Nonprofit auctions are special and often lucrative events. The excitement in the air is palpable as supporters embrace this form of gamified fundraising, raising paddles and upping bids as they try to secure high-end items or experiences they couldn’t get anywhere else.
However, there’s a lot that can slip through the cracks when it comes to planning and executing an auction. For example, it may take more time than you thought to procure items for the auction. Or, the mobile bidding software you’re relying on might not be as easy to use as you hoped. Even small hiccups like these can negatively affect your event and how much you’re able to raise.
If you have a charity auction coming up on your organization’s calendar, there’s no need to worry. In this blog post, we’ll provide actionable advice to level up your next nonprofit auction, whether this is your first time planning an auction or you’re looking to fine-tune an annual event that your supporters love.
Let’s dive into four ideas for making the most of your next event!
1. Give yourself plenty of time to plan.
According to CharityBids’ nonprofit event planning guide, planning any type of charity event takes a lot of work, but auctions can put even more tasks on your team’s plate. Once you’ve settled on a date for your auction, you should work backward and put deadlines for specific planning steps on your calendar. That way, by the time the big day rolls around, your team is ready to host a show-stopping event.
Here are a few of the most important auction planning steps you’ll need to give yourself time to complete:
- Procuring auction items. To gather a full catalog of auction items that your supporters will want to bid on, your auction item procurement specialist or team will need plenty of time to locate items, grow relationships with item donors, and gather the items ahead of your event. Start this process sooner rather than later—you can’t have an auction without anything to auction off!
- Marketing your event. Getting the word out about your auction will be key to its success. Determine when your team will design and create your marketing materials, as well as when you plan to send them out to your community. (More on this marketing step below!)
- Finalizing event details. For your auction, you’ll likely need to rent a venue, find a caterer, partner with an auctioneer, and secure decorations. If you know your nonprofit will need to fundraise beforehand to help cover these costs, make sure to start this process early as well.
- Designing a donor appreciation strategy to begin after the auction is over. Whether they win your biggest travel package or simply spectate your auction, your supporters should be thanked for participating in your event. By determining your follow-up steps before the auction, you’ll be ready to send out thank-you notes or make calls soon after your event. Don’t forget to reach out and thank those who donated items for your auction, too.
You can never be too prepared for a charity auction. As you determine your timeline for planning your event, be realistic about the time you’re giving yourself to complete each step. Take into consideration the other events and projects on your team’s shoulders, and ask your team members for feedback on your timeline so that you can ensure everyone is on the same page going into the planning phase.
2. Use the right software.
You can make the entire auction experience even better for your donors by leveraging the right tech tools. Especially for virtual auctions where you aren’t in the same room as your attendees, the software you offer your supporters can affect how they participate in your auction and, consequently, how they feel about your nonprofit as a whole.
Here are two tools you should have in your toolbox to level up your next auction:
- Auction Software: The right auction software will include features such as a customizable online auction item catalog, easy online and mobile bidding capabilities, a fundraising thermometer to track progress toward your fundraising goal, and automatic notifications for winning bidders.
- Online Donation Page: While participating in your auction, your supporters may feel inspired to give more to your cause. Empower them to do so by directing them to an easy-to-use online donation page on your website. Your donation page should offer a giving form that is quick to fill out and easy to use on mobile devices. To take your donation page to the next level, embed a matching gift database that your donors can use to check their eligibility and kickstart the gift-matching process with their employers! Knowing they can multiply their gifts without spending any more of their own money will make them more likely to give.
If you’re looking to invest in new tools ahead of your next auction, make sure to incorporate the shopping process into your event planning calendar. You’ll want time to talk to providers, demo their solutions, and make the best purchase for your nonprofit. You’ll also want to give yourself time to learn how to use the tool so that you can reduce the learning curve as much as possible for supporters ahead of your event.
3. Focus on promoting your auction.
The more people that attend your auction, the better. So it’s well worth it to spend time promoting your auction and encouraging people to RSVP “Yes!”.
You’ll first need to get to know your community of supporters. This way, you can market your auction to them in a way that they’ll best respond to. For example, you may do some digging in your CRM and discover that most of your supporters are in their mid 40s or early 50s. Then you would know that promoting your auction on TikTok, where users are generally much younger, might not be the best choice.
Once you’ve studied who your supporters are and which types of marketing resonate with them, you’ll need to choose the marketing channels you’ll use. For best results, you’ll likely want to choose a few different channels, such as:
- Direct mail
- Social media
- Physical marketing assets (flyers, brochures, posters)
- TV and radio ads
With a multichannel marketing approach, you’ll be able to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. In other words, some of your supporters might commit to coming to your auction after receiving a brochure in the mail, while others might not hear about your event until they tune in to their favorite local radio station.
By making informed decisions about which channels to use, you’ll set yourself up to craft promotional messaging that encourages people to act. Meyer Partners’ guide to nonprofit marketing asserts that, to do so, you should strive to tell your nonprofit’s story in your marketing materials. This will inspire people to attend your auction and continue to follow and support your nonprofit even after the event is over.
4. Consider working with a company that offers auction consignment services.
To impress your supporters at your auction, you’ll need high-end auction items and experiences that grab their attention and get them excited to bid, like luxury vacation packages or celebrity meet-and-greets.
However, as mentioned above, the auction item procurement process can be tricky. And sometimes, your nonprofit just won’t have the necessary resources or connections to secure eye-catching items for your auction.
That’s where auction consignment services come in. When you partner with a consignment company, they can give you access to auction items that you can’t get anywhere else—with no deposit (and thus no risk) for your nonprofit to worry about.
If you want to go this route, make sure to explore different providers’ catalogs before making your decision. You’ll want to partner with a company that offers a wide range of auction items, packages, and experiences so that all of your supporters will be able to find something to bid on!
Charity auctions require a lot of hard work and dedication from your nonprofit team. But as you implement these four ideas for improvement, you’ll be ready to take on your next auction and reach your fundraising goal. Happy fundraising!