Auction Fundraiser: Should We Do One? And How?

Posted By Steph Silva

Determine if hosting an auction is right for your nonprofit.



Auction fundraisers can be highly rewarding events. Simplified to the basics: the fundraising organization seeks donated goods and services then offers the items up for auction to bidders. Auction fundraisers come in three types: live, silent, and online. Quite a bit of moving parts go into an auction fundraiser, but the good news is that lots of groups have been doing this for a long time which means there are also many resources.

Let’s answer the following questions:

  1. Should we run an auction fundraiser?
  2. What are the pros and cons to silent, live, or online auctions?
  3. What steps do we take to get an auction fundraiser started?
  4. How do we run the actual auction?

Deciding to run an auction requires some serious thought. It takes time and effort, but the rewards — both emotionally and financially — can be enormous. The buildup to the event gives ample opportunity to engage in conversation with supporters than plan to attend your fundraising event. Many groups find new and unique supporters just by shifting to an auction fundraiser.

Should you host an auction fundraiser.

1. Should we run an auction fundraiser?

Auctions increase awareness:

An auction is a great way to engage and interact with your current donor and potential future donor population. The purpose of the auction itself is to offer goods, services, and opportunities that are bid on by donors. The auction is an ideal vehicle to tell your hero story.

Auctions increase donations:

Items donated at auctions cost zero in terms of financial outlay. Companies large and small have marketing budgets, community support, and philanthropy budgets to help many types of organizations. Corporate goodwill is earned by businesses donating and participating in charitable giving.

Increase donor and supporter pool:

Auction events can be VERY inclusive, engaging stakeholders emotionally by offering unique or one-of-a-kind items that are of emotional or sentimental value. Many individuals only support financially if they receive something (of value) in return. Add an auction to a current event to increase awareness and fundraising potential.

Leverage locally:

Leverage the local awareness of brands for your cause. Promote the names of local donors to garner interest and momentum. Almost all professional sports teams donate to fundraising auctions. Many restaurants (national & local) donate, goods and services that are recognizable to draw in potential supporters, which can build your donor base.

Learn the different types of auctions you can host.

2. What type of auction shall we run, silent, live or online auctions?

Charity auctions provide a fun and interactive way to fundraise.

Philanthropy is easy when goods, services, and experiences are attractive and easy to bid on.

Three types of auctions prevail: silent, live, and online. When used on their own or in combination with another is the key to success. The bidding process itself lends energy and entertainment for the event whether online, silent, or live.

SILENT auctions are conducted at a location and bidding is silent:

Each attendee is assigned a bidder number, and uses that to record a bid on a bid sheet and therefore retains anonymity. Each auction item has a bid sheet placed in front of the goods and/or a display page. Donors bid silently on bid sheets until a set time. When time is called the bid sheets are collected and the highest bidder is the winner.

LIVE auctions are conducted by an emcee or auctioneer at an event:

Live auction tends to be pragmatic and useful for larger ticket items. Multiple bidders will need to have interest in the auction item to encourage the back and forth bidding activity. Live auctions do well when kept to no more than one hour.

ONLINE auctions can reach a much broader audience:

Online auctions add a layer of flexibility for both the auction itself and the the participants. Similar to traditional silent auctions there is a start time and end time, and the bidding process takes place completely online.

COMBINED auctions can be a good mix too:

Using multiple auction types can also lead to success. An online auction can be an appetizer to an upcoming event. An event based auction can include both a silent and live component.

Learn how to get started with your auction fundraiser.

3. What are the steps to get started?

Luckily you are not the first to ask this question. Resources are available to accelerate your auction IQ to genius quickly.

Auction organization is key:

A comprehensive auction auction program should be chosen to fit your needs. Look for one that includes features to organize the process from first donation to first receipt. Look for one that doesn’t have large performance and credit card fees.

Finding donations:

Create a nice procurement letter. A letter to “help the cause” such as enrich the students, fight the disease, feed the hungry, save the animals. Using action terminology makes the donor feel like part of the solution by simply donating goods or services. Promptly pick up donations and remember to send a thank-you note after the conclusion of the auction. There are lots of places to find online auction donation requests.

