A scene of an auctioneer in front of an audience with a purple overlay and text: "Hosting Your First Charity Auction: 5 Strategies for Success"

Hosting Your First Charity Auction: 5 Strategies for Success


Auctions are consistently popular event choices for nonprofits—and for good reason. From engaging in-person or virtual audiences to encouraging giving in exchange for exciting items, auctions can bring your organization a lot of value, especially when it comes to driving exceptional fundraising results. However, charity auctions have several moving parts, so it’s important to brush up on best practices before diving into your first event. 

While every fundraising event requires ample planning, charity auctions are a full team effort that require procuring ideal items, organizing how you’ll collect bids, and other important considerations. Plus, you’ll need the right technology to streamline the entire planning and execution process. 

To reach your fundraising goals for your first charity auction, follow these best practices: 

  • Form an auction planning committee
  • Invest in auction fundraising software
  • Create an item procurement strategy
  • Market your auction
  • Add gamification elements

With a strong charity auction, your nonprofit will be in great shape to boost revenue, drive supporter engagement, and deepen your organization’s impact. Let’s jump in!

Form an auction planning committee

Planning a charity auction will require support from multiple nonprofit team members, so it’s best to assemble a committee early on to put your event in motion. Your planning committee will brainstorm ideas for your auction, including whether you want to hold it in-person, virtually, or as a hybrid event to maximize the benefits of both

They’ll also be tasked with setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals so you have a clear roadmap for success. For instance, your committee will need to consider:

  • Your overall fundraising goal
  • How many total supporters you want to attend
  • How many existing supporters you want to attend versus new supporters
  • Engagement metrics (number of shares and reposts) for your marketing campaigns
  • How many items you want to auction off

These goals will need to be backed by a strong budget to bring them to life. This will depend on the amount of resources you have available and the scale of your event. Your organization can always look towards outside sources, like corporate sponsors, to assist in your preparation, especially for larger, high-visibility events. 

Delegate these different responsibilities among your planning committee so each member has a clear understanding of their role in the planning process and how they’ll help bring your goals to fruition. For example, you can create subcommittees for item procurement, marketing, and event logistics. 

Invest in auction fundraising software

To save your organization’s time and energy, partner with a fundraising solution that has all the tools you need to host your auction with ease. Keep in mind that there are many fundraising solutions available, so you’ll want to do your research to find a user-friendly platform that can be customized to fit your organization’s unique needs and deliver long-term value with a full suite of helpful features. 

Look for fundraising software with the following essential features: 

  • Donor management. View real-time donor analytics in an organized database to understand donor behaviors and trends. Plus, your organization should be able to customize post-event donor receipts with an added personal touch. 
  • Simplified registration and checkout. Make the start and finish of your auction a breeze with contactless express check-in and self-check-out options. 
  • Mobile bidding. Improve the bidding process by swapping out paper bids for mobile bidding tools. By digitizing the entire bidding experience, you’ll create a better user experience for donors and streamline your event management. 
  • Post-event analytics. Once your auction is over, your organization should be able to receive instant data reports to assess whether you reached your goals. The best tools will also include real-time analytics so you can drive more impact during the event, versus only analyzing performance after!

If you’re hosting your auction as a virtual event, ensure that your fundraising software also comes with video streaming tools. This will keep your remote audience engaged and eager to contribute to your cause. 

Create an item procurement strategy

One of the most important steps in the planning process is securing the right auction items for your audience. If your auction items are a hit among your supporters, you’ll be much more likely to drive amazing fundraising results. Brainstorm which items might excite your audience by using the following tips: 

  • Consider your audience’s budget. If the starting bids are too high for your items and outside of your target audience’s budget, it will decrease the likelihood of your nonprofit reaching its fundraising goals. Analyze your existing donor data, such as the average donation amount, to understand how much donors are comfortable and willing to give. 
  • Choose items relevant to supporters’ interests. You know that your supporters are already passionate about your mission, so offer items or packages that tap into this interest. For instance, if you’re an animal welfare organization, chances are your supporters will be interested in animal-related gifts such as toy bundles for their pet at home. 
  • Keep supply and demand in mind. Auction items that are harder to come by or unique are more likely to inspire bids, so do your research to identify distinctive items that your audience will enjoy. 

Procuring items for your auction can get expensive, so look into alternative sources of funding or in-kind donations from corporate sponsors and donors. For instance, your organization can reach out to a local restaurant and ask if they’d offer a free dining package in exchange for marketing at your auction. 

Market your auction

To boost registration numbers for your auction, you’ll need to lead a robust multichannel marketing strategy. Spreading the word about your event across multiple platforms can help increase your event’s visibility and allow your nonprofit to reach a wider audience. 

Consider promoting your charity auction on the following channels: 

  • Email. In your email newsletter, highlight your upcoming auction along with a link to your registration page so supporters can easily sign up. Send reminders leading up to your registration deadline and before your big event, and be prepared to answer any questions that come through. 
  • Social media. Create engaging visuals – such as a sneak preview of your item catalog or a video highlighting the beneficiaries your event will support – and share them on your social media accounts. According to the OneCause guide to charity auctions, you can also tap influential supporters with large followings to repost your content and draft their own. These online ambassadors can give your organization a leg-up in boosting its reach and bringing in even more donations. 
  • Your website’s blog. Develop articles that explain the goals of your auction and what supporters can expect if they attend. This is a great opportunity to dive deeper into the purpose of your event and help supporters emotionally connect with your cause. You can also use this space to preemptively explain how your mobile bidding tools work.

As you create and share promotional materials, actively monitor metrics such as email clickthrough rates, social media reposts, and page views on your blog. This will help you understand what content resonates the most with your target audience so you can focus your efforts there. 

Add gamification elements

During your auction, you’ll need ways to keep everyone engaged, especially if you’re hosting a virtual event where it’s easy to get distracted. Gamification is the process of adding gameplay to your auction, tapping into your audience’s competitive spirits, and encouraging more bids (and higher bidding amounts). 

Your organization can gamify the bidding experience with the following tools: 

  • Fundraising thermometer. Display a thermometer that fills up as your nonprofit gets closer to reaching its fundraising goal. This is visually appealing, motivates supporters to continue bidding, and can push your nonprofit past the fundraising finish line. 
  • Leadership board. By spotlighting the leading individual bidders or bidding teams, your organization can effectively encourage supporters to increase their bids in an effort to see their name make it on the board. 
  • Countdown clock. Keep your deadline on supporters’ minds with a timer that shows exactly when your auction is over. As the clock winds down, supporters will feel incentivized to put in their last bids and drive your fundraising efforts home. 

Your nonprofit can also keep motivations high by offering prizes to the bidders who donate the most amount of money. For instance, you could give top bidders branded nonprofit merchandise, showcase them on your social media, or even host an exclusive donor recognition event. 

Although hosting a charity auction isn’t the easiest fundraiser to pull off, it can have a huge payoff when done right. Once your first charity auction is over, reflect on whether you hit your fundraising goals and thank attendees for their contributions. According to Kwala, writing donor thank you letters that include personalized details, share your event’s fundraising results, and explain its impact can help donors feel valued, making it more likely that attendees will participate in your next auction. Good luck!