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Charity auctions are a popular type of nonprofit fundraising events. During an auction, nonprofits raise money through taking bids for auction items and then selling each item to the donor who places the highest bid. Charity auctions can be held both in-person or virtually.
Before we cover more specific tips, let’s review the basics. Here are three types of charity auctions you might host:
Ready to dive into our pro tips? We’ll connect you with the right resources to take your charity auction to the next level! Use the navigation below to read more about how to plan and manage your auction:
Planning and managing a charity auction is no easy task, but the payoff is worth it for organizations that put in the effort! Let’s get started.
We explained the basics of each type of charity auction above, but let’s get into specifics. It’s important that your organization chooses the type of event that best suits its mission, goals, and base of support.
There are a few pros and cons for each auction — silent, live, and online — that can help you determine which type of event is the best fit.
Silent auctions are an extremely popular and effective type of auction event! Here are some of their pros:
There are a few possible drawbacks to silent auctions, though:
Learn more about silent auctions.
Live charity auctions are a classic event and a yearly fundraising staple for all different kinds of organizations! There are a few major benefits to hosting one:
Depending on your budget and needs, though, a live auction might not be your best choice. Here are a few cons:
Learn more about live auctions.
Hosting an all-online charity auction can be a smart move! Digital fundraising techniques become more and more effective each day, and digital auctions are no exception. Here’s why:
If your priorities lie elsewhere, though, you might not want to host an online auction just yet. Here are a couple drawbacks to these digital events:
Learn more about online auctions.
It’s rarely a good idea to dive headfirst into planning a charity auction (let alone actually managing one!) without the right tools to support you.
Any charity auction has a ton of moving parts. Between directing your team, building your guest list, marketing your event, procuring items, and hammering down logistics, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There a few major benefits to working with the right charity auction software from the very start of your planning process:
Provide donors with convenience. Since it allows donors to access many facets of your event online, auction software makes participating in your auction more convenient. When guests can quickly purchase tickets anytime and automate bidding with their phones, you’re sure to see a bigger turnout and more bids!
Charity auction software from OneCause is a perfect example. Look for an auction platform with easy-to-use but comprehensive features:
Learn more about auction software.
There are a few core steps to the auction process. These are shared across all types of charity auctions, including live, silent, and online auctions. If this is your organization’s very first fundraising auction, familiarizing yourself with the basic process now will ensure that there are no surprises later!
Once it’s time for the auction to begin, open up the bidding. If hosting an online or mobile silent auction, bidding will open automatically. If hosting a live auction or paper silent auction, you’ll have to announce open.
Each item is assigned a starting bid amount, equivalent to about 30-50% of that item’s market value. The starting bid dictates the minimum amount that the first bidder can bid on the item. Make sure it’s just low enough to entice bidders!
Each item is also assigned a minimum raise amount around 10-15% of the market value. In order to place the new highest bid, each bidder must top the previous bid by at least the minimum raise.
Once it’s time for the auction to end, bidding will be closed either automatically or manually, depending on the format of your auction. Whoever has placed the final, highest bid on each item is the winner of that item.
By placing the bid, the winner has agreed to pay that amount and assumes full risk and responsibility for that item. Make sure to spell out the rules in your auction program so that bidders know what’s expected.
Your team might already have an idea for where you’d like to host your next fundraising auction. If you don’t yet, no worries! Let’s walk through some of the most common settings and spaces that nonprofits use to host unforgettable charity auctions:
Why it’s perfect for auctions. Galas are large parties filled with many different types of entertainment and events. An auction can easily be incorporated into the program to provide organizations with an extra opportunity to fundraise. Use robust event fundraising software to get every detail perfect!
Who it’s great for. Galas are excellent auction settings for large organizations holding large-scale annual events. They’re generally catered to slightly older crowds in wealthier demographics.
Why it’s perfect for auctions. With excellent lighting and rooms that are meant for displaying beautiful objects in all their glory, art museums were practically built for auctions. Many museums are already prepared to host nonprofit events.
