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6 Tips Nonprofits Can Use to Have an Awesome Charity Auction

In many ways, charity auctions serve as the perfect method to attract new donors and help reach fundraising goals. Hosting an auction is far from being a new or unique idea in the nonprofit world, but for many organizations, the benefits they provide can be tremendous.

Whether it’s integrated into a fundraising event or the auction is the main attraction, these are just a few reasons why nonprofits of all sizes love charity auctions:

  1. New constituent prospect acquisition
  2. Engaging local businesses and organizations
  3. They’re a fun way to engage attendees and bidders
  4. Better returns for fundraising efforts
  5. Effective for slow engagement months in Fall and Winter
  6. Offers alternative method for first-time donors to give

The list could go on, but it is worth noting that auctions take time, effort, and know-how to get them right. Check out our six tips you can use to help guarantee your next auction is a good one.

1. Choosing a Charity Auction Type

The first place to start is by considering which of the three charity auction types seems the best fit for your goals, budget, and time.

  • Silent Charity Auctions — Despite what you may think, this is the most common auction type for nonprofits. During silent auctions, organizations display auction items around the room and guests participate by writing their bids on the bid sheet placed next to the item they want. Some nonprofits have even begun using mobile technology so attendees can place bids on items with their smartphones.
  • Online Auctions — Think of this type as the online version of a silent auction. Visitors peruse an auction site with a list of items available, posting their bids as they choose. Supporters participate by registering their credit card information and placing bids right from the item listings.
  • Live Auctions — A room with people raising numbered cards, a man shouting gibberish from behind a podium; these images are probably what you go to when thinking about a live auction. Bidders sit in a room while the auctioneer describes the items, collecting bids and determining winners on the spot. The most fun and engaging, but they also require more effort and planning to organize.

The type of auction comes down to how much you want to engage attendees and participants.

Online auctions are simpler to plan and cost less to implement, but these auctions lend to less in-person interaction and remove the human element of your auction. On the opposite end of the spectrum are live auctions, which ultimately require more spending and effort just as is involved with planning other fundraising events.

Silent auctions typically split the difference between live and online auctions, hence why they are so common.

2. Learning the Auction Process

If you’re new to charity auctions or you want to improve how your organization hosts an auction, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the core steps in the auction process. These are shared across all types of charity auctions, so learn them well to guarantee execution.

  1. Bidding begins — If hosting an online or mobile auction, bidding should have a defined start time; otherwise, you may need to announce that bidding has opened up.
  2. Collect starting bids — Each item will have a determined starting asking price. To encourage early participation, items should be priced lower than their current market value.
  3. Close bidding — 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.
  4. Explain bidding guidelines to winners — 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.

3. Select a Memorable Auction Setting

Just like planning a fundraising event, choosing a venue is extremely important for live auctions. Because of the personal nature of live auctions, attendees will likely be more engaged than they would with other auction types.

The key here is to have a blend between choosing venue that satisfies logistical needs while addressing budgetary concerns. To take it that extra step, you might want to think about choosing an auction setting that will make the event more memorable.

For example, let’s say you work for a nonprofit that hosts an annual event for cyclists. You could host a live auction in a local bike shop to auction off high-end bicycles for these passionate attendees.

4. Assemble a Charity Auction Team

As much as you’d like to think you can pull it off on your own, an auction done well needs the help of team members and volunteers to make it work. Here are a few key individuals and roles you’ll need to keep an eye out for:

  • A recruitment team: This group of volunteers will be in charge of soliciting and securing the items for the event.
  • An auctioneer: If your organization is hosting a live auction, you’ll most definitely need the help of a professional auctioneer. Because they’re so integral to the energy and success of the event, this is a good place to splurge if you can’t find one who’s willing to volunteer.
  • An emcee: If you’re going the silent auction route, you’ll still need someone to make announcements and actively engage guests. The livelier the emcee, the better.
  • Auction spotters: During live auctions, the auction spotters will be those who scout the audience for bids to ensure that no audience member is overlooked.
  • Auction monitors: Auction monitors will walk around the room during a silent auction to make sure bidding is running smoothly. Their main duties will be answering any questions attendees have, talking up items to encourage more bids, and helping to facilitate closing the auction.

5. Choosing the Best Items

Although the items you collect will depend largely on what donors are willing to give and what some are willing to donate for free, it can be helpful to brainstorm about what items might appeal most to your donors.

The best place to start is looking back at any data from previous auctions. If you’ve hosted live or silent auctions in the past, try to piece together the items that generated the highest bids or had the most people interested, and see if you can apply those learnings to new items.

In general, the best items usually satisfy one of the following criteria:

  • They align with your attendees’ interests: It stands to reason that attendees are more likely to bid on items they actually want. For example, if you knew that running was a common hobby for your attendees, you’ll likely want to procure high-end running gear for the auction.
  • Your attendees can afford to bid on them: This requires a deeper understanding of your donors and guests, but don’t select items they can’t afford. In order to see fundraising success, your attendees must have the financial capacity to start bidding.
  • They’re rare or unique: Following the basic law of supply and demand, the more valuable an item is when it’s rarer. Attendees are more likely to bid on rare or unique auction items for fear of missing out.

6. Maximize Revenue with Alternative Fundraising Options

Consider why many retailers ask customers to add on small donations for nonprofits during the checking out process. That’s because these shoppers are more likely to donate in the moments when they’re about to spend money anyways.

Similar to point-of-sale donations, people who attend a charity auction are more likely to be in a giving mood during that time. Additionally, not everyone will win an item before they go home, so don’t let these individuals slip through the cracks. It’s in your best interest to offer multiple donation methods besides the auction itself.

  • In-Person Appeals — Live appeals are a popular event fundraising strategy, so why not try them out during your live or silent auctions? Phone calls and emails are great, but nothing quite beats the impact of requesting donations in-person, in real time.
  • Recurring Donation Booths — Set up a donation booth or membership kiosk that will help your loyal supporters set up a recurring gift or become members of your organization. Be sure to staff your booth to help make this process personal, easy and fun.
  • Partner with Corporate Sponsors — Just like with other fundraising events, corporate sponsors can help greatly offset the costs to host a charity auction. Lower costs to the organization means better ROI on all funds raised during the auction.
  • Charge Admission — It’s unlikely that every auction attendee will walk with an item won at auction. For these individuals, you may want to think about charging admission to the auction, especially if you’re providing refreshments or have other associated costs.

Final Thoughts – Retain Everything

You should now be able to figure out what your nonprofit’s next charity auction will look like, but you may be unsure about how well the event will perform.

The best piece of advice we can give in the area of charity auctions is to plan with all of the above considerations but keep extremely detailed notes. There are a lot of insights you can glean after your auction to garner better results next time.

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