for something that you’re donating. We don’t want it to be nothing or too little, but you don’t want it to be too much. We found the sweet spot tends to be a session fee with a framed piece of fine art. And then we have some restrictions within that.

Allison Tyler Jones: Which is the next thing that you need to think about, is what are your restrictions for this donation? Do you have restrictions on the time of year? Do you have an expiration? That’s something that you need to look at based on the state that you’re in and what the rules are for charitable donations in your state, because that will vary state to state and country to country. But what are the rules? Are you okay to shoot this on a Saturday? Are you okay to shoot this in the busy season during the fourth quarter? Do you want to have some limitations on that?

Allison Tyler Jones: You really want to get super specific when you are donating, because again, in our business, when we’re dealing with actual clients that have called us and want to work with us and that are amazing and great and we’re bringing through our process and they’re spending money with us, we don’t want to nickel and dime them. We don’t want to trot out some big contract and give them all of these rules, but this is different.

Allison Tyler Jones: When we’re donating to a charitable organization, we want to have the rules of engagement be very, very clear. We are donating something that’s very valuable that’s going to take time for us to do. It’s going to cost us money, effort, time, energy to do this, to earn money for this charitable organization and in the hopes that yes, we’re philanthropic, we want to give back to our community, and also we want to attract clients who are philanthropic and amazing and great, who can be good clients for our business. So we want both of those things to happen. And so in doing that, in donating to a cause or a charitable organization, we have to have rules of exactly what we’re donating and exactly how that works, when they can use it, when they cannot use it, what are the limitations and what are we requiring from the charitable organization?

Allison Tyler Jones: So going back to that very first problem, that people don’t redeem them is this is where you’re having that we require the name of the winner. So that’s one of your rules. And you want to make sure that all of those rules are very clear.

Allison Tyler Jones: And then last, to make auctions successful for you is to have a follow-up process, a process where you’re tracking who you donated to, a process where you’re tracking the organizations you donated to, and a way to store the information and the data that you’re receiving, where to store those names of the winners that are coming in as these organizations are obeying your rules, calling you and letting you know who won and their information, and you’re following up with them.

Allison Tyler Jones: It’s important to track that information and then keep track of it all the way through the process. Were they super price sensitive and they didn’t actually buy anything more than what the gift certificate covered, and for the last two or three years that you’ve donated to that auction, you’re only attracting those kind of people? Good information to have, because maybe for the fourth year, you don’t want to donate to them anymore. Maybe you find out that you’ve been getting really, really great clients from this other organization and that everybody that comes through there is gold. That’s information that you need to have. So having that process, being able to track that in a spreadsheet or on your CRM software is crucial.

Allison Tyler Jones: Let’s recap, maybe ReWorking your auctions. Requiring the charitable organization to release the contact information of the winner in your rules as you’re filling out those forms, having your ducks in a row for what you want to donate, your display sample, how your whole auction process works, so when somebody requests that you donate to their organization, you let them know, this is what we donate. This is why it’s so amazing. This is why it’s so great. You don’t have to worry that nobody’s going to bid on your stuff because your sample looks great in person. It looks great online. You’re showing what it is that you actually want to sell.

Allison Tyler Jones: And then because you’re having good ad copy with your donation, people know what it is that you do and how you work, so you’re attracting less price sensitive people, less people that just want what’s free. And then your donation is not wah-wah and it’s not way, way, way too much work. It’s in that sweet spot of just right, so that it gives them something that if they only get the gift certificate, it’s still good, but they could apply it to something bigger, better, and more amazing, allowing you to upsell, allowing you to bring them into your world and show them what’s possible.

Allison Tyler Jones: And then making sure that your rules or your restrictions on your donation are very clear to the organization and also to the auction winner, so that they know exactly when they can redeem them and how and how that all works. And then having that follow up process to bring them into your world, to quote them your pricing, to love on them, to let them see the way that you work and how amazing this could be, that through their philanthropic donation to this great cause that you donated to, that both of you can collaborate together and create some beautiful artwork for their family, that they can have your work in their home and feel great about it because they donated to a great cause, and they also have now stumbled upon this new service that can make gorgeous artwork for their family every single year.

