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How to Host a Charity Auction to Increase Member Engagement

FREE BONUS: Download 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!

Membership programs can be one of the most effective ways to increase involvement in your nonprofit organization. Plus, you’ll have a consistent pool of funds coming in to help your fund your organization’s various projects.

If you’re looking for a fresh way to boost member engagement at your organization, we’ve got a great idea for you: consider planning a charity auction

Fun and profitable, charity auctions are a staple fundraising event for a reason, and they’re one of the most effective ways to enhance engagement in your membership program.

When you know how to plan an auction that’s perfectly tailored to your members, you’ll be amazed at the results! 

We’ll walk you through the steps of planning an auction that your members will never forget by showing you exactly how to:

  1. Choose the right type of auction.
  2. Select the perfect venue.
  3. Procure items with your members in mind.
  4. Organize a dedicated member committee.
  5. Keep members engaged throughout the night.

By following these simple guidelines, we guarantee your auction will be a big hit with your members. Not only will your fundraising results prove it, but so will your member retention rates! 

Before we jump into the best ways to plan your charity auction, your nonprofit needs to make sure your membership program is performing at its best. Learn about the top best practices on this topic with this strategic guide to membership programs by Double the Donation.

Now, let’s begin!

Choose the Right Type of Auction

1. Choose the right type of auction.

So much of successful member engagement relies on understanding your members. Planning a charity auction is no exception!

Before you get into the throes of planning your auction, you’ll need to determine which type of charity auction is the perfect fit for your members. 

By “type of auction,” we’re mainly referring to the big three:

  • Silent auctions
  • Online auctions
  • Live auctions

There are pros and cons to each, so let’s break them down in more detail to help you figure out which might be a good choice for you.

Silent Auctions

As their name would suggest, silent auctions consist of silent bidding on items placed throughout the venue over the course of the event.

Guests place their bids on paper bid sheets or on mobile devices with the assistance of mobile bidding software. Silent auctions don’t require an auctioneer but do usually include an emcee to act as the host of the evening.

Your membership program might benefit from a silent auction if:

  • Your members prefer a more casual auction experience. Since they allow members to bid at their leisure, silent auctions give guests a more relaxed, hands-off auction experience. Plus, silent auctions are more flexible than live auctions and can be adapted to fit almost any member base.
  • You want to incorporate other fundraising activities. Because silent auctions aren’t very structured by nature, they’re perfect for incorporating into other events. From casual school fundraisers to formal major donor dinner parties, a silent auction can be a wonderful addition at almost any fundraiser!
  • Community-building is a high priority. Silent auctions naturally facilitate engagement opportunities among members, since there’s plenty of time and space for mingling. Encourage your members to use your auction as a chance to get to know your organization’s leadership, too!

Silent auctions can require extensive planning, but luckily, auction software can abate some of the hassle traditionally associated with these events. If you’re in need of mobile bidding or auction software, OneCause has you covered!

Online Auctions

Online auctions are the most cost-effective, convenient type of auction you can host. By using online auction software, your organization can set up an online auction site where bidders all around the country can view and place bids on items.

Though not the right fit for every membership program, an online auction might be a good call if:

  • Your members are all over the country. If it’s not so easy to get all your constituents in one room together, but you’d still like to add some auction flair to your membership program, an online auction might be right up your alley!
  • You want to keep the fun going longer. Unlike in-person auctions (which take place during a single event), online auctions can be left open for as long as you’d like. Beware, though: a lack of urgency can deter members from bidding, so you’ll need to work extra hard to promote your auction in other ways.
  • Your auction budget is on the tighter side. Let’s face it: planning an auction can be an expensive task! Online auctions, however, are much more manageable, since you don’t have to worry about finding a venue, hiring caterers, or providing entertainment.

Not only are online auctions fantastic on their own, but they’re also flexible enough to be a perfect addition to your live or silent auction, too!

Live Auctions

The most classic type of auction you can host, a live auction is a highly engaging, entertaining event.

An auctioneer guides the bidding by announcing items and collecting bids from the crowd of participants. To place bids, your guests will use bid paddles or other means of catching the auctioneer’s attention.

A live auction might be the best choice for your membership program if:

  • Your members love active, fast-paced events. There’s no denying the thrill of a live auction! With immediate results and a little friendly competition, live auctions are perfect for members who want to raise funds while engaging with each other in a rapid-fire way.
  • You want structure on your side. Unlike silent and online auctions, live auctions are highly structured, performative events. You’ll have full control over the evening, from the auction itself to other elements, such as seating charts and order of events.
  • No anonymity is no issue. A live auction requires that guests place their bids publicly, on the spot. While live bidding can be great for fostering bidding wars among friends, be aware that some members won’t be as comfortable with it.

Live auctions require a good deal of logistical planning, but if you have the means to pull them off, they’re one of the most fun ways to raise money and get your members excited about your organization.

By selecting the right auction style (or combination thereof), you’ll be able to engage your members in a way that’s well-suited to their personalities and needs, as well as your goals and capabilities as an organization.

2. Select the perfect venue.

Unless your auction is online-only, you’ll need to find a place to hold it!

Since your members are the focus of your charity auction, you’ll want to base your venue choice on their personalities, interests, and preferences.

Not only does your venue need to be accessible to members (i.e., geographically nearby), but it also needs to be a setting that’s naturally appropriate and engaging.

