Dear Duke and Duke…You Stink!

Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.

Don Wilder

To remind those who never got the memo, I’m one half of Duke and Duke Charity Auctions, a part-time business venture that on many a Saturday night keeps me off the mean streets of Moraga. For the last nine years, Sam Patti, my erstwhile partner-in-crime, and I have been conducting charity auction fundraisers for Bay Area schools, foundations, and non-profit organizations. Our goal for every event is to maximize revenues while at the same time making the affair as fun and memorable as possible. We tell our clients that Sam is management and I’m talent, which is another way of saying Sam runs the business and I call the sales. It’s a partnership that works extremely well, and those who’ve hired Duke and Duke say our professional and high-energy act reminds them of Statler and Waldorf, a.k.a., those two old cantankerous farts on the Muppets.

Charity fundraisers come in seasons, and spring is when school districts prefer to raise the paddle. With the current campaign rolling to an end, I’m proud to say Duke and Duke conducted more school auctions, and raised more money, than any previous season in our history. And we’ve got the dry-cleaning bills to prove it. (It’s amazing how much you sweat in a tuxedo)

Yet despite our best efforts, not every client walks away feeling warm and fuzzy. In an effort to provide complete transparency, allow me to share with you the comments we received from a recent event;

“Our committee met today for event recap and analysis. We are all in agreement that it was a fabulous party including the reception, food, and music. Unfortunately, we all feel as though we left some money on the table and ultimately fell short of our financial goal. Specifically, we have identified a few components that most likely contributed to this shortfall, including:

  1. Technology glitches (silent and wrist band sales)
  2. Challenging acoustics (silent and live)
  3. Subpar auctioneer performance (Fund-a-need and Live)

I’m going to focus on #3, hoping that you will find this to be useful for future events. We all felt that, despite a lengthy prep meeting and supplied information with the understanding that this material was to be used to inform and encourage our bidders, most of the live items were not describe in a compelling way and that many of the special and unique attributes of each item were not even mentioned or highlighted. It seemed like certain prospective bidders became unsure and ultimately kept their paddle down due to a poorly described item. We have heard consistent feedback from multiple sources that Lee’s voice was coming through the sound system “very fuzzy and distorted” and that it was “difficult to discern what he was actually saying.” “He appeared tired and unprepared,” said others. We received feedback from several saying that the auctioneer’s failure to have the two finalists face back to back in heads and tails gave was an unprofessional “rookie move” and created awkwardness. Our feedback was that “it felt rushed,” and that the auctioneers “seemed overwhelmed by the crowd.”

I know Duke and Duke’s goal is to help the organization maximize revenue. Hopefully, this feedback will assist in helping you continue to refine your practice.”

Immediately upon receipt of this email, Sam and I called an emergency meeting of Duke and Duke’s Advisory Council, i.e., the two of us met for beers after a round of golf. After conducting our own thorough review and analysis of the event, we responded in kind to our valued client;

Dear Auction Committee Chairperson,

Thank you so much for your feedback. We at Duke and Duke take pride in listening to our customers, and we are always open to constructive ideas to improve our woeful auction performance, as well as make adjustments to our wretched business model.

Duke and Duke strives to be the best we can be. With that as a backdrop, Sam and I believe the glaring flaws highlighted by the committee are just the tip of the iceberg, and that it’s not only our responsibility, but also our sworn duty, to spotlight other significant bugs, blemishes and breakdowns. They include, but are not limited to, the following;

Catalogs- How imbecilic was it of Duke and Duke to assume that an auction attendee would be willing to drop ten grand on a seven-day vacation home located somewhere along the Outer Seychelle Islands, or contribute a dime on a Levi Stadium skybox to hear the Beastie Boys, within sixty seconds of first hearing about it from the auctioneer? Not to mention the petty details, such as how big is it, what comes with it, and are there any restrictions as to when he/she can use it? Attendees arrive hours before the live auction, and it’s not asking too much for their $225 ticket to have a $2 catalogue served alongside their rubber chicken. In eight years, Duke and Duke has conducted over 100 charity auctions, and EVERY SINGLE ONE distributed a catalog, usually with bid numbers printed on the back. How could Sam and I have missed such an obvious enhancement to your event? The least we could have done was haul in a blackboard, scribbled the live items in chalk, and let the attendees scan the list while they waited thirty minutes to register while stacked like cattle in the sauna-like confines of the lobby.

Website- History has proven that charities raise more money if attendees can view online the silent and live auction items in advance of the event. However, it’s clearly due to Duke and Duke’s egregiousness in this area that the event’s website, which your committee claimed played a vital role in generating ticket sales and corporate sponsorship, hadn’t been updated since the Bush Administration. Shame on us.

Timeline- Though the live auction was scheduled to begin at 8:30, we weren’t handed our microphones until almost 9:15 (this may explain why I appeared “tired and unprepared”…it was WAY past my bedtime). Because of Duke and Duke’s gross misallocation of the event’s timeline, Sam and I haphazardly rushed through the discussion of each item’s “special and unique” attributes. Not only that, you failed to note how Duke and Duke’s delaying of the live auction cut into your event’s dance time, an element you described to us as “critical to the event’s success.” Come to think of it, the auction committee could argue that Duke and Duke violated the terms of its contract by leaving our bullwhips at home, when they could have been used to herd the inebriated crowd from the overcrowded reception hall, where the only bars were located, to the dark and cavernous dining room. Last but not least, Sam and I should also be condemned for not limiting the drawn-out inspirational speeches delivered by the exhaulted members of the school and auction committee. Our profound guilt knows no bounds.

Communication- In the eleven-month period between the date of our signed contract and the night of your event, Duke and Duke exchanged exactly ONE phone call with your auction committee and attended exactly ONE meeting (the “lengthy prep meeting” you described held the day before the event). Normally, every fundraiser we’ve worked on includes at least two face-to-face meetings and dozens of phone calls. The only plausible explanation for this flagrant lack of communication on our part is that both Sam and I must have lost your phone number. How ridiculously incompetent can we be?

Duke and Duke regrets your disappointment over the event not meeting your financial projections. Because we adhere to the utmost of professional standards, we suggest you pass on to your next auctioneer the “rookie” mistakes learned from our failure, and hopefully your smug organization can reach your hyperbolic goals the next time you extend your pretentious paws into your attendee’s padlocked pockets.


Lee Geiger and Sam Patti

Duke and Duke Charity Auctions

One Response to Dear Duke and Duke…You Stink!

  1. Rich Fong says:

    Nicely, done, but I think you could/should have thrown in perhaps just a tiny bit of sarcasm for effect. They might get it, they might not…

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