One of the best ways to ensure plenty of excitement and bidding on your biggest and best charity auction items is by showcasing them in an auction catalog. The goal of an auction catalog is to make your auction items as appealing as possible to entice guests to place more bids, thus generating more revenue from your fundraising event.
A well-designed catalog accomplishes this by:
- Creating a shopping experience: Donors are sophisticated buyers. A professional catalog lets you attractively feature your auction items, giving guests the opportunity to browse and discuss them before and during the live auction.
- Educating donors: Guests are going to be more comfortable spending large sums of money on an auction item if they have plenty of information about what they are buying.
It’s common for charity auction catalogs to also serve as the event program and include information on the organization, its cause and the event itself. Here is a list of essential elements to include in an auction catalog:
- Welcome Letter
- Event Agenda
- Special Thanks/Acknowledgments
- About Organization
- Live Auction Introduction
- Auction Items
- Sponsor Recognition
Depending on the size and scope of your event, the catalog can be something simple with only a few pages or it can be far more extensive, with paid advertising space in a professionally designed booklet.
Unfortunately, hiring a graphic designer to create an auction catalog can be prohibitively expensive for most nonprofit organizations... so we want to give you the tools to do it yourself!
[FREE TEMPLATE] Download the pre-designed 100% customizable Microsoft Word auction catalog template.
If you’re going to give it a go on your own, here are a few tips for how to design an effective catalog...
An Auction Catalog Helps You Showcase Your Best Items
Each auction item should be featured with a picture and a well-written description that includes the most important information about an item. Make sure you include the key details a donor needs to be able to make an informed decision about whether to bid and how much to spend. This includes important info like blackout dates, restrictions, etc.
Avoid long, wordy descriptions – most people won’t read them. Keep it short, interesting and use bullet points.
We recommend limiting your catalog to 2-3 auction items per page so you have room to include a good-sized picture and a description with all the necessary information.
How many auction items should I showcase?
We suggest excluding silent auction items from the catalog. You want guests to browse the silent auction tables when they arrive, instead of sitting at their table looking through the catalog.
If you have a few big-ticket items you’re offering in a super silent auction then it can make sense to include these items as well, but you want to encourage guests to get up and browse. Walking through the silent auction encourages guests to be social and generates more buzz about the items when they are seen in person.
It’s also a lot more work to include every single auction item in your event. Adding more items will also drive up printing costs as you start adding more and more pages. Plus, you tend to get silent auction items donated up to the last minute, making it hard to meet a print deadline.
We recommend featuring no more than 15 items, which translates into a reasonably sized charity auction catalog, with only 6 pages of auction items (or 3 pages if you’re printing front to back).
Most live charity auctions limit their offerings to between 7 to 12 items, so that’s more than enough space to feature all your live auction items and then some. Remember – you want far fewer items presented live onstage than in the silent auction and those featured in the live event should be big-ticket items only.
For more see: "How Many Auction Items Should I Put in my Fundraising Event?"
Should I print the item value in the catalog?
There is a bit of a debate on this, but in general we advise omitting the item value. (Our catalog template includes spaces to print the item value if you prefer but can be easily deleted.)
The reason: Listing values can create a "glass ceiling," or a price point in the bidder’s mind that he or she will not exceed. Bidders are looking for deals, and items that have a straightforward value - such as an Xbox or a gym membership - won't fetch as much if they come with a sticker price.
It's also smart to omit values for, as Sherry Truhlar from Red Apple Auctions puts it, items with “a value attributable to the intrinsic worth of the experience”. This includes unique Experiences, sold-out tickets and backstage passes (like “Police Chief for a day” or "Dinner with the Mayor") that isn't available to the public and can’t be purchased outright. The value of these items can be debated endlessly, in which case it’s best to label them as “priceless”.
However, for items that are highly subjective, original or incomparable (like art), bidders oftentimes underestimate the value of the item and bid low. In this case, establishing a retail value helps create a reference point for the item and establish its worth.
How many catalogs should I print?
Print a minimum of one catalog for every two bidders, plus roughly 10-15% more to have as extra copies. So if you have 200 guests, that’s 100 copies plus an extra 20-30 extra to have on hand.
If you have the money, one per person is better.
You can also mail catalogs in advance to arouse interest in registered bidders, but we recommend doing this in a branded email campaign to save printing costs.
Finding a print vendor
The best way to get your auction catalog printed is to find a print sponsor. Do a quick Google search for “professional printing” in your area and start soliciting businesses to see if they will print your catalog in exchange for advertising in the program. If this doesn’t work, try to find an individual donor to sponsor or underwrite the cost of ALL printed materials, including banners, tickets, catalogs, forms, invitations, etc.
Most professional print shops will be able to convert the Word files or handle the finished PDF you produce from our auction catalog templates.
What sort of binding should I use?
If you can, try to get your catalog printed in color with double-sided pages and bound with a Saddle Stitch to produce a booklet. This is the cleanest and most professional looking binding and usually comes with a cover that’s a little heavier stock.
Another popular option is comb binding, especially if you’re printing and binding the catalogs yourself.
If you’re on a shoestring budget, you can easily create a makeshift binding yourself by using 3-4 staples along the left spine of the catalog near the edge of the paper.
All of this and more is included in our free auction templates. If you haven't already done so, check them out!
We'd love to hear what you think! Please leave a comment with any feedback or share some of your personal experience with charity auction catalogs.