Allison Tyler Jones: These are the areas and the changes and clarifications that we’ve made in our auctions over the last few years and we love the auctions because they are bringing in such well qualified, great clients for our business. Our goal every year is to bring in about 10 to 12 well qualified new clients, and the auctions have been serving that purpose very, very well. And it’s because we’ve tightened up in these areas.

Allison Tyler Jones: I’d encourage you to look at your own auction process and see if they’re in one of these areas like, are your displays getting kind of tired? Are you guilty of having the iPad or the digital picture frame sitting on the little table in a sad sort of way? Are you not being clear in your donations? Are you not following up with the winners or having some kind of a process by which you can collect that winner contact information? Which of these areas is falling down for you and maybe causing problems that just with a little fix, you could tighten that up and have a better process that brings in well qualified clients for your business?

Allison Tyler Jones: If this episode has motivated you and pinpointed exactly what you need to change, go for it. If instead, this episode has overwhelmed you and you feel like you don’t know where to start and you just want to crawl back into bed, then this is your lucky day because all of us, whether we have great clients or not, know that it would be so amazing to have more new great clients. And some of us feel stuck. We feel like we’ve been donating to auctions in the past and it just hasn’t gone well. Either the winners have never bothered to redeem their gift certificates or the ones who did were so price sensitive that we wished we’d never met them in the first place. Or maybe you’re in the situation where you’ve always wanted to try auction marketing, but you just don’t know where to start, and the thought of a bunch of trial and error just makes you not even want to begin.

Allison Tyler Jones: We have just put the finishing touches on our brand new ReWork Your Marketing with Charitable Auctions Course, and we are announcing it here first, specifically for our ReWork Podcast listeners. The course includes six video lessons about everything from how to attract the best clients using auctions, how to decide which auction partners are the best ones to work with, how and what to donate, how do you figure out what to display and how do you make it look good, and an entire section chock-full of what we call auction admin. So all the fine print, nitty gritty detail, all of those restrictions that I talked about earlier on your donation and how to make sure that you don’t get taken advantage of and how to make it very clear what it is that you are donating and also what you are not donating. And then lastly, we have a whole section on selling specifically to auction winners and how you can bring them into your world and successfully turn them into clients that come back year after year.

Allison Tyler Jones: So that’s just the videos. Then we have layered Photoshop document files, PDFs that have our auction gift certificates that we use that you can customize for your own business. We have leave behind cards. We have all the words that we use, not just in these documents and in these restrictions and in these forms, but also in email and text and how we’re communicating with these charitable organizations, and also with the auction winners, down to their appointment reminders and how we’re doing all of that. We have auction tracker spreadsheets so that you don’t even have to make them up. We already have them done for you. You can literally plug and play charitable auctions into your business and build a pipeline of great clients coming into your business using this course, this year.

Allison Tyler Jones: Normally a course like this with this much goodness in it would be right around $1,200. But for our ReWork listeners, it is 495. So go to That’s plural. Do the and get all of the details. Sign up for this course. It’s online. It’s available to you immediately. You have lifetime access to this course. You don’t have to wait for it to drop. It’s available right now for you to plug and play into your business and start building that pipeline of great clients for your business using charitable auctions. I can’t wait for you to see it. Use it and experience the success in your business that we have been able to experience in our own portrait studio using charitable auctions.

Allison Tyler Jones: Including a layered Photoshop document file of our auction gift certificate that we use for our own donations that you can customize for your own use, layered Photoshop documents of leave behind promotion pieces, all the words that we use in Google Documents swipe files that you can drag and drop, cut and paste into texts, emails, that vendor resource PDF with all the good resources, our Tracker spreadsheets that we use to track our auction winners and to track where our displays are at, a promo postcard that we use to bring clients back after their gift certificates have expired and the secret weapon we use to guarantee that we get the name and contact information of all the auction winners, even if the charitable organization does not provide us with that information. And that’s a really great one.

Allison Tyler Jones: This course would normally sell for $1,200, but for our ReWork listeners, it’s 495. So go to and check out all the details yourself. That’s and sign up for ReWork Your Marketing Using Charitable Auctions and start bringing in more well qualified new clients into your business every year.

Recorded: You can find more great resources from Allison at and on Instagram at do.the.rework.

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