4 Tips to Procure Bigger, Better Auction Items

In 2020, the audience at special events is changing.

Donors are getting busier. They have been to more and more galas and dinners. As the net worth of Gen X’ers and Millennials increases, the demographics of your audience may be getting younger.

The result: Some tried-and-true charity auction strategies are losing their impact.

Nonprofits need to be more strategic in every stage of planning an auction, and that starts with procurement. What items are you offering, how many, and to whom?

Today we’ll look at 4 practical ways to procure high quality auction items worth the high bids you seek:

  1. Focus on the best use of your time.
  2. Ask your board.
  3. Go after best-sellers (but don’t be afraid to get creative).
  4. Procure the right number of items.

As we get into the nuts and bolts of these steps, the overlying theme is this: How can you turn your auction into a luxury shopping spree?

Focus on elevating your auction, and higher bids will follow. Fall into the trap of offering bargains, and you’ll miss out on a significant revenue-generating opportunity.

If you’re ready, let’s get started!

1. Focus on the best use of your time.

Procuring auction items used to be all about quantity—the more donations, the better. But is this the best use of your time?

Live Auctions: Cater to top tier of spending capacity.

Fundraising galas work best when regarded as prestigious social events.

To position your event as a luxury spending spree, not everyone should be able to participate in the live auction. The value of auction items needs to cater to the top tier of spenders (the top 15% of your audience’s spending capacity).

You and your committee have very limited time to spend on procurement. Use it wisely! Go after high-value, exclusive packages that help you attract and identify VIP donors.

If you can, set an ambitious baseline “dollar value” under which you will not attempt to procure items for the live auction.

One caveat: Exceptions can be made for sentimental and priceless items, like backstage access and one-of-a-kind experiences.

Silent auctions: Assess the scope.

Silent auctions are a great way to monetize cocktail hour and get virtually all your guests participating.

That said, they can take an incredible amount of time to organize—often more time than anything else! Think about all the ways you could be using that time to support your event, such as networking with movers and shakers in the community or finding event sponsorships to cover costs.

Opportunity cost is real, and it can hurt your cause if you spend too much time putting the silent auction together.

Your takeaway: Commit your limited time to securing highly valuable, bucket-list auction items that donors can’t resist (or, even better, aren’t able to get on their own).

2. Ask your Board.

Wondering what types of items would resonate with the top tier of spenders?

Start by asking your board. Board members are high-net worth, enthusiastic supporters of your cause—exactly the type of donor toward which every live auction item should be geared.

Take board members out to lunch or coffee and find out, what are their interests? What do they do for fun? What experiences are on their bucket list? What have they seen be successful at other charity events?

Your takeaway: Find out what would get major donors like your board members to raise their bid cards.

3. Go after best-sellers.

The best auction item ideas suit your audience, work with your event theme, and have a high potential for income generation.

One good indicator of the best items from your audience is past sales. What sold well? Which items were duds?

If your event is relatively new, or you’re looking to freshen up a repeat event with new and buzzworthy items, rest assured there are certain categories that appeal to almost any audience:

  • Gift baskets (for silent auctions)
  • Food, wine & craft beer
  • Electronics & gadgets
  • Red-hot entertainment tickets (concerts, sporting events, arts performances)
  • Exclusive local experiences
  • Travel packages and experiences (lodging, bucket-list thrills, top destinations)

If your trusty annual gala has been declining in attendance or revenue, swapping out your entire auction with brand-new, exciting items could be just the ticket to reviving your event.

4. Procure the right number of items.

Procuring the right number of items ensures you have enough to maximize revenue, without wasting time procuring extra items you don’t use.

Silent auctions

Consider the following:

  • How big is the audience? These days, less is more when it comes to the silent auction. One popular rule of thumb: Offer 1 item for every 2 couples (say, 100 items for 400 guests).
  • What is your fundraising goal? Start with your ambitious goal, then work backwards to figure out how many items you’ll need to reach that goal. Use this formula to project how much revenue you’ll generate from live and silent auction items.
  • How big is the venue? If space is limited, cut back and/or be more aggressive about bundling auction items, rather than overcrowd the tables.

Live Auction

Most traditional galas and dinners put together 7 to 12 premium packages for the live auction, but there are factors that influence where your event should fall on the spectrum.

One example is your geographic location; certain areas of the country tend to include more items than others, and that’s the norm.

Another is the type of event. Golf tournaments, for example, have enough moving parts going on. They typically have just a few live auction items and a more fleshed-out silent auction.

So there you have it! Following this 4-step process, your auction committee has the tools to avoid getting bogged down in the details and focus instead on the most lucrative tasks of procurement.

For more help, click here to download free pocket-sized guides to charity auctions.

Author Bio

This post was created in collaboration with Summy Lau of Winspire. Winspire provides incredible travel packages and luxury hotel stays for charities to use in fundraising auctions and raffles, with no upfront cost. As Fundraising Editor, Summy brings extensive experience in nonprofit development, event fundraising and publishing to Winspire’s semiweekly event fundraising blog, Winspire News.