Who it’s great for. If you’re raising money for an arts and culture based nonprofit, this is the setting for you. While a museum will reflect your cause no matter what, it’s especially fitting if you happen to be hosting an art auction!
Why it’s perfect for auctions. School cafeterias and gyms are wide open spaces that provide plenty of room for displaying auction items. Plus, they usually cost little if anything to rent out!
Who it’s great for. As you could probably guess, cafeterias and gyms make excellent auction settings for K-12 schools and universities. These organizations are lucky enough to have a venue right on site.
Why it’s perfect for auctions. During live auctions, guests are usually placed at tables and arranged in a seating chart. The format of a live auction is perfectly conducive to a 5-course dinner setting.
Who it’s great for. Because they can be held practically anywhere, 5-course dinners can be great auction settings for organizations of all shapes and sizes. The atmosphere is up to you!
Why it’s perfect for auctions. Because they’re both leisurely in nature, golf tournaments and silent auctions pair well together. Attendees can go outside to enjoy the tees and browse items when they want to take a break from the heat.
Who it’s great for. Golf tournaments are the ideal auction setting for organizations with an athletic base. With a day on the course, you’re sure to meet your sports-loving supporters where they want to be.
Why they’re perfect for auctions. Awards banquets or honors nights are usually held in a venue with an auditorium. As live auctions are essentially live performances, this setting should be the perfect place for one.
Who it’s great for. Since these types of events vary in scope, they’re well suited to all types of organizations. Obviously, you’ll need to have occasion to host an awards banquet or honors night!
As the concept for your event comes into focus, it’s time to nail down a date and location. You should do this about 9-6 months before your auction. When deciding which venue to book and when, think about how many people will be attending, the ambiance of the event, and your supporters’ general availability.
Additionally, if you’re implementing mobile bidding, test out the wifi and cell reception to make sure the venue can accommodate your software. Use charity auction software that lets you create an event site. You can direct guests here for more information and to register:
For online auctions for nonprofits, you’ll need to shop for online charity auction software that also allows you to create an event site. This site will need to support mobile bidding. Find a provider that offers comprehensive charity auction support for the best results!
Auctions require many hands, and you’ll need a dedicated and diverse team to help the event planning process run as smoothly as possible.
Not only will your organization need to form a team of staff to help oversee planning , but you’ll also need to recruit lots of volunteers to ensure that the event itself goes off without a hitch.
If you’re running an online charity auction, you can probably get away with a smaller team, but you’ll still need people to set up your auction site, solicit items, and market your event.
With a large, devoted team on your side to help with every step of the event, your auction is sure to see success! Within your team of support, each member should be focused on one of these more specific tasks:
Don’t forget one last essential member of your team: the auctioneer or emcee.
Both of these figures are integral to the atmosphere and success of your auction, so choose wisely! You might be wondering what differentiates these two positions:
While you can probably get away with a volunteer emcee, you’ll definitely want to enlist the help of a professional auctioneer if you’re hosting a live auction.
Need help finding an auctioneer?
Of course, if you want to host an auction, you’ll need items to auction off!
Although the items you procure will depend largely on what donors are willing to give, it can be helpful to brainstorm about what items might appeal most to your donors. If you’ve hosted an auction in the past, and you kept detailed records, you can look back on previous years to see which items were the most popular sellers.
If you’re hosting a live auction, you might also want to consider featuring consignment items, which are big ticket items that you only have to pay for if you sell.
Additionally, keep in mind that for online auctions, you’ll need to find items that appeal to people in all geographic locations and avoid items that are too large or heavy to ship.
Charity auction items that tend to perform very well share a few important characteristics. These include:
Start exploring your options by checking out consignment packages! These can give you a great idea of what charity auction items have worked well for other nonprofits:
Remember some key categories as you brainstorm new auction items to solicit. Popular charity auction items typically fall into one of these:
We definitely recommend exploring our comprehensive list of charity auction item ideas. We’ve compiled 100+ of our favorite auction ideas that reliably show results for nonprofits of all sizes!
