The Evolution of Auction Fundraisers

This post is sponsored by Auctria

Auction fundraisers have evolved a lot since paper and pencil bid sheets and long checkout lines. There’s so much more fundraising in addition to just the auctioning at an auction fundraiser. Auction teams that offer sponsorships, direct donations, raise-the-paddle or fund-a-need exceed their fundraising goals. Having a better understanding of the audience and new technology can help to boost your auction fundraiser. 

With these auction secrets, you can crush all of your fundraising goals.

Attracting Bidders

The more bidders you have, the higher and faster the bids will rise. One of the best ways to attract bidders and swell participation is to make the auction fundraiser fun! Have some creative activities planned and get some interesting or unique auction items. You could also advertise an early bird discount on entrance tickets. This will help attract early buzz about the event. 

Attract supporters with an exciting influencer. 

Utilizing a keynote speaker is sure to get people excited to come to your event. It’s so helpful to get a speaker with a following already behind them because it expands your audience to their whole following as well. Use this to your advantage as soon as you can. Post everywhere about it, send out emails and do anything to spread the word. When you’re looking for potential influencers, don’t just choose anyone with over a thousand followers. Make sure they truly feel a connection to the cause and can serve as an ambassador for the auction fundraiser. Don’t be afraid to ask them to invite their friends and colleagues as well as potential sponsors. You can upsell VIP tables to really take advantage of the partnership. 

Theme, menu, venue.

Entice invitees with a fun theme, and a desirable venue and menu. Sure you want people to come to your event because they care about the cause, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a cut-and-dried fundraiser. Choose a theme and lean into it in your branding while marketing the event. Use all your current and active communication channels such as email, flyers, banners and social media to continue the auction story. Show as well as tell with many photos and videos of the event location and cuisine.

Attract bidders with interesting and desirable auction items.

An online auction catalog is a must-have to showcase the auction offerings. When you’re starting to gather items, try to understand and figure out what the auction audience will really bid on. If you don’t know the answer, send out a quick survey to stakeholders, board or frequent volunteers and supporters. Examples that have produced desirable auction outcomes are: 

  • Local treasures that are good for your backyard 
  • Local services such as first responders typically will donate experiences that are unique  
  • National products & services that are recognizable  
  • Professional and collegiate team tickets or memorabilia (almost all donate- just ask)
  • Large ticket items like big sporting events and exotic vacations
  • Priceless items and keepsakes that are one-of-a-kind and personal to the group 

Showcase auction items prior to the auction fundraiser in every communication channel where you regularly reach your audience. Do so many times over with fresh messaging. Start marketing the auction fundraiser in advance with save-the-date, then showcase many of the auction items and share the auction venue and food & fun offerings. Use an abundant amount of photos and videos to tell the auction story. 

Attracting Sponsors

Supporters come in a few different forms. Sponsors can pay to partner with a nonprofit within the auction fundraiser. Attendees are also supporters in the short term by bidding on items and they hold long term potential for future participation. 

Asking a business or individual to sponsor an auction needs to also answer the “what’s in it for me?” question. You can recognize your sponsors in the form of signage, acknowledgment on invitations, catalogs, and other collateral and links to the business or banner in the online catalog. Make the level of acknowledgment equal to the level of giving. Maybe the highest level of giving warrants a special table: consider using a different color table cloth or fancy desserts. Bringing attention to the sponsors may encourage more to step up for next year or hop on the sponsorship ladder.  

The event is the perfect segue to share the story behind the cause. What will the proceeds of the auction fund? Tell and show your story to attract and gain attention. Use social media leading up to the auction to raise awareness of both the auction and the cause. Use lots of photos and videos of the auction items. 

Auction Income Boosters

Auction fundraisers are more than bid sheets. They are the perfect venue for raffles and direct donations. Online auction boosters utilize the inherent technology to advance bids faster and higher.

Offering raffles at the event adds to the excitement. Sell tickets at a single ticket price and at a bundled price, i.e. one ticket for $5 and five tickets for $20. Raffle purchasers tend to be somewhat different from the auction bidders, some people just can’t pass up a raffle. Offering a raffle will open more wallets and purses. 

Direct donations, fund-a-need, and paddle-raise all accomplish the same goal. But asking for a donation without an item in return is the truest form of donation. You can dress it up and encourage donations in a fun way with an emcee leading a paddle-raise or fund-a-need. During this phase of the event the charity will usually show or tell a story, present past recipients, make an emotional connection with the audience. Then the emcee or auctioneer will ask for donations. Typically they will start very high (“very high” is dependent upon past experiences or pre-arranged donations). The donor will raise their paddle to signify they would like to pledge a donation at the stated amount. As you can imagine this is a very visual maneuver. The emcee will then drop to the next lower increment of giving, and hopefully, more paddles will raise and donations will be recorded. This will continue until the goal is met and the need is funded or the bidders stop bidding. 

Utilizing a professional auctioneer or emcee can breakthrough auction goals. Firstly, the auction team can focus on their guests to personally welcome and engage rather than having to focus on running the operations. Secondly, it’s a different experience when a person from outside the event is running the live auction or paddle raise. They bring a new voice to auction, tend to be more assertive and persistent thus yielding higher final donations.

Online auctions have unique technology conveniences to boost the fundraiser. In addition to the inherent convenience of social sharing, bidding can be maximized with proxy and anti-sniping features. Employing the use of proxy bidding allows a bidder to insert a maximum bid amount. The auction software is instructed to place bids on their behalf up to their defined amount. Proxy bidding saves time for the bidder to have to respond to each outbid notification and helps the charity raise more money faster. 

Anti-sniping prevents a last-second bidder from placing a bid moments before an auction closes. If a bid is received within a set amount of time prior to an auction closing, the online auction for that item would remain open for an extended period of time, giving the previously outbid bidder the chance to bid again. The additional time lets bids reach the highest pinnacle.

Auction action tip: Mobile bidding at an in-person event moves bids forward swiftly. When using mobile bidding instead of bid sheets, bidders receive instant outbid notifications without babysitting their preferred auction items. The best practice is to close mobile bidding before any key speakers or presentations to reduce distractions. 

Choosing an Auction Software Partner

Auction fundraisers used to be a huge organizational puzzle pieced together with excel spreadsheets, document bid sheets, collections from cash, check and credit card services. Now running an auction fundraiser is not only a utility program but also a fundraiser booster. Ideally, the auction program will centralize the entire process from the first donation to the last receipt and all the bidding in between. Look for a program that can be used by all team members on a web-based platform to stay connected and always up to date. Choose a program that is designed to easily share and promote the auction details, ticket sales, auction catalog. 

Auction action tip: Auction software features should be streamlined so when registered bidders travel through the auction process it is smooth and orderly. 



Special thanks to Auctria for sharing their expert advice. Over 21K groups raised over $100M using Auctria. Our gift to you as a NonProfit Hub reader is the Auctria auction timeline & checklist for both event and online auction fundraiser. The checklist lays out the entire auction to-do list by month to help keep get organized and keep the auction fundraiser on track. Download and share with your entire auction team today.

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Auction Fundraisers

Laurie Hochman

Laurie Hochman has a passion for helping groups exceed their fundraising goals. After using Auctria for many auction fundraisers, she joined the team to help others boost their auction fundraising for many wonderful causes. Auctria has helped 21,000 auction fundraisers bring in over $150M. “The beauty in what is done with the money raised with Auctria is what motivates me every day to help auction teams succeed. Hope all your bids soar!”

September 17, 2019

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