FREE BONUS: See our list of the TOP 15 Auction Item Ideas. You can save this resource as a PDF and use it for your organization’s next charity auction event. Make your next auction an overwhelming success!
Summer may be in full swing, but the peak season of event fundraising, fall, is just around the corner. If your organization is planning a charity auction or gala, now is the time to start procuring items!
We often compare benefit auctions to “one night only” storefronts where everything must go. So when you only have 3 to 4 hours to raise tens of thousands of dollars, the merchandise available needs to be top quality, appealing and unique.
Are your items exciting and valuable enough to get donors to bid?
Organizations with an established annual auction can get stuck offering the same items year after year. Unfortunately, those trusty auction standbys—think restaurant gift cards, signed jerseys and donated gift baskets—don’t generate a ton of revenue or ignite bidding wars.
When that happens, events start to stagnate and give off a “been there done that” vibe rather than “exciting shopping spree.”
On the other side of the fence, newer nonprofits often have trouble knowing where to start in the complex procurement process.
The good news: With careful planning, expert insight and some creativity, any nonprofit can curate an amazing auction catalog.
Read on for some procurement best practices, plus links to useful free resources that make the process a breeze.
The steps we’ll cover include:
1. Form a procurement committee. 2. Host a procurement (“wish list”) party. 3. Reserve unusual, exclusive and big-ticket Experiences. 4. Tap networks for donations and underwriters. 5. Utilize Winspire’s wealth of procurement resources.
Auctions can be fairly complex fundraising events, regardless of their exact size or scope. That’s why it’s rarely a good idea to try to tackle everything on your own. Instead, form an auction planning committee to divide and conquer to bring in the best items for your event.
It can be tempting to saddle your volunteer manager, development coordinator or even the executive director of your organization with the responsibility of acquiring auction items. But as you know, in the nonprofit world there’s already too few hours in the day to finish everything that needs to get done.
This task especially requires full and undivided attention. Instead, form a “procurement committee” of at least 5 people whose one objective is soliciting desirable items that cost little to nothing upfront.
Make sure they’re responsible, enthusiastic and ready to quickly explain your event and the nonprofit’s mission at the drop of a hat. Bonus points if they can convey passion or a personal connection to your cause!
Now that your committee is assembled, it’s time for a procurement or “wish list” party to get the ball rolling.
What is a procurement party? Simply put, it’s a fun brainstorming session that leaves your committee with an action plan and list of items to pursue in the procurement process.
Meeting in a comfortable environment will go a long way to fostering creativity and participation. Choose a location that’s both casual and accessible – you wouldn’t want a stuffy board room or conference space to spoil the party. Instead, try meeting at a home, local restaurant, backyard or park.
Nothing brings people together like food. If the party is in a home, turn the event into a potluck or provide fun finger foods or a meal for everyone to enjoy. Depending on the style of your committee, providing beer or wine can help guests relax and speak up. Plus you can toast to the first step of a successful auction!
To start the meeting, review previous auction sales (if applicable) and the characteristics of your audience. Your guests’ interests and what has sold well in the past should shape this year’s procurement.
Give everyone about 15 minutes to brainstorm auction item ideas on their own, then come together as a group to discuss all ideas. Encourage every idea, no matter how out-of-reach or unusual they may seem. You never know what ideas will be inspired.
To help with the brainstorming process, Winspire assembled a master list of 400 amazing auction item ideas. With categories ranging from sports to food & wine, home & garden to travel and more, there’s something for everyone! We highly recommend downloading the free list and printing out copies for everyone at the procurement party. Get the list at https://you.winspireme.com/400-ideas.
Share ideas in a dynamic and interactive way. This keeps everyone engaged and also helps you visualize how impressive (or not) the item would be in your auction. You can write ideas on post it notes, project images or show videos. If you’re considering a consignment travel provider, consider printing out display materials or brochures to present to the committee.
Auction revenue relies on your ability to procure items that are distinctive and high quality enough to attract bids. But it can be hard to know what will work with your audience, particularly if your event is on the newer side.
One surefire auction winner that garners plenty of interest is granting exclusive access to experiences guests can’t get anywhere else. Studies show people are increasingly looking for experiences rather than things. This is your team’s chance to really get creative and make the most of what’s in the community.
For example, try getting parking for a year at a popular event venue reserved for your donors; guaranteed front-row seats at the upcoming high school graduation; or a “Backstage pass” and demonstration from a chef in a local restaurant. When the audience can’t put a price on an item, they’re more likely to bid generously, easily raking in a few hundred dollars or more for your cause.
If you really want your event to stand out, securing several big-ticket items like travel packages, concerts and behind-the-scenes tours is a must.
As mentioned, more and more people are looking to collect memories rather than “more stuff.” Travel has broad, near-universal appeal (after all, who doesn’t like a vacation?), plus some 83% of winning bidders say they budget $5000 or more for travel each year.
This means offering travel at your auction allows you to tap into donors’ annual travel budgets that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
However, the high caliber, “bucket list” items that get the highest bids—like a trip to the Kentucky Derby, The Masters or 5 nights in Tuscany—are virtually impossible to get donated and time-consuming to coordinate.
One no-risk option: using a trip or experience from a reputable consignment travel provider like OneCause Travel Packages managed by Winspire. You don’t pay a dime unless the trip sells for at least the minimum profitable price you set. Once it sells, Winspire’s travel experts handle all the booking details for your donors. An added bonus: Unlike donated items, consignment travel packages can be sold multiple times, quickly and exponentially increasing the night’s revenue.
Click here to browse our list of over 115 unique auction items, ranging from sporting events to wine country getaways, international adventures, award shows and more.
Finally, have everyone on the procurement committee write out a full list of contacts who could potentially donate auction-worthy items or underwrite the cost of a consigned item.
Start with former donors: people who are already invested in your mission. After you’ve reached out to all of them and expressed gratitude for their continued support, compile a list of local businesses, friends, colleagues and more who are not currently connected with your organization.
Don’t forget to reach out to your host committee and board members as well. These well-connected business professionals, politicians and more may be able to connect you to coveted items and experiences (like 10 donated box seats at a baseball game, orchestra seats at a popular musical, and so forth).
To maximize the benefits of standout items like consignment travel, consider asking vendors and individuals to underwrite the cost.
Just like renting the venue, hiring a band or printing displays, sponsors can cover the cost of a travel package so the organization pockets 100% of the winning bid. Sponsors love the ease of underwriting a trip simply by writing a check.
Plus they’ll get recognized on stage in the live auction or have their logo displayed prominently on the silent auction bid sheet. It’s a win-win!
For more information on securing enthusiastic event sponsorships, check out “10 Easy Steps to Effective Sponsorship Request Letters + FREE Templates.”
Bottom line: Leave no stone of revenue opportunity unturned. Nonprofits are constantly surprised at who responds positively when asked.
At Winspire, we are passionate about helping nonprofits raise more money at their fundraising auctions and events. That’s why we have developed a host of procurement resources designed to make the process easier, more efficient and less time-consuming for nonprofit professionals and volunteers.
Finally, subscribe to Winspire News for weekly fundraising articles, guides and notifications of new resources. As an added bonus, you’ll automatically be entered to win a 5-night getaway to Hawaii—worth $1,500—to use in your upcoming fundraiser. Sign up today!
Winspire provides highly sought after, hard to find and unique Experiences for use in charity auctions and raffles. As Fundraising Editor, Summy brings extensive experience in nonprofit development, event fundraising and publishing to the blog, Winspire News. Click here to sign up for weekly articles, time-saving templates and other resources designed to help charities meet and exceed their event revenue goals.