5 tips for a successful fundraising auction

Auctions can excite donors and raise funds fast, and that makes them an ideal way to engage your base of support while hitting your fundraising goals.

Experienced fundraisers know that collecting key fundraising metrics is a valuable part of any fundraising event. When collected during a fundraising auction, this data can help guide your organization’s future events and greatly refine your understanding of your donor base.

With smart planning and some adaptive digital tools, you can host an online or live charity auction for any level of donor. Thoughtfully planning your auction and considering your exact goals well ahead of time will ensure a successful event that boosts engagement and raises funds.

1. Use targeting in your auction strategy

Segmenting your donor base is never a bad idea. In fact, it’s the first step in targeting your auction strategy.

Depending on the kind of auction you want to host and the level of donor you’d like to engage, you need to consider your organization’s options and tools for organizing and directing the event. For instance:

  • Major donors are more likely to enjoy live auction events. Simplify the entire experience by providing digital tools for mobile bidding.
  • Mid-level donors and members will enjoy live and digital fundraising auction events that foster a sense of community and have lower stakes.
  • Your entire donor base will enjoy online charity auction events, with extended timeframes and a reduced sense of competition.

It’s always important to speak your donors’ language, which includes understanding and anticipating their expectations of any given fundraising event.

The takeaway: Digital auction and bidding tools help you target your charity auction to specific segments of your donor base, increasing engagement and ensuring a successful auction.

2. Tailor your catalog to specific donor levels

Once you’ve thoughtfully adjusted your event strategy and digital toolkit, it’s important that you do the same with your catalog of auction items. Consider these questions:

  • Who are your intended donors for this auction? Just one segment or everyone?
  • Will this charity auction event be live or hosted online?
  • What initially drew your supporters to your organization?
  • What are the goals of your campaign and of this specific event?

Consciously tailoring your catalog to your specific campaign and intended donors ensures your event will be relevant to the interests of those you want to engage. For instance, a high-profile auction might offer items in a higher price range since attendees will be more excited for some friendly competition.

In contrast, auction items for a local school fundraiser need to be suited to a wide range of donor levels. Including some raffle items and events within a more traditional auction would be a great strategy to address this need, and this is why it’s important to invest in versatile school auction software or other tools that can adapt to your needs.

For online auctions, offering items with starting bids higher than your average online donation is the quickest way to lose your donors’ interest.

The takeaway: Offer items that your intended donors will want and can also easily afford. Otherwise, you could alienate your broader donor base or waste your major donors’ interest.

3. Use integrated event software to plan your auction

Using a comprehensive event planning software can make the entire planning process considerably more efficient, saving you time and resources.

For a charity auction of any size, live or online, it’s important that you be able to compile and access information quickly. Keep the entire event running smoothly with functions like:

  • Event website hosting, registration tools, and check-in functions
  • Automated invitation emails and mailing lists
  • Ability to store and process payment and shipping information
  • Online and mobile bidding support

Not only will a strong event management software solution prevent any logistical hiccups in your auction, it’ll also provide you with important analytic reporting that will be invaluable to your future campaigns.

The takeaway: Find event management software that will support online and mobile auctions as well as integrate and process all your data.

4. Consider the broader context of your fundraising campaign

Is your charity auction a standalone fundraising event, or is it part of a broader fundraising campaign?

A larger standalone charity auction is a major fundraising event in and of itself and should be marketed as such. Online auctions and mobile bidding, while also unique events, are a perfect element to configure into your broader social fundraising campaigns.

Think of your different fundraising strategies and the ways that online auction events might be integrated into them:

  • Augment your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Peer-to-peer fundraising pages can provide donors with information on your online auction.
  • Offer special promotions from your sponsors. If your organization is supported by local businesses, offer special discounts or service packages in a special online auction.
  • Use online auctions to promote other fundraising events. For instance, if you’ll be hosting a charity golf tournament, let participants bid on mulligans!
  • Online and mobile bidding tools have made it cheaper and easier to incorporate auction elements into other fundraising strategies, which will boost your overall campaign strategies.

The takeaway: If your overarching campaign involves other digital outlets or fundraising events, brainstorm some ways that an online auction could contribute to overall donor engagement.

5. Promote your auction through targeted outlets

Marketing is an essential part of any successful fundraising event, and it’s crucial to spread the word through channels relevant to your supporters.

Here are some targeted methods that you might use to promote your auction event:

  • A social media campaign to spread awareness among all your followers
  • An email campaign to more specific segments of donors
  • Special promotions or printed material at your other fundraising events
  • A direct mail campaign to all your members

A social media blast would be perfect for a broad online auction event, while targeted email, direct mail, or phone calls might work best for a live charity auction for your more major donors.

Additionally, create a dedicated microsite for your live or online auction events through your event management software or online auction platform. This is the best place to direct supporters for more information and to tease some special items from the auction catalog.

The takeaway: Depending on the type of donors that you’re hoping to engage with your auction event, you should specifically target your marketing strategies to best catch their attention.

As with any fundraising event, it’s important to put as much planning and forethought into your charity auctions and online auction events as possible. This ensures that both your donors and your organization will get something of value from the event.

By targeting and tailoring every aspect of your event to maximize its relevance and appeal to your supporters, you’ll be sure to host a successful auction and reach your fundraising goals.

Joshua Meyer
Joshua Meyer brings over 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as the Director of Marketing for OneCause. Currently, as a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Josh manages all of the firm’s marketing efforts. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.