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How To Run A Charity Auction

Published: Feb 11, 2019

Charity auctions are extremely beneficial for nonprofit organizations for two reasons –– donor stewardship and fundraising. You get to know your donors better, strengthen bonds and raise a lot of money for your cause. These events give donors a chance to directly engage with your nonprofit, have a great time, and contribute to a great cause.

But planning an auction can be overwhelming, especially if you’re doing it for the first time.

What type of auction should I go with? Should I hold an online auction or a live one? Where will I procure the items from? This article will help you lay out the plan for an unforgettable auction event.

Decide On What Type Of Auction To Host

Before you dive in and run a charity auction you must know the different kinds of auctions with their pros and cons –– that can help you determine which type of event is the best fit for your organization.

  1. Silent auction: In a silent auction, the items are placed on tables, throughout the venue, for guests to look around and make bids. This type of auction is really engaging as you have ample time to interact with your donors. It is also less formal in comparison to live auctions, making it easy to incorporate with any type of event. The biggest drawback of this kind of auction is –– it lacks a sense of urgency due to which the bidding can fade into the background. To avoid this, send text messages to your guests alerting them when they’ve been outbid, when bidding for items are going to close, or when bidding is going to starts.
  2. Live auction: Live auctions are a classic event which is more formal in nature. The bidding takes place with a live auctioneer listing off items one by one. This is the only kind of auction in which bidding is not anonymous, encouraging friendly competition. Since the auction is the main focus, donors are more engaged and actively participate. Live auctions are far more expensive in comparison to other kinds as they involve a lot of logistics (host, professional auctioneer, emcee, etc.).
  3. Online auction: As digital fundraising is on the rise, hosting an online action can be a smart move for your organization. It’s super convenient as donors have the option of participating from their homes. You don’t have to throw a physical event, making it pocket-friendly. These auctions are very flexible as they can be hosted for longer than an in-person auction. The only drawback is that it lacks urgency. This is why you must actively promote them.

Pick Items That Generate Most Dollars

For your auction to be successful, the items on display must excite your audience. Keep in mind that the more unique the item, the more buzz it’ll generate.

Generally, experiential items outperform material items. These are the things that one cannot go to the store and purchase. So, it’s exactly the kind of item you must pick to raise most funds.

People spend less money on buying things, and more on doing things – and telling the world about it online afterward. And giving donors exactly this (through your auction items) helps in forming lasting connections.

Great experiences make way for donors to share it with their friends and family, spreading the word about your organization and resulting in a larger donor base for your next charity auction.

For example, if you’re working to provide education to underprivileged children, then offer a trip to the city in which you’ve helped create the impact, thus letting your donors see how your organization is changing lives.

Solicit Auction Items

Solicitation of items is the most important part of auction planning. For which you must have a procurement team in place and you could either get a few volunteers or staff members to do this.

Start off by consulting your donor data, leveraging your personal connections (friends and family) and then move on to local businesses and retailers. Equip your team with a toolkit that includes donation pledge forms, event invitations, solicitation letters, item ideas, list of people to approach, etc. This will help them have a clear idea of what to procure and how to make the ask.

While soliciting auction items, your team needs to look for items that are:

  • Rare or unique: this includes one-of-a-kind items and experiences.
  • Priced appropriately: it must fall under your supporters general price range
  • Closely related to your organization’s work.

Include Other Donation Avenues With Your Auction

You can’t guarantee that every single attendee will bid at your auction. And those who do might not go home with the items they wanted.

To appeal to your donors’ preferences, make sure that everyone participates and gets something they like, you must include other donation avenues at your event. This definitely makes your event more profitable.

The donation appeals you can feature at your charity auction are:

  • Live appeals: Live appeals are nothing but requests for donations. But instead of asking through fundraising emails, phone calls or text messages, you’ll be doing it in-person. To pull it off, you must get some person from your organization, preferably a board member, to make a request at the beginning of the auction. This will definitely give your fundraising a boost.
  • Raffles: You already have a lot of exciting items at your auction. So take one out and offer it as a prize for winning the raffle. Sell tickets before your auction and during the auction itself by setting up a booth. Promote it through texts and display it on your website.
  • Merchandise: Don’t let donors who didn’t win auction items walk home barehanded. Start selling merchandise. This will help you generate more revenue and will also help in advertising your organization. Choose items that are relevant to your audience. For example, if you were raising money for a school, school supplies will appeal to your attendees.

Gamify The Auction To Boost Fundraising

To get your attendees to participate, add an element of fun to your charity auction. Simply do this by turning your auction into a game. This will help you boost funds and keep your attendees engaged throughout the night.

A few games that you can use at your charity auction are:

  • Fundraising Thermometers: It works best with making live appeals. You can get the auctioneer to remind attendees to make donations and help your organization reach its fundraising goal by the end of the auction. Put a time limit before which you must reach your goal, this will create a sense of urgency motivating them to donate more.
  • Auction Scoreboards: This will give your bidders real-time updates on auction items so that they can make bids from anywhere. The board can feature popular bid items to get higher bids. It must also showcase items which haven’t received any bids yet to encourage bidding.
  • Text Notifications: To motivate donors to bid more for an item you can send them text notifications. For example, send a text saying – Hey Jon, Melinda has made a higher bid than you. Up your bid, so you don’t lose out! Such texts will encourage friendly competition among donors.
  • Countdown Timer: You can use this to inform donors that you’re closing bids for a certain item. Doing this will encourage last-minute bidders and increase the value of the item.

Troubleshoot Your Charity Auction

While running a charity auction you usually face certain common issues. We made a list of the problems and provided quick solutions that you can implement to make sure your auction is a success.

  1. When your guests aren’t bidding on any of your items: this happens when you have a lot more items than bidders. In such cases, what you can do is group a few similar items to create a package and give it a fancy name. Also, make sure that a single item can be enjoyed by two guests. This will definitely encourage competition and you’ll see bids coming in no time.
  2. When your guests wait till the last minute to bid: Simply solve this issue by actively promoting your auction items. Send texts informing them that bidding has begun, make the minimum price clear for each item, and send texts telling them that bidding will be closed before an hour.
  3. Some of your items are being ignored: In such cases, make a list of items that may not be very popular among attendees and set the minimum bid price 15-20% lower than the market price. If you still have leftover items, hold an online sale after the auction.

Running a charity auction takes quite a lot of planning and effort. Keeping these tips in mind will definitely ease your process and boost fundraising. Now that you know the fundamentals of how to run a charity auction, it’s time to get started.


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