fundraising auction

As a small nonprofit, you need event ideas that will help you attract a large audience, forge stronger donor connections, and generate revenue to power your cause. Look no further than a fundraising auction! 

A charity auction is a high-energy event that will send your supporters into a bidding frenzy, allowing you to reach and exceed your fundraising goals. By procuring exciting items and creating an engaging event program, you can create an amazing donor experience that will lead to more support for your mission. 

If your organization is gearing up to host an auction—whether virtually, in-person, or as a hybrid—you need a well-designed event plan. With the right tools and strategies, you’ll be in great shape to pull off an amazing auction and maximize revenue for your mission. 

Follow these steps to take your auction to the next level: 

  1. Determine your auction type.
  2. Start preparing early.
  3. Connect with local businesses.
  4. Use a multi-channel marketing approach.

Whether you’re hosting a standalone auction or infusing an auction experience into your fundraising gala, you’ll need all hands on deck to help plan your event. Make sure your entire team—from your marketing staff to your event volunteers—is able to pitch in and support your fundraising and engagement goals. Armed with a powerful strategy and the support of your team, you’ll be well on your way to running a winning auction! 

1. Determine your auction type

To maximize the impact of your auction, you’ll want to determine the type of auction that best fits your event’s goals and parameters. The OneCause guide to charity auctions outlines the following auction types: 

  • Live Auction:During these classic, high-energy events, an auctioneer will present auction items and manage the bidding process. Guests typically place bids by raising paddles, shouting, or leveraging mobile bidding tools to simplify and speed up the process. Live auctions are often more elaborate and hosted as part of a gala.
  • Silent Auction: At a silent auction, your nonprofit displays items and packages on tables for guests to bid on, either by writing amounts on paper bid sheets or by using mobile bidding software. Silent auctions are very flexible and can be easily adapted for any audience and price range.
  • Virtual Auction: An online or virtual auction is held exclusively online through a dedicated website and item catalog. Auction software helps organizations manage the process with built-in livestreaming and gamification tools, while mobile bidding features make it easy for donors to get involved. 
  • Hybrid Auction: Hybrid auctions have both in-person and virtual audiences bidding on items, typically within a silent auction format. Items and packages are on display for in-person guests while photos are featured on the event site for virtual guests. A hybrid auction can help you reach more people and create a convenient giving experience for remote donors. 

Each of these auction types can be adapted to fit your nonprofit’s specific audience and needs. No matter what event format you use, be sure to think through how to create an intimate experience for your valued donors, whether online or in-person. 

2. Start preparing early

Planning the perfect auction doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In fact, with dedicated auction software, your planning efforts are streamlined and centralized—saving your team time and energy that can be reinvested into your event. Prepare for your auction by using these three best practices: 

Assemble a team of volunteers 

Surround yourself with a great group for fundraising success! Form a team of staff and volunteers and designate specific responsibilities for different team members. These responsibilities could include:

  • Technology
  • Marketing
  • Sponsorships
  • Auction item procurement
  • Day-of logistics
  • Supporter engagement

Remember to express staff and volunteer appreciation, as this will help your team feel valued and eager to support your events again in the future. NXUnite’s guide to volunteer appreciation recommends writing handwritten thank-you notes, hosting an appreciation dinner, or gifting your team with branded apparel. 

Coordinate logistics of the event 

After assembling your team of volunteers, it’s time to turn your attention to planning your auction  logistics. Consider elements like:

  • Securing a venue (or setting up your auction website if being held virtually)
  • Planning additional activities, like wine pulls, raffles, and entertainment
  • Preparing your food or catering plans for the event

Additionally, you’ll need to start thinking about the bidding experience and flow of the event’s activities. Ask yourself these questions:

Question Answer
How will supporters register for your event? Create an event and auction site where attendees can register, buy tickets, and bid before your auction. Be sure to mobile optimize your site so supporters can sign up wherever they are.
How will attendees check in and out of the auction? Leverage your auction software to enable supporters to check-in and out from their phones. With the right auction fundraising platform, you can provide QR codes for check-in and facilitate instantaneous check-out, offer check-out time slots, and provide automatic email receipts.
Will you use paper bid sheets or mobile bidding tools? Mobile bidding tools make the bidding process more fun and convenient for your participants. Be sure to orient bidders to its features so they can dive right into bidding.
How long will the auction last? Around three hours is an average duration.
If occurring during a larger event, like a gala, where does your auction fit in? Avoid too much overlap between multiple revenue-generating activities. For instance, don’t close your silent auction during a live auction, or don’t do your raffle winner announcement during your auction close. Minimizing distractions will keep your donors engaged and focused on one fundraising activity at a time.
Who will provide instructions, commentary, and announcements? A hired or volunteer emcee is a smart move. Mobile bidding software also allows you to send push notifications to bidders.

Getting started early will give you plenty of time to decide and adjust your strategies. The most important thing is to consider them now, as scrambling on the day of your auction can seriously impact your fundraising.

Procure auction items 

When identifying appealing items that will inspire bidding among your audience, follow these top tips:

  • Review your past auctions’ performance data. With auction software, you can review data from previous events, such as the average bidding amount and the items that scored the highest bids.
  • Reflect on your audience’s demographics. Insights like your audience’s age and giving capacity can help you select items tailored to their interests and budget. For example, if your target audience is parents, offering items like daycare packages or family getaways would be likely to encourage giving. 
  • Pick items relevant to your mission. Your supporters are passionate about your cause, so they’ll be thrilled to bid on items or packages that tie back to your mission. Get creative! For instance, an animal welfare organization might offer a day of playing with puppies. 