Let’s look at a few examples of settings you might choose:

  • Gala or formal dinner. Perfect for somewhat older, wealthier demographics, a formal auction is best held in a theater, ballroom, or similar upscale setting. Make sure to have plenty of entertainment provided for your guests (and don’t forget to use your auction software to manage the seating chart and other logistics).
  • Art gallery. If your membership program is part of an arts or cultural organization, an art gallery is an obvious venue choice! Art auctions lend themselves especially well to silent auctions, since guests will be able to examine the artwork up-close for as long as they’d like.
  • Golf tournament. If your members love sports, why not host a silent auction in conjunction with a charity golf tournament? While such an event is perfect for an active group of members, keep in mind that the tournament will likely take place all day, and you’ll need to plan with good weather in mind.

If you can’t determine which venue is right for your auction, why not consult your member profiles? Information on your members’ interests, hobbies, and giving behaviors can help you determine the best place to host your event.

When you have a clear picture of who your members are, you’ll be able to find a venue that fits them perfectly.

3. Procure auction items with your members in mind.

If you’ve found auction items that are valuable, interesting, and exclusive, you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many members who aren’t excited to bid on them. But, there’s a way to go a step further and truly maximize your organization’s chances of bringing in major bids all night long.

No one knows your members better than your team does (or should), so track down items that are especially appealing to your constituents. 

Here are a few ways to ensure your members love the items you’ve procured:

  • Analyze your auction history. If you’ve used event management software to host auctions in the past, you can track specific items’ success to determine if you should bring them back (or adjust the price).
  • Know your members’ price range. By studying your members’ giving histories, you’ll be able to get a general idea of their giving capacity on auction night. Make sure your items are in line with your members’ budgets.
  • Procure items in line with your members’ interests. Once again, it’s your membership management software to the rescue! Use your software to get insight into members’ interests, hobbies, and other data. (If you don’t have that information readily available, consider sending a survey to pick your supporters’ brains.)

Your members should be at the forefront of all your efforts any time you plan an event, but especially when that event is geared toward providing them with unique goods or experiences!

Bonus: Need a little auction item inspiration? Check out our exhaustive list of all the best ideas!

4. Organize a dedicated member committee.

Auctions require a lot of planning and preparation. Your staff will likely have its hands full, so why not accept some well-needed help from a group of your members?

The great thing about membership programs is that they encourage involvement from members at multiple levels. No matter how much time your members have to dedicate to helping the auction go off without a hitch, extend the opportunity for their voice to be heard in the planning and execution of your event.

See if your members would be interested in participating in one of the following ways:

  • Event planning. If a group of your members have a knack for hammering out logistics, recruit a small volunteer committee to help out with planning your auction. Especially when your committee is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds and connections to the community, you’ll be able to accomplish much more than you would without the extra hands!
  • Donating or procuring items. If your members are local business owners or have ties to shops, restaurants, or other companies, ask for their help making your event the best it can be by donating their products and services. Even if they can’t donate their own items, you should encourage your members to volunteer on your item procurement team.
  • Volunteering on-site. Not only do auctions require a lot of forethought and planning, but they require plenty of manpower to pull off the night of, too! Spread volunteers throughout your venue to help with registration, checkout, and facilitating any other activities you host.

Members that are able to be active participants in planning your event are more likely to encourage other members to attend. Plus, having a more involved role will help to strengthen your members’ relationship with your organization.

It’s just like asking for your donors’ feedback; when members have a say in how the event looks and what items are auctioned off, it shows them that your nonprofit values their opinions, not just their membership fees. 

By having volunteer opportunities leading up to and during your auction, you’ll be able to put together a more successful event while giving your members a chance to have an integral role in fundraising for a cause they care about.

Keep Members Engaged Throughout the Night

5. Keep members engaged throughout the night.

After coordinating all the logistics and planning a successful auction, there’s only one final step to making sure your event is as engaging as can be—actually engage with your members!

On auction night, it can be easy to lose track of time amidst all of the tasks your team will be on top of. (Luckily, using event management software and delegating to your volunteers can take away some of the stress!)

That said, the most important responsibility you’ll have during your event is to interact with your guests in a meaningful, memorable way.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to make the night perfect for your auction attendees:

  • Use technology to your advantage. Your mobile bidding software can also equip you with valuable tools to connect with your guests throughout the night, like the ability to send text messages to your attendees. You may also incorporate other technological elements into your event too, such as event scoreboards, fundraising thermometers, or a live feed of social media updates.
  • Make a live appeal for additional donations. Take your fundraising potential to the next level by making a live request for on-the-spot donations. If you’re using mobile bidding software, your guests will also be able to make standard donations right on their smartphones. (Not sure what to say? Check out this article for a perfect script!)
  • Thank your guests throughout the night. Always show your guests how grateful you are for their contributions to your organization! Your members have dedicated a lot to your cause, so thank them throughout the auction. Don’t forget to send a personalized thank-you note afterward, too!

The best way to engage your supporters is to remind them how much your membership program values them on an individual level. Don’t be shy on auction night—interact with as many members as you can!


By following our tips, you’ll be able to plan an auction that your members will look forward to attending year after year.

For even more membership engagement tips, check out these additional resources:

Rock your next auction! Take your event fundraising to the next level by requesting a free demo of our world class mobile bidding and online auction software.  Click for a demo!

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