Go internal:

It’s amazing what shows up when you turn the procurement request internal. Friends, colleagues, and friends of friends are eager to help causes when the donation correlates with their interests. Have procurement letters on hand and ask people wherever you go. The BEST time to ask for donations is while you are making a purchase at an establishment. Have an auction website up and running DURING the procurement process. This leads to credibility, which will make your event an online resource to turn to for more information.

Pinterest boards:

Over 350 pins that link to vendors that donate to auctions. Everything from professional sports teams, entertainment and theme parks to restaurants and big box retailers.

Donation match:

DonationMatch is a matchmaking platform that streamlines how desirable items get in front of target audiences efficiently so both sides win.

Hype and brand the auction:

As the event date approaches, it’s time to promote the auction. A great way to promote the event is with one-of-a-kind, for-a-limited-time custom t-shirts. When those in the group see a super cool event branded t-shirt the 1st question is “Hey, where did you get that?” The t-shirt sale is a really creative way to engage your supporters. When the sale opens, share your fundraising page on your website and social streams. The best part is, Booster has awesome template designs that make it easy to customize. Create a single design or an entire collection.

Learn how to run an auction and post an auction assessment.

4. Running the Auction and Post Auction Assessment

Running the auction:

Running the auction is when all the planning activity becomes public and the auction ‘opens’. Silent auctions require bidders receiving bid numbers and making their bids silently on printed bid sheets. At the ‘close’ the bid sheets are gathered and final bidders are notified.

With a live auction, the activity is not quite so silent. The emcee announces and describes the auction item, asks for bids, and increases the increments till there is one final bidder. A spotter will be required to record the final bid information.

Online auctions let bidders remove the barrier to entry. No need for entrance tickets to the event so the donation dollars can go directly to the auction. The concept is the same except all bidding is done online. Outbid notifications encourage bidders to re-bid which is why the online auctions tend to run multiple days rather than a few hours.

Social media plays an integral part in all of our lives. It’s a simple transition to understand how this applies to fundraising as well. Do not be shy about posting to multiple social streams at least daily (and 2x on weekends). Post at different times of the day including early morning and late night. Be sure to post fresh information with a compelling photo. Instagram is the perfect avenue to tell your story with a picture.

Post auction:

After the auction concludes and the dust settles, it’s time to thank everyone involved in the auction. This means donors, bidders, volunteers, board members, and chairpersons. No matter if a person spent 5 minutes or 500 hours helping, a thank you is always in order. In the thank-you note share your success, remind them to stay connected.

Matching gifts:

Post auction is the appropriate time to remind bidders of matching gifts. Just in case you didn’t know, matching gifts are a type of corporate giving program that essentially doubles an employee’s contribution to a qualifying nonprofit organization. If the donation and your nonprofit are eligible for a matching gift, your organization will receive a check from your donor’s employer. Most matching gift programs will double an employee’s charitable contribution, but some offer matches at a 3:1 ratio, tripling the original donation! The biggest reason many donors don’t submit matching gift requests is that they simply don’t know that such programs exist. Double the Donation is the expert on this subject!

So should we, or shouldn’t we?

Auction fundraising lends to sharing and caring. Look at your audience and ask:

  • Would there be active bidders?
  • Can we energize with different auction offerings?
  • Will we be able to share the auction news efficiently with supporters?
  • Do we want to increase the depth of current supporters?
  • Do we want to increase the breadth of potential bidders and convert to supporters?

Auctions capture a different, unique, and uncommon audiences. This type of organic compassion widens the audience of the mission and vision for the charity or group.

Auctria makes silent, live, and online auctions powerful. Features galore organize the entire auction process from the first day of procurement to the last bidder receipt and everything in between.

No matter what combination or hybrid of auctions are used Auctria makes fundraising easy! Don’t be intimidated, use the expert advice, and remember- any additional funds generated are more than you had the day before!

Now that you've read these fundraising event resources, get started with our t-shirt fundraiser!

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