Once you’ve created your item wishlist, you can begin writing donation request letters to businesses, individuals, and other organizations in your area that can help cover the costs or provide an in-kind donation. 

Auction software makes the procurement process easy by allowing you to track what member of your team is responsible for procuring an item, if the item has been picked up from its donor yet, and where the item is being stored before the event.

3. Connect with local businesses

Instead of spending your hard-earned funds on auction items and potentially lowering the profits from your event, rely on support from local businesses. A corporate partner can help directly provide an item or experience or finance a high-value item. To secure a corporate sponsorship for your auction, use these top tips: 

Share Sponsorship Opportunities 

At their core, corporate sponsorships are a way for businesses to support a charitable organization or cause in exchange for financial donations or underwriting.

Aligning with your cause and auction can create benefits for both local and corporate partners, including:

  • Brand awareness
  • Financial incentives
  • Philanthropic reputation

To forge a lasting partnership—one that will turn a one-time corporate donor into a long-term supporter—you need to create a personal message around why the organization is a fit for your nonprofit with a compelling sponsorship proposal. 

Offer Free Marketing

While corporate sponsorships are clearly beneficial to nonprofit organizations, they also offer a unique set of benefits to the sponsors themselves.

From the business’s perspective, your nonprofit can help put products and services in front of new audiences that might be outside of the company’s typical profile, increasing brand visibility in new circles.

Here are a few free marketing offerings to consider for your corporate partner:

  • Include your sponsors’ logos on your event website, direct mail, social media.
  • Create a sponsor page with a blurb about each sponsor.
  • Give your sponsors a shoutout during the live auction.
  • Have your sponsors’ logos rotating on the slides at the event.
  • Promote your sponsors on social media leading up to and during your event.
  • Add a promotional video of your top sponsor on your registration page.

As you pitch your corporate partnership proposal to a business, make sure to explain how these marketing opportunities will positively impact their brand awareness. For example, you can share your donor demographics and highlight how your supporter base aligns with your business’s target audience. 

Ask for Volunteers 

Companies often love the opportunity to volunteer for events that align with their corporate mission. In fact, there are many businesses out there that encourage their employees to give back to their community through volunteer and service work.

The number of volunteers you need is dependent on the size of your event. Some roles to keep in mind would be finding someone to:

  • Greet and register guests
  • Monitor the auction
  • Check out guests and deliver items
  • Clean up the venue
  • Generate buzz in the livestream chat

Whatever your use case for volunteers may be, be sure to clearly outline the roles and set up both job-specific training sessions and a training session on your mission and event.

4. Use a multi-channel marketing approach

A strong marketing plan is crucial for any type of auction—live, silent, virtual, or hybrid. To effectively expand your reach and motivate supporters to register, you need to adopt a multi-channel marketing approach. Multi-channel marketing allows you to create multiple touchpoints with supporters and ensure you are reaching (and promoting) your auction to a wide audience.

Here are a few top tips for creating a successful multichannel marketing approach.

Combine digital and print marketing

Get your supporters onto your event registration page and into the fundraising groove by leveraging these five channels:

  1. Website: Generate blog posts about your upcoming auction, create a strong event landing page, and use CTAs that direct site visitors to register for your big event. Use compelling visuals, such as photos from the last time you hosted an auction or videos of your beneficiaries, to drive impact across your content. 
  2. Social media: Tell your story, share impact, and drive participation on social. Include a mobile-friendly link to your auction landing page or site in your social media captions. 
  3. Direct mail: Direct mail is a wonderful way to engage supporters, whether the focus is on cultivating relationships or promoting your upcoming auction. Be sure to strike a balance between the two when creating a direct mail piece.
  4. Email marketing: Send out an email to your supporters highlighting all that your upcoming event has to offer and where to register. With all your donor information in one place, this is a quick and easy way to promote your event.
  5. Text messaging:  Reach supporters directly about your upcoming auction by using text messaging. With a call-to-action statement, like “Register to bid in our Virtual Gala!” you’re sure to drive traffic.

Monitor relevant metrics for these platforms so you can measure your performance. For example, you should track metrics such as:

  • Page views and conversion rate on your event landing page
  • Impressions and likes on social media
  • Open and click-through rate on email

Monitor key performance indicators to track your marketing performance and make adjustments as needed.

Using these insights, adjust your marketing strategies as needed to maximize your success and amplify your reach. 

Maintain consistent branding

Branding helps new supporters understand your mission, purpose, and goals. By unifying the way you represent your brand across your marketing materials, prospective supporters will be more likely to trust your organization, sign up for your auction, and contribute to your mission in other key ways. 

Consistent branding also: 

  • Increases loyalty
  • Strengthens relationships
  • Optimizes marketing efforts
  • Elevates your fundraising

No matter the size of your nonprofit, creating a consistent brand in your marketing efforts is essential!

Tailor marketing strategy to the channel

We live in a technologically empowered age where individuals are communicating across multiple platforms on multiple devices, from cell phones and tablets to laptops. 

That’s why it’s essential to tailor your marketing and messaging to the different audiences that interact with your brand across various channels.

Here are the factors to consider for each of your marketing platforms:

  • Audience
  • Platform usage
  • Nature of content
  • Algorithm
  • Optimal size and dimensions of images


An auction is the perfect event idea to deepen your donors’ loyalty and your nonprofits’ impact. Whether you’re a small or large nonprofit, an auction is easy to plan and execute with the right preparation, strategies, and tools. Be sure to invest in all-in-one fundraising software so you can reduce your administrative burden and streamline the entire planning process.

About the Author

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.