If your nonprofit is hosting an auction fundraising event, it’s important to consider how to get participants excited about bidding on your most valuable auction items. Designing a charity auction catalog will help you do just that!
A well-designed auction catalog not only provides a space for you to feature your items in an attractive format—it also provides essential information about each item so supporters can be confident they’re bidding the right amount on the goods and experiences they want most. It’s also helpful for supporters to be able to browse the catalog at their leisure before the fast-paced live segment of your event begins.
To help you create a catalog for your nonprofit’s next event, this guide will walk through the essentials of charity auction catalogs, including:
- Essential Elements of a Charity Auction Catalog
- Auction Catalog Design FAQ
- How to Distribute Your Auction Catalog
While some organizations hire professional graphic designers to create auction catalogs, it’s easier and more cost effective for most nonprofits to take a DIY approach. We at Winspire want to give organizations like yours the resources you need to design an aesthetically pleasing and informative catalog that helps bring in more fundraising revenue. Download our auction catalog template below to get started:
Essential Elements of a Charity Auction Catalog
It’s common for charity auction catalogs to serve as the event program and include information on the organization’s cause in addition to describing each auction item. Some essential elements of an auction catalog include:
- A cover page featuring your logo, color scheme, and other standard nonprofit branding elements to give the catalog a professional look.
- A welcome letter from your executive director, board chair, or another leader at your organization who can establish credibility.
- An event introduction and agenda to ensure participants know what to expect.
- Your organization’s mission statement and a brief description of how the funds you raise during the auction will contribute to your cause.
- A list of your auction items, each accompanied by a photo and description.
- Acknowledgments, including recognition of your event sponsors.
Remember that the main point of an auction catalog is to showcase the items you want supporters to get excited about bidding on. The item list should be the largest section of your catalog, with the other elements supplementing that section.
Auction Catalog Design FAQ
Now that you know what goes into a charity auction catalog, it’s time to get into the details of designing one. Here are some frequently asked questions about auction catalog design to help you make the most of yours.
Should I design a catalog for every auction my organization hosts?
The short answer is no. A fully fleshed-out auction catalog is best suited to in-person live auctions, as they tend to have a shorter item list that’s finalized further in advance of the event than silent auctions do. Silent auction participants are also more engaged when they’re actively browsing the tables than when they’re reading a catalog at their seats. For a virtual auction, it’s more convenient for supporters to view items directly in the event platform than to go back and forth between the platform and the catalog.
The silent and virtual auction alternative to a catalog is well-designed bid sheets. Besides including the item’s name, tracking number, and donor above the chart where participants enter their bids, add a description of everything the winning bidder will take home. This information is especially helpful when selling gift baskets so the supporter knows what is in each basket and gets a better idea of its value.
If you’re running a silent auction and live auction during the same event, you could add a few of your big-ticket silent auction items to the catalog. Just make sure to put them on a separate page so supporters are clear on what items they’ll bid on in which segment of the auction.
How many auction items should I showcase in the catalog?
It’s generally recommended that you include a maximum of 15 items in your catalog to keep it a reasonable size. Choose the items that will drive the largest bids and really need a description for supporters to make an informed decision about them. For instance, you’ll likely need to list the individual items included in a prize bundle or detail the various elements a vacation package includes.
To ensure you have space to include a photo of each item, feature only two or three items per page. This also provides more space for the item descriptions, although it’s best to keep those concise and use bullet points to improve readability, as shown below.
Should I include the item value in the catalog?
It depends. Some unique goods, such as pieces of art or memorabilia signed by celebrities, can create challenges for auction participants trying to estimate their worth. In this case, listing item values can ensure reasonable bids.
However, it’s best not to include numeric values for one-of-a-kind experiences or perks (such as dinner with a famous person or a park bench bearing the donor’s name) because they often aren’t straightforward in their worth and could be considered “priceless.” Whether to include the worth of easy-to-value items is hotly debated, as not doing so can encourage higher bids, but also touches a gray area of legal compliance if supporters want to claim their purchases as charitable contribution deductions when filing their taxes.
Because this design choice is a controversial topic, Winspire’s auction catalog template includes spaces for item values, but they can easily be deleted depending on your preferences.
How to Distribute Your Auction Catalog
The last step in designing your charity auction catalog is to distribute it to your supporters. You have two options to go about doing this: printing and binding the filled-in auction catalog template, or creating a digital download of it. Which format is a better fit for your event will depend on your organization’s audience and available resources.
Printing your catalog
Print catalogs provide participants with an additional resource and memory of your event to take home. Plus, they’re often easier for older auction participants to use than digital versions.
If you have the resources, it’s best to print one catalog per auction participant, although you should at least have one for every two participants plus 10% more to have as extra copies. So, for an auction with 200 participants, you’d need at least 120 catalogs, although 200 or even 210 would be ideal.
The one downside of print catalogs is that you’ll need to pay a print technician to produce the booklet if you want it to have a professional finish. At the very least, your staff will need to invest time (and printer ink!) into printing out and putting the catalog together yourselves.
Creating a digital download
To save on printing costs, you could distribute your auction catalog digitally instead. Save the final version as a PDF and upload it to the events page on your nonprofit’s website. At your event, display a QR code that participants can scan to view the catalog on their phones.
In addition to being less expensive, this option is also more environmentally friendly and can more easily be distributed in advance as part of your event promotions. This format doesn’t provide the added benefit of an additional memory to take home after the event like a print catalog would. However, many supporters—especially younger ones—will likely appreciate the convenience of a digital catalog.
With the right template and a solid design strategy, your organization can create a professional-looking charity auction catalog that draws supporters in and boosts your fundraising efforts. While the general tips in this guide can apply to any nonprofit, make sure to design your catalog with your organization’s unique goals in mind, from incorporating your branding and mission statement to deciding whether a print or digital catalog would appeal more to your supporters.
The fundraising event experts at Winspire are committed to helping nonprofits like yours make the most of your auctions, including showcasing your most valuable items. For more information on putting together your auction catalog, make sure to download our free template and check out these additional resources:
- 30+ Best Live Auction Items for Nonprofit Fundraisers. To get an idea of what to include in your auction catalog, explore this list of more than 30 live auction item ideas.
- How to Procure Auction Items: The Complete Nonprofit Guide. Discover how best to approach and recognize auction item donors with this guide.
- Bid Sheets 101: Improve Your Silent Auction With Better Bid Sheets. If you’re hosting a silent auction, learn how to create bid sheets that are even more effective than a catalog would be for that type of event.