Click here to see our 100+ favorite auction item ideas!
Now that you know you have all of the essentials for hosting an auction, it’s time to start telling supporters about your event!
You’ll first want to compile a guest list. When thinking about who to invite, consider the size of the venue and who in your donor base has the capacity to bid on your auction items. Then, start sending out invites! If you’re using event planning software, you can sell tickets online to provide supporters with more convenience.
Make sure to include the link to your online ticket page when you send out invites so that donors who want to attend can RSVP “yes”!
Giving guests a taste of your amazing auction items ahead of time is sure to get them hyped up about the event!
If you’re using auction software, you can set up an online auction site to serve as an auction catalog.
There are some essential pieces of information to include in your auction catalog:
By featuring your catalog online, you can continuously update it as new information and items become available. You’ll also cut down on all of the fiscal and environmental costs associated with printing. You can even open up online bidding to host an online charity auction solo or in conjunction with your live or silent auction.
As you move closer and closer to the big day of your auction, it’s essential that you take the time to review your steps. Before moving forward with setting up your venue, make sure you’ve covered all your bases:
Everything ready to go? Congratulations! Most of your planning is over.
The day of your auction, you and your volunteers will want to get to the venue well before the event starts to set up.
During this stage, make sure you also have volunteers appointed to each task and that everyone is clear on their responsibilities. There are a few set-up best practices for both silent and live auctions that you should follow at this point:
Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to enjoy your event! If you’re hosting an in-person auction, the night will go something like this:
Once all the guests are gone, break down your setup, clean up the venue, and celebrate a job well done!
There are a few key steps you can take to ensure your entire auction stays organized from start to finish.
When guests arrive for your silent or live auction, make sure to follow these check-in tips:
Using the right software from the very start will go a long way to simplify the check-in process.
Charity auction software from OneCause, for instance, allows your team to quickly register incoming guests, find seat locations, collect payment information, and more. All this on an easy iPad interface!
Make sure to follow a few essential tips to streamline you check-out process, too! Review these pointers with your team:
Effective mobile software can also seriously streamline the check-out process at your auction.
With instant access to auction transactions, you can quickly match guests with their items. Plus, easily add tax or extra chargers, process live payments, and even split bills between guests.
During your auction, think of ways to boost the donations that you receive. Fun events like auctions tend to get donors in the giving mood, so make sure to strike while the iron is hot!
Here are a few reliable ways to maximize your revenue from an effective live or silent auction:
When making a live appeal, your emcee or auctioneer will ask guests for donations to help your organization reach a fundraising goal by the end of the night.
Guests can make gifts through your mobile bidding software or a text-to-give service.
As guests are submitting their gifts, display a fundraising thermometer so they can keep track of how close they are to reaching the goal!
A donation booth provides guests with a donation opportunity in case they don’t walk home with an item (or in case they just want to give more!).
When you set up a booth, guests who want to donate can do so quickly and conveniently instead of having to wait in a long line at checkout.
If you’re using mobile bidding software, guests can make gifts right from their phones, so there’s no need to set up a booth.
Hosting a raffle can be an excellent way for your organization to supplement the money you raise at your auction.
Take one of the items you’ve received and turn it into a raffle prize. You can sell tickets on your event site, through your mobile bidding software, and/or at a booth during the event.
Just keep in mind that raffle regulations vary by jurisdiction, so check with your local authorities to make sure you’re complying with the rules.
Corporate sponsors can help you increase your auction ROI by helping your organization fund and market the event. Many will even donate auction prizes.
In return, the business will receive additional advertising from your event marketing materials and the reputation boost that comes with being associated with a good cause.
For the best chance of finding corporate sponsors, see if you can leverage any of your staffs’, board members’, or donors’ professional relationships. Be sure to explore their matching gift programs, too!
