Charity Auctions: A Comprehensive Guide for Fundraisers

What is a Charity Auction?

Like other auctions, charity auctions are fundraising events where guests are invited to bid on items, with the person making the highest bid the winner of the item. But, unlike regular auctions, at charity auctions the items are usually donated for free, and all (or a portion of) the proceeds are given to the charity. 

Charity auctions can be impactful and exciting events that raise considerable funds and can be effective in raising awareness for and engagement with your nonprofit. Auctions are also a flexible fundraising tool that can be tailored to your organisation’s needs. Here, we give inspiration for the different types of charity auction out there and tips on how you can make them an essential part of your charity’s fundraising portfolio.

The Different Types of Charity Auctions

A key advantage of charity auctions is that they’re adaptable events that can be modified to suit your organisation’s requirements and resources. You can apply any theme to your auctions, suiting your charity’s focus and cause. And you can offer a wide range of items to be bidded on, from art and photography to collectable memorabilia, from outdoor adventure experiences to private classes with experts.

When it comes to charity auctions, one of the first decisions to consider is what overall format the auction will take. There are three broad types to consider:

  • Live auctions: These are what most people think of when you say auction – all the bidders in a room together with an auctioneer managing the bidding. The advantage of live auctions are that they’re thrilling, in-the-moment events that can be made to be glamorous, elaborate, memorable nights out.
  • Silent auctions: The items are displayed, then guests place “silent” bids, usually either on paper or electronically, such as via a mobile app, rather than via an open bidding process. Silent auctions can also be grand, impactful events, while silent bidding can be less confrontational and more agreeable for a lot of people.
  • Online auctions: These are held exclusively online. The items on offer are shown in an online gallery with details about each item, and then bids can be placed on the site, or by using auction software. Online auctions allow your organisation to open the auction to a global audience and are typically less resource-intensive to manage. 

Planning your Charity Auction

Success begins in planning. To ensure your auction runs smoothly and effectively, you need to plan it with care and thought. Consider the following vital steps in organising your auction:

  • Choose the right type of auction: Decide on whether your auction will be live, silent, or online, depending upon the needs of your nonprofit and the resources you have available.
  • Set clear goals for your auction: Determine the fundraising goals for your charity auction, usually a specific amount of money you want to raise, that can be used to set expectations and provide a target to work towards. Your goals can also include the number of attendees and the amount of publicity you attract.
  • Choose a theme: Decide on an appealing subject to focus your auction on, usually inspired by the cause of your charity or a specific project you’re funding. 
  • Select a date, time, and venue: Settle the logistics of the event as soon as possible. Secure a suitable location that can accommodate the expected number of attendees and that has a stage area, if required, and somewhere to display the items to be bidded on.
  • Form an auction team: Assemble a dedicated team to help with planning and running the auction. Assign specific roles and responsibilities to each member to minimise overlap and maximise your productivity.
  • Procure your auction items: The success of your auction will depend on what items you offer. Gather a variety of appealing items and experiences for the auction, related to your theme. Reach out to local businesses, individuals, and sponsors for donations in return for sponsorship and advertising opportunities. 

Promoting your Charity Auction

A crucial step of organising your charity auction will be creating your marketing plan. Effective promotion will ensure news of your auction travels far and wide, that interested audiences will be attracted, and that ultimately you achieve your fundraising goals. 

The first step of your marketing plan should involve setting one or more target audiences – the type of people you want to bid in your charity auction. Having a target audience can then help inform how and where you speak to them, including the tone used and the types of media. 

For inspiration on how to promote your charity auction, consider:

  • Creating a dedicated webpage, or even a full website for your auction, with details and links on your nonprofit’s homepage 
  • Leveraging your organisation’s social media 
  • Collaborating with influencers 
  • Online advertising 
  • Email marketing campaigns 
  • Networking and partnering with other applicable organisations, businesses, and community groups 
  • Distributing press releases to engage media coverage 
  • Reaching out to past donors and attendees 

The Post-Auction Follow-Up

Following up with attendees after your charity auction is a great way to express your gratitude and to help forge lasting relationships and support. But it’s also a good opportunity to review and evaluate your event. Ask for anonymous feedback to understand what worked well and what opportunities you have to improve and refine future events.

Conduct a follow-up meeting with your internal team too, to get feedback from the people who helped you plan and run the auction. This will also help you gather further ideas for improvements for the next auction you hold. 

Successful Fundraising through Charity Auctions

Charity auctions can be an effective addition to your organisation’s fundraising portfolio. Auctions can provide your supporters with a memorable experience, the chance to bid for appealing items, and a way for your organisation to connect with donors in a meaningful manner.

Follow the advice we give here to plan and host a well-executed charity auction, and you may be well on your way to helping your organisation cultivate lasting relationships with donors and sponsors, and smashing those fundraising goals.