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How to Set Up Your Next Charity Auction for Success

How to Set Up Your Next Charity Auction for Success

Due to the pandemic and social distancing guidelines, your nonprofit has likely postponed or canceled its fundraising events. While this was a smart strategy at the onset of the pandemic, as nonprofits and individuals have settled into the new normal, it’s time your organization starts to pivot to the virtual sphere, if you haven't already.

According to Salsa’s virtual events success guide, surveyed nonprofits indicated that 48% of the events that they were moving online were large galas and dinner events. Often, these types of events include auctions, one of the most engaging and profitable fundraisers that nonprofits can host. 

Charity auctions have been transitioning toward the online sphere for a long time. Many well-run events are either completely online or a hybrid of online and in-person events. This means that all of the technology you need to move your nonprofit’s auction online is available and proven to be effective by leaders in the mobile bidding/virtual event space. 

Here at Handbid, we provide tools that nonprofits need to launch well-planned auctions. Having seen many organizations plan these online fundraising events, — and by helping them set them up for success, we’ve picked up on the most effective strategies that nonprofits need to prevail online. That’s why we’ve put together this guide, to help your nonprofit plan and execute a successful fundraiser! Here are a few of Handbid’s suggested strategies for success: 

  1. Establish concrete goals and objectives. 
  2. Invest in effective auction software. 
  3. Collect and procure quality auction items. 
  4. Develop and reach out to a relevant audience. 
  5. Create an event schedule. 
  6. Follow up after the auction. 

Ready to learn more about how to plan a profitable online auction for your nonprofit? Let’s get started!

1. Establish concrete goals and objectives

Nonprofits have a variety of reasons for choosing to host charity auctions. Chances are, you have a couple of different things you’d like to accomplish with your event. 

When you decide on your goals, our recommendation is to first prioritize them, then break them down into smaller objectives. 

Not only will this process help you make plans in accordance with your most important goals, but it will also help you determine what success looks like for your online charity auction. It’s a strategy that works for any event, but it’s especially useful when you’re new to online auctions and virtual events. 

When you’re breaking down goals into specific objectives, be sure to make them measurable, attainable, and time-based. For instance, consider the following fundraising example goal and reachable objectives that an animal shelter nonprofit may want to accomplish with their online charity auction: 

  • Goal: To raise $5,000 to purchase vaccinations for 50 dogs. 
    • Objective: Sell 100 tickets at $25 per ticket to raise $2,500.
    • Objective: Sell 50 raffle tickets at $10 per ticket to raise $500. 
    • Objective: Action items off at 50% more than the acquisition cost to raise $2,000. 
    • Objective: Attain two sponsorships from local businesses to cover event expenses (learn more about sponsorship acquisition strategies with this resource). 

In this case, the nonprofit would make event marketing decisions to attract at least 100 attendees for the event, maximize their use of available technology to decrease expenses, and work to procure an enticing raffle prize that will engage at least half of their audience. 

2. Invest in effective auction software

If you’ve never hosted an online auction before, you’ll likely need to invest in new auction software to make it possible. We recommend both an online auction platform and a mobile bidding app to start. This makes it possible for your attendees to participate in the event from their mobile device, their computers, or tablets. 

When you consider auction software, keep in mind these key features that will help streamline the entire process: 

  • System integrations. Integrations make it easy to transfer data from one solution to another, enabling you to reach your audience and track your progress toward your goals. For example, use your data from SalsaLabs to power your auction using Handbid’s tools with their system integration
  • Push notifications. Notify your supporters when they’ve been outbid or when your auction is coming to a close. This keeps them engaged by using a device that supporters likely carry with them the majority of the time— their smartphones. 
  • Easy and secure check-out. Make the checkout process simple for your supporters, so they can use their preferred method of payment (credit card, debit card, Apple Pay, and more). 
  • Global bidding. Supporters can bid in the comfort of their home, or on the go, with easy access to your online auction. You can invite more guests that would have otherwise not have been able to attend your in-person event. 

If auction software isn’t already a part of your organization’s tech stack, you may also find yourself in need of a prospect research technology, a marketing platform, and other nonprofit software.

After you’ve maximized the use of the software you already have, consider the long-term benefits of investing in other solutions, then conduct your research and think about how new tech can help you reach various goals. 

3. Collect and procure quality auction items

You might assume it is difficult to obtain items right now, considering the pandemic. Rather, we have seen companies and local businesses willing to donate auction items such as gift cards, baskets, leisure and other traditional items found in charity auctions. But be creative! Use internal resources to create unique opportunities for your donors to bid on. 

The best way to keep your supporters engaged at a virtual auction is to procure items to bid on that will peak your audience's interests. This is especially important for online auctions as your guests will not be able to physically browse at your event . 

