If you’re searching for a fun, spirited way to generate some impressive revenue for your nonprofit, look no further than hosting a fundraising auction.
Auctions are popular for a reason. Not only do they boost cash flow, but they have the potential to give your organization and your cause major exposure. Plus, they’re versatile: hold your auction in person or online, in open or silent format. Whatever you go for, it can be tailored to align with your nonprofit’s needs and resources.
Whether you’re the new kid on the block when it comes to auctions, or you’ve hosted plenty of similar events and are looking for fresh ideas, we break down how to win at fundraising auctions every time.
What is an auction?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of fundraising auctions, let’s define exactly what we’re talking about here. Basically, an auction is a big sale where buyers place bids on products, gifts, or services.
The cheerful and competitive atmosphere keeps everyone on their toes and makes for a memorable, high-energy fundraiser.
Types of auctions
During a live fundraising auction, an audience of potential buyers will gather in a venue to bid on donated products and services in real time. Each item available for sale has a number and description associated with it, often displayed in a catalog or in a mobile application.
A professional auctioneer then presents the items and announces bids, starting with the lowest one. Live fundraising auctions tend to be both competitive and thrilling as bidders try to out-maneuver each other to snag the best price for a coveted object or service. Going, going, gone!
Silent auctions are less competitive because participants don’t call out their bids. Instead, interested buyers place their bids “silently,” using either pieces of paper called bid sheets or their mobile phones. If they have been outbid, buyers can opt to raise their initial bid, or gracefully withdraw from the race.
While this makes for a more communal atmosphere, it also tends to bring in less revenue than a live event can deliver. Why? Because trained auctioneers not only keep the auction energy sky-high, but they also encourage buyers to commit to bidding more money, more often. Plus, with everyone looking at you, the pressure is on and there’s more incentive to go for the gold with your bid.
This is a twist on the traditional auction process and can be either live or silent. To understand how a Dutch auction works, take everything we just covered and flip it upside down. Instead of kicking off with a lowball offer and then going once, going twice until an item sells to the highest bidder, a Dutch auction begins with the highest possible price.
Here’s how this might look: let’s say you have dinner with a local celebrity up for auction. Bidding will open at $5k, for example, and then the price gradually lowers until someone snaps it up. The idea is that desirable, high-value items go to whoever coughs up the biggest chunk of change most quickly. While a Dutch auction inspires lots of excitement, it’s seldom used in the fundraising world, so it’s a unique approach that’s sure to put your organization on the map.
While live and silent auctions are exciting in-person events, there are lots of good reasons to go virtual with your fundraising auction, especially in a post-Covid world.
First, you’ll expand your auction’s reach to include buyers from your entire donor base, instead of just those who can make it to the in-person fundraiser. Second, there’s no time limit. Instead of closing the bidding when the evening winds down, your supporters can continue placing and adjusting their bids all day, all week, or all month! The sky’s the limit.
Best of all, it’s super easy to pull off because you don’t have to book a venue, or pick up and arrange items, and buyers can bid from their couch at home. With the right fundraising platform, your online auction will stay on-message while keeping your audience engaged.
Why should my nonprofit run a fundraising auction?
Even though they take some planning, holding an auction is a smart move.
- It’s a win-win for your organization and your supporters. The best fundraising auctions have at least a few truly one-of-a-kind products or experiences for sale. That means goods that folks usually can’t just pick up at the store, like a romantic getaway, a rare collector’s gift, or a meeting with a celeb. Supporters feel like they’re getting a good deal–and they usually are!–while your nonprofit makes a killing.
- It boosts your exposure. While holding your fundraising auction online can engage the widest base of supporters, there’s nothing like a high-energy live auction to inspire your contributors to give. Either way, people are likely to talk about the great stuff they scored while supporting a noble cause, especially since it makes for compelling content for social media.
- It’s a blast. When all is said and done, auctions are just exciting. A spirit of friendly competition keeps the crowd on its toes and everyone feels good about where the profits are going.
How to Run a Fundraising Auction
Step 1: Plan
First, recruit a dedicated team of volunteers and brainstorm together about whether your group can most benefit from a live, silent, or online auction. Each approach has its own pros and cons, so give it some serious thought.