Since not all of your attendees will walk home winners, nevertheless place bids, your organization might consider charging an admission price.
Many event planning software platforms have ticketing tools that will allow guests to purchase ticket packages and sponsorships online.
You can set multiple ticket packages (for example, individuals, couples, and VIP) and sponsorships to provide guests with more flexibility.
When your team is out soliciting auction items, have them provide donors with the option of buying an ad in your auction catalog. Many businesses will jump on the opportunity for additional advertising!
If you’re creating a catalog online by using an auction site, you can feature sponsors’ logos directly on the homepage.
If you’re printing a physical catalog, make sure to leave the most prominent spots for your biggest sponsors!
See how ticketing strategies can boost auction profits.
Let’s review a few additional concepts of planning and running a successful charity auction. These could have a huge impact on the final results of your event!
It’s important to show off your auction items as much as possible during your event.
Being able to view your auction items in person will make them more tangible and help guests see their full value, resulting in more bids.
The way you display your items will vary depending on which type of auction you host, but no matter what, make sure that guests can see all items clearly.
To maximize bids, be strategic about the order in which you auction off your items.
If you auction off the most popular sellers too soon in your live auction, many guests will leave before the bidding has closed.
Featuring the biggest sellers 3/4 of the way through your auction will maintain interest without making guests wait too long for what they came for.
Emphasizing philanthropy at your auction will help your organization receive more bids.
When guests are reminded that they’re at a charity auction, it puts it into their minds that it’s OK to spend money, since it’s going to a good cause!
On your event site and at your auction, introduce supporters to your organization and tell them specifically how you plan to use the auction proceeds.
If you serve dinner before your live or silent auction, you run the risk that people will get tired and leave before the bidding even starts.
Make sure guests are fresh and ready to bid by serving dinner during your auction instead.
When people can wine, dine, and socialize all while enjoying the auction, they’ll be much more entertained and engaged.
The checkout process can be one of the biggest headaches of your auction if you don’t plan ahead.
Make sure that checkout is as easy and efficient as possible by pre-registering guests’ credit cards.
Leading up to the event, encourage your guests to register their cards on your auction site. For those who don’t register in advance, you should swipe their cards at registration.
Make your auction planning and execution run a little more smoothly by using auction software.
Whether you’re hosting a silent auction, a live auction, an online charity auction, or some combination of the three, auction software can better your event in myriad ways.
For more detailed information on how auction software can help, click here!
One last, crucial best practice for any nonprofit: track your performance!
Your event might be over, but you’re not done quite yet! It’s important to track your performance, especially if you’re going to make auctions a recurring staple of your fundraising events.
Next year will be even better if you can answer these questions now:
The most robust auction and event planning software will allow you to generate a wide variety of reports that will give you detailed insights into your auction items and bidders.
Check out even more auction items best practices.
If you need a software and support partner for your organization’s next live, silent, or online auction, explore all the features of the OneCause suite. See why nonprofits across the country trust us to help take their events to the next level!
Generate a site branded to your event. Promote your items for silent and live auctions, open up bidding for online auctions, sell tickets, take donations, pre-register guests, and more.
Mobile bidding allows guests to browse items and bid from their phones, leading to a more profitable event. It also eliminates the need for a complicated checkout process.
Centrally record all data about each of your items for straightforward tracking throughout the planning process. Group items into packages and auto-generate item numbers.
All RSVPs, ticket sales, and attendee data submitted through your auction site are automatically tracked in the software. Accommodate everyone with easy seating and table arrangements.
Boost bidding by featuring auction items on your scoreboard, and motivate guests to meet the goal during your live appeal with thermometers.
Run a myriad of reports on your guests’ habits, your item performance, and the overall health of your event to make next year even better!
With these key tips in hand, you and your team are ready to get started planning your next charity auction! Whether it’s a silent, live, or online auction, you’re sure to knock it out of the park.
Study up on all the resources and best practices listed in this article, and be sure to continue your research, too! Get started with these additional resources: