Chinese Auction Rules: Understanding the Basics for Events

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If you’re like most nonprofit event managers, you’re constantly looking for ways to refresh your events and add a sense of excitement to your donor engagement strategy.

While auctions are a sure-fire way to raise money and bring your supporters together, things can get a little stale if the same auction concept is repeated time after time. Luckily, we’re living in an age where all that is old is new again, which includes Chinese Auctions.

This tried-and-true auction concept is experiencing quite the comeback, and this guide is your key to hosting the ultimate Chinese Auction for your supporters this year.

  1. What is a Chinese Auction?
  2. How does a Chinese Auction work?
  3. How do you plan a Chinese Auction?

What is a Chinese Auction?

What is a Chinese Auction?

If you’re wondering why it’s called a Chinese Auction, you’re not alone. While this type of auction probably didn’t originate in China, it’s unclear where the naming convention comes from. Chinese Auctions can also be called chance auctions or penny socials, depending on where the auction is taking place.

To setup your Chinese Auction, your organization will leverage auction software and mobile bidding to maximum raffle ticket sales and revenue. At a the actual event, bidders buy packets of raffle tickets which are often sold relatively cheaply in packets of 25, 50, or even 100.

All the items that are up for auction are placed on tables or around the event space, with a bucket or jar at each one.

Bidders place tickets in the containers to bid on the items, and the more tickets that they place in a jar increases their chances of winning. At the auction itself, the emcee draws a winning ticket for each item.



Spirit of luck and competition come together to fuel fun and fundraising!


Bidders get excited to snag good deals if they win.


If people really want to win an item, they buy more tickets to increase their chances of winning.


Due to the high level of chance involved, the announcement of the winners is often an exciting, raucous time of any auction.

Chinese Auctions have become the perfect way for nonprofits to host exciting, engaging events for supporters while knowing they stand to raise a significant amount of money.

How does a Chinese Auction work?
How does a Chinese Auction work?

Of course, there are specific steps that will ensure a successful Chinese Auction. A Chinese Auction itself can be broken into two parts: the auction and the raffle.


This stage, of course, is when people are actually submitting tickets to win the items up for auction. Because more tickets mean a higher chance of winning, tickets for Chinese Auctions are usually pretty cheap ($1 or $5 increments) and sold in packages of up to 100.

In a traditional Chinese Auction, bidders place physical tickets in containers. Modern nonprofits, however, can add an element of innovation to their Chinese Auction process by introducing an online auction platform. Attendees can buy tickets online and add these ‘tickets’ to the pot all through an online platform.


This brings us to the second part of a Chinese auction, the raffle itself. Once the auction has run for enough time for all attendees to place their tickets, the raffle can take place.

Traditionally, an emcee will announce the item that is up for bid, take the container and shake up the tickets, pull one at random and announce the winner. In an online auction, the auction software will randomly select a winner based on submitted tickets. The winner is notified via the platform, creating a seamless auction experience.

How do you plan a Chinese Auction?
How do you plan a Chinese Auction?

Chinese Auctions, like other nonprofit events, require a significant level of planning and preparation. Here, we’ll walk through the fail-proof steps of planning the perfect Chinese Auction:


In order to host a successful Chinese Auction, you’ll first need to create an event plan to make sure you’ve got all the pieces needed to execute a success fundraiser!


If there is one thing any nonprofit event manager knows it’s that you can never have enough event volunteers.

Recruit people to help find auction items, prep ticket packages, run promotions, check people in or take tickets, monitor bids, and collect tickets. Also create a volunteer strategy to leverage volunteers on raffle day.


A Chinese Auction is really only as successful as the items up for auction. People will buy more tickets if they really want to win the items up for grabs, so bringing in popular items is key.

Develop your item procurement wish list and mobilize your volunteers to help you solicit items. Ask partners, local businesses, and long-time supporters to donate physicals prizes, gift cards, prize packages, or even experiences to mix it up for your supporters.


Just because you’re hosting a Chinese Auction doesn’t mean you have to start there. Determine if you’re going to charge an entry ticket fee, if there will be an open bar or not, and if you’re going to run other fundraising events, such as a live appeal.

These supplemental campaigns will help determine what kind of software you’ll need for the event.


This brings us to the software investment stage. Nonprofit auction software has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years and is making it possible for event managers to host well-planned, successful auctions.

You can run everything from selling tickets to Chinese Auction bidding to post-event metrics tracking through the right auction platform.


Nonprofit auctions are all about bringing together like-minded supporters in a fun and engaging way to connect them to each other and to donate to your cause. In order to get people there and get people excited about your cause, event promotion should be at the top of your to-do list.

Send emails to donor lists, post flyers at local community businesses, and ask your volunteers and board members to share the event details with their networks.


The day of the event, set up should run pretty smoothly. If you’re taking tickets at the door, set up a check-in station with a volunteer or two that can sign in attendees and even sell day-of tickets.

Arrange your auction items on tables around the space with containers for tickets in front of each item. Give your attendees plenty of room (and time!) to look at everything on display and make their bids.


Like any nonprofit event, you should make a plan to follow up with all attendees and supporters afterward.

Send thank you notes to everyone who bought tickets, donated to various campaigns, and supported your auction.

Not done learning?

Check out our 14 Chinese Auction Basket Ideas for Your Next Fundraiser to rock out your next or Chinese Auction!