To choose the best auction items for your auction, we recommend the following item procurement processes

  • Get started early. Remember when teachers in school used to say they could tell when you left an assignment until the last minute? Your supporters can tell too. Starting early helps you secure grander prizes that will interest your supporters and show them that you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into the procurement process. 
  • Analyze your target audience. Your audience holds the key to the best auction items. Consider what will most interest them and find sources with access to those items. For instance, if your audience consists of school PTO members, you may look for kid and family-friendly activity packages like mini-golf memberships or a Disney cruise. 
  • Leverage your existing connections. Reach out to event sponsors first to ask if they have anything they’d like to add to the event auction for some additional marketing. Then, reach out to other local businesses or organizations you have connections with. This gives you a head start on procurement and it may result in some additional discounts!

With tempting and targeted auction items, you’ll find that your auction speaks for itself! While your auctioneer will add to the experience, you’ll be starting with an effective auction foundation. 

4. Develop and reach out to a relevant audience

Just like you want to choose auction items that will intrigue your audience, be sure to choose marketing strategies that will also effectively reach them. 

In your CRM, you’ve likely collected data from your marketing materials regarding supporters’ preferred marketing platforms, the types of messages they’re most responsive to, and personal details that can help you establish your marketing strategy for the online auction. 

AccuData’s data marketing article explains that this type of data can be used to improve the accuracy and speed of your campaign, making your efforts more effective and efficient.

Therefore, to craft an effective data-driven marketing strategy for your online auction, we recommend your nonprofit follow these best practices: 

  • Employ a multi-channel marketing strategy to diversify your promotion platforms. 
    • Utilize multiple social media outlets and target donor lists in your CRM. 
  • Schedule regular social posts to go live on a regular basis — each promoting various aspects of the event. 
    • Think about running an ad campaign for audiences that match your current donor base.
  • Make sure everything is mobile responsive, so supporters can read your messages and take appropriate follow-up action on any device. 
  • Create relevant marketing material to use for your online auction/virtual event solicitation.
    • It is as important as ever to give accurate detailed information on how to connect and participate in the online auction event. 
  • Highlight the differences between in-person and online auctions to set expectations correctly with your supporters. 

Make sure you craft effective messages to reach your target audience when inviting supporters to attend your nonprofit’s online auction. Set the right expectations upfront, so they know what they’re getting into. Finally, amp up excitement for your online auction to set it up for success. 

5. Create an event schedule

Remember what we said about the importance of engagement during online auction events? It’s absolutely necessary to plan out the engagement opportunities for your supporters ahead of time to make sure they’re always looking forward to the “next big thing” at your auction. This keeps them engaged and tuned into every aspect of the online event. 

In order to do this effectively, you should put in some effort on the front-end regarding the planning of your auction event. Here are some of the elements you might include in your auction event schedule: 

  • Welcome activities. Live streaming a welcome message to your attendees to kick off the auction provides a strong foundation for the rest of the event. 
  • Auction timeline. Keep in mind that your auction may occur over a longer time frame online to provide supporters with more bidding opportunities. Ideally, it’ll last around a week or two. 
  • Event speakers. Communicate very clearly about when speakers will be talking, what their discussion topics will be, and how supporters can tune in to the live stream. 
  • Closing activities. Just like the welcome activities, end your online auction on a high note with live streamed closing activities, where you thank your attendees and celebrate a successful event. 

Preparing your schedule goes hand-in-hand with having the best software for your event. Look for nonprofit auction software that will help with every aspect of the event process— from live streaming your welcome and closing activities to the auction itself. 

6. Follow up after the auction

After your auction is over, your nonprofit’s work isn’t done! Following up after an event is a key strategy that’s necessary to effectively steward your supporters, show your appreciation for their engagement, provide receipts or acknowledgment letters as necessary and evaluate your event’s performance with your team and board. 

When you follow up after an auction, consider the following strategies to boost engagement with your supporters: 

  • Thank them for their attendance. This should be the primary message of your event followup. Make sure supporters know how much you appreciate their involvement. Discuss the impact that their contributions have had toward your mission, so they understand the value of their presence. 
  • Provide any necessary tax documents. Look up the state requirements for your state and the receipts supporters need in return for their contributions. These will ensure they have documentation for tax deductions. 
  • Ask for feedback about the event. Asking for feedback has a dual purpose. First, it provides an additional engagement opportunity for your supporters and shows them that their opinions and perspectives are valuable to your organization. Second, it provides material and opportunities to improve your next online charity auction event. 
  • Create an after-action report. Evaluate your goals vs reality and review with the relevant team members on what worked and what could have gone better.

Your supporters appreciate additional communication— the more personal, the better. So be sure to address them by name, use their preferred communication platform, and take their feedback into account for the next online auction you host!


Online auctions can be intimidating if your organization is new to the world of virtual fundraising. By incorporating an effective planning process, you’ll get ahead of the game and make the most of the event. Good luck!

This article was contributed by our friends at Handbid. 

Author: 

Josh Thurmond - HandbidJosh Thurmond has over 15 years of nonprofit and government management experience include and Masters in Public Administration. Before he entered the not for profit sector, he worked as a professional chef. Be sure to ask him for a recipe!

 

Topics: Fundraising