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About one-half of the states in the United States license auctioneers in a comprehensive fashion. Typically, this involves required schooling, testing, and possibly an apprenticeship before being able to fully engage in business as an auctioneer.

Yet, most of these same states which license auctioneers exempt charity or other such organizations from the license requirement — therefore allowing anyone to act as the auctioneer for their fund raising events.

Why is this?

Almost without exception, state legislators create auctioneer licensing law and cite the central issue as the reason why such licensing is needed: to protect the public. The presumption is that licensing is prudent so that if the auctioneer wrongs the client, the client can have help from the state in both recovering damages and keeping this auctioneer from wronging other clients in the future.

Yet, the charity auction is commonly exempted, as if the charity, typically a 501(c)(3) organization, doesn’t require those same protections, and anyone can do their auction. We think that isn’t the reason, however, that this exemption exists.

All anyone has to do is look at the legislative process — members of the State Senate and State House of Representatives consider their own desires and wishes when voting, and as well, listen to lobbyists.

We suspect that it isn’t about public protection at all, but rather that either the actual member of the state legislature wishes to conduct charity auctions (act like an auctioneer), or that the state legislature member is close with other celebrities or well-known people, who also wish to act as auctioneers for charity events, neither with the inconvenience of licensing.

Are charities and the like benefited from licensed auctioneers? The consensus in the auctioneering community is that there are considerable advantages for the charity by using a licensed, professional auctioneer. These usually include:

  • Quality, interesting, entertaining bid calling technique
  • Experienced crowd interaction and control
  • Knowledge about market value
  • Privy to many other fund-raising techniques
  • Complete event management experience, including marketing
  • Competent about sound systems and audio generally
  • Experienced support staff

Are charities free to use licensed, professional auctioneers? Certainly. However, many don’t because most licensees charge a fee to provide such service, and someone “famous” is available to do the auctioneering for free, and/or the thought is that the celebrity will demand more attention.

Bob wishes to dispose of his deceased grandmother’s remaining $3,000 worth of personal property by auction, and state law mandates he uses a licensed auctioneer. Yet, a large 501(c)(3) is holding a $1,000,000 auction of artwork and sculptures that same day, and the state law says it’s okay for the charity to hire the local television weatherman (or anyone they desire) to conduct the auction.

It’s almost like states say, “We don’t want to burden a 501(c)(3) with the requirement of hiring a licensed auctioneer,” and at the same time, wish to burden everyone else with the requirement that they do hire a licensed auctioneer.

Why not a licensed auctioneer for a charity auction? Because state legislatures confuse public protection with their own interests, or those interests of lobbyists, who wish to preserve their ability to act like an auctioneer for a good cause — theirs.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.