- If you settle on a live auction, a professional auctioneer is critical. If you opt for a silent auction, mobile bidding applications keep the process streamlined and eliminate the need for participants to run back and forth to check the status of their bids.
- If you’re going virtual, enlist the help of an intuitive fundraising platform that’s easy to use. Keep in mind that hybrid auctions are totally a thing, especially if the auction is a component of a bigger fundraising event. Supporters can bid on items in person or online if they’re not at the event, even after the night ends!
Step 2: Procure
One of the most important–and most fun!–parts of running a fundraising auction is rounding up all that glorious loot that buyers will bid on.
- Try to go for a mix of products, services, and experiences. For example, gift cards to shops, salons, hotels, and restaurants, special items from indie boutiques, gift baskets, or concert tickets.
- It’s sensible to have one or two jaw-dropping, investment pieces, a few items at a lower price point, and the rest in a comfortable middle ground.
- Reach out to your network of supporters to solicit donations, from family members to colleagues. Local businesses are usually happy to donate so long as they get a big shout-out at your event.
Step 3: Book
For in-person events, the perfect venue is a must. Whatever your budget, aim for a bit of glitz and glamor to keep your bidders in a charitable mood. Art galleries offer a great space for mixing and socializing, as do local coffee shops and community centers.
Don’t forget music and a cocktail bar to keep the atmosphere light and your guests happy. Consider the size of your audience and don’t forget practical questions, like: where will people park? Where can they leave their coats? Where can they check out and collect their items?
Step 4: Promote
To generate the most engagement for your fabulous fundraising auction, advertising is key. Get supporters excited well ahead of the event by posting on your organization’s website and social media account, selling tickets with fundraising software, sending out a press release to local news channels, and giving sneak peeks of the gorgeous products and gifts on offer.
Tips to Make Your Fundraising Auction A Smashing Success
- Keep it smooth. From collecting tickets, to keeping track of items, to the checkout at the end of the night, make sure the entire process is totally straightforward by making smart use of online auction software for nonprofits. You don’t want frustrated buyers who can’t tell whether they’ve been outbid, or long lines of irritated folks waiting to collect their winnings. Whether people are checking out with cash or check, have all your bases covered.
- Keep it pretty. If you’re holding a live auction, make sure the table displays are elegant, tasteful, and show your products in the best possible light. You’re not going for a garage sale vibe, so don’t have too many options. A few curated, high-end pieces will always look better than a messy collection of random stuff.
- Know your audience. Your products and their price points should reflect the interests and income levels of your supporters. Don’t have blue-collar families bidding on Maseratis, and don’t offer a group of bachelors a day at the nail salon. If you have an audience of book lovers, consider procuring a rare, first edition, antique book. For a crowd of sports fanatics, try to obtain a football or baseball signed by a professional player. While pricing art can get super tricky super fast, if you know that your contributors are serious collectors or connoisseurs, it’s a great idea to invest in the services of a professional art dealer and have your showstopper piece be an original painting or sculpture.
- Have options. Despite your best efforts, there’s always a chance that bidders might not be interested in any of the items on offer. Give those folks the option to simply donate directly to your organization. That way, they can still participate in the atmosphere of giving without having to bid on stuff they don’t want. A fun and easy alternative idea is to offer a moderately-priced mystery box, filled with goodies that appeal across the board – think wine glasses, restaurant gift cards, handmade chocolate, or high-end headphones.
- Don’t make this mistake. Stay away from what the Gala Team hilariously calls “Face Value Jail.” For example, if you’re offering a $100 gift card to a local cafe, it will be pretty hard to convince buyers to bid more than, well, $100. Try pairing it with a fun set of mugs, a bag of third-wave coffee beans, or another experience so that the overall value of the item exceeds the stated gift card amount.
Make the Most of Your Fundraising Auction Experience
Since fundraising auctions are so versatile and engaging, it’s savvy to plan one for your nonprofit, or just include an auction at your next big fundraising event.
Whether you go the in-person or virtual route, RallyUp has the tools and functionality to help you pull off your special event with imagination and flair. Oh, and did we mention it’s completely free? RallyUp guides you through the creation of an intuitive, streamlined, and customized donation page so that no matter what type of fundraiser you dream up, your donors can easily learn more about your cause, share it on social media, and/or donate.