Usually the question goes like this, “Sherry, how many items do you recommend we sell in our fundraising live silentauction?

Oh, if I had a dollar for each time someone has asked me that. Many people contemplate that question in the same way they think about prunes: “I wonder if eight is too many?… Will three get the job done?”

Here’s what I’ve learned: If the fund raising gala’s timeline has already been determined, my recommendation doesn’t matter. A specific amount of time… 20 minutes… 45 minutes… 70 minutes… has already been allotted. Now, I need to work with the client to choose the items because we must match a timeframe. So now I respond to that question with, “How much time have you set aside for the live charity auction?” If they haven’t yet set the timeline, we’ve got flexibility. We look at other factors (like those below).

I know how long it takes on average to sell different items. Front-row seats at a high-school graduation will take a different length of time than a private concert with Grammy award-winner Emmanuel Ax. By knowing what they have to sell and how much time they’ve allotted, I can tell whether we need to cut the number of auction items — or find more time in the program. We’ve sold anywhere from two items to 40 items.

So what’s the answer? What’s the perfect number for your non profit or school auction? Truth be told, there is no exact number which works for everyone. But here are five pointers to keep in mind.

1. Are you using a professional charity auctioneer? A professional auctioneer will be able to sell more items in any given timeframe than someone who is not a professional. First, we’re in front of people asking for money all the time. We can read faces, and know when to push. Second, the entire reason “the chant” (the fast talk) was developed oh-so-long-ago was to sell items quickly. Although a fundraising auctioneer will not chant as quickly at your gala as would be heard at, say, a livestock sale, it does speed the sale along.

A good auctioneer will want to say a few brief remarks on stage. She’ll introduce her team; he’ll thank the committee. Trust me, you want me to do this, even though it might take 2 or 3 minutes. This is the time when the audience begins to experience my personality. Later, when the bidding is underway, people will give more money to someone they like than someone who only asks them for money.

Isn’t the same true for you? If a development officer cold calls someone to ask for $10,000, what are the odds she’ll get the donation? Isn’t it nicer to have a warm lead? The same is true for an auctioneer. Opening remarks help.