Fundraising auctions allow charities to bring in thousands of dollars for their cause. Auction fundraisers can be in the form of live, silent or online. Because most of the items are donated, the opportunity for raising money is significant.
Today we will explore the different types of fundraisers and how to maximize each type. Whether you're new to the world of auction fundraisers or just looking for a quick overview of best practices, this post is for you.
1. Choosing an Auction Type
A main distinction between types of fundraisers is where the auction takes place. A silent and live auction take place in person, at a physical location. These are often paired with a party, gala, golf tournament or other major event. An online auction takes place on the web with no physical event.
- Silent & Live Auction = In-person auction fundraiser event
- Online Auction = Internet-based fundraiser
Audience + Team Capacity for Participation
All auctions require finding donations and setting up the infrastructure to offer the items for bid. However, the workload increases significantly when adding in an event.
Best fit for silent & live auction: If you have an audience that will attend and the manpower to make a party happen, then a live and silent auction can be a profitable choice.
If your supporters like to socialize and come out to events, a silent and live auction is a great pairing. Again, you'll also need a committed auction team to lead the process and organize all the details that follow. At a minimum, this includes event planning, finding donors, finding sponsors, marketing, day-of operations and wrap up.
Participation need to come from both an auction team willing to take on the workload and an active supporter base.
Best fit for online auction: If your supporters like to support the cause from many locations, an online auction would be a better match. Additionally, if you don't have enough manpower available to put on an event, online is the best option.
Online auctions are typically run for multiple days or a couple weeks. This provides more time to promote your auction and for bidders to place their bids.
Ask stakeholders, both internal and external, in what type of auction they would be most willing to participate and donate time and money. For further reading, see a pros and cons list of each type of auction fundraiser.
2. Running the Auction Fundraiser
Finding Auction Items
Donated goods typically make up the majority of the item offerings. Auction items are almost always donated and thus cost zero in terms of financial outlay. Companies large and small have marketing budgets, community support and philanthropy budgets to help many types of groups.
Donations to local causes are a win-win. The organization receiving the donations turn this into dollars. Corporate goodwill is earned by businesses donating and participating in charitable giving. Organic compassion is derived through goodwill when reaching out and receiving community donations. Donations are increased due the auction activity itself from bidders plus the donors of the goods and services for auction items.
No-risk or consigned items glamorize the auction offerings. Items such as vacation packages, experiences, pop-culture memorabilia and sports collectibles brings attention to the entire event. That said, be sure to choose and use these items carefully. With consignment items, there is a minimum bid price paid to the company from which you consigned the items. Any bid above the threshold is profit for the auction group.
Choose a reputable consignment company that never pressures you to accept anything you don’t want or asks for any payment in advance. Look for a company that works exclusively with fundraising groups and offers unique items not available on the open market.
Start with a solid procurement letter. A complete procurement request letter should include the basics regarding the mission and how to donate. Keep it short and sweet but do use letterhead and personal contact information.
It is likely necessary for the procurement team to follow-up with each donor, as rarely will you receive the donation the moment the letter is shared. Ask nicely when and with whom follow-up can be made.
It’s ok if they say no. Sometimes companies have specific criteria, such as geography or charity type, that they donate to exclusively. Just be polite, say thanks for the time, and move on the next.
Ask everyone. Keep a procurement letter with you at all times. The very best time to ask for a donation in person is when you are transacting business as a customer. When asking locally do so while you are patronizing the retailer or restaurant.
Eating lunch out? Ask for donation while you are seated. Getting coffee? Ask when paying. Buying groceries? Ask when your basket is full. A manager is more likely to honor a request for a charitable and local cause, when made by a current and winsome customer.
Try online donation requests. Many retailers, manufacturers, sports and entertainment venues have moved their donation requests online. This gives the company much better tracking of their philanthropy and makes it convenient for the requester make many requests in a short period of time.
Be prepared by writing your procurement letter before you hop online. Many online requests require additional information for verification such as your tax ID or school number. Online requests tend to have a much longer lead time - some as long as 6 months in advance - and may impose time or capacity limits.
Auctria’s Pinterest boards contain over 500 time-saving pins that link directly to donation request pages for businesses accepting online requests.
It takes a team and a plan to run the auction fundraiser. Auction committees that communicate well together find greater success. The auction team roles can be segmented or merged based upon ability and need.
There are a lot of moving parts to an auction fundraiser, so establishing a centralized communication hub is essential.
Collectively, an auction committee will:
- Establish goals
- Map out overall process
- Define bidding audience
- Refine donor targets
- Recruit volunteers
Here are some key tasks for the Event, Procurement, Operations and Marketing teams.
- Coordinate venue
- Define theme
- Enlist keynote speaker
- Book entertainment
- Space planning
- Vendor selection and management
- Set-up & breakdown
- Auction presentation
- Create great donation request letter
- Secure donations
- Track donations
- Create auction documents
- Follow-up thank you letters to donors
- Promote the event & silent and live auction
- Promote online catalog to encourage early bidder registration, and pre-sales
- Sell event tickets and raffle tickets
- Capitalize on public relations and social media
Operations or Data Team
- Establish consistent pricing
- Work out starting bids & buy-it-now pricing
- Work out the details for bidder assignment
- Manage auction item details and bid sheets
- Manage item details
- Oversee printouts, bid sheets, catalog & display pages
- Manage auction close-out
Promoting your auction
Marketing 101 basics are applicable to the auction fundraiser. On materials such as emails & flyers, the #1 purpose is to grab attention and get the reader to take action. Some tips:
- Use catchy phrases. Be it honest, corny, funny, emotional...elicit a reaction that causes action.
- Create a dedicated website for your event. We cannot stress enough the impact that a dedicated website brings (included with Auctria auction software). A website establishes credibility for the event and gives the auction a place to live online, with 24-hour access to information, registration, ticket sales and more.
- Stay consistent with design. Use the same logo, theme and colors throughout all printed and digital materials.
- Try emojis in emails. Emojis aren’t just for the kids anymore! The open rate for emails that have an emoji in the Subject Line and the preview is statistically higher. If you aren’t using emojis, try out a few to test the open rate for your audience; including emojis in the email title and previews are known click-through triggers.
Social media is the perfect marketing companion for the auction fundraiser. First, answer the question: where do your stakeholders ‘hang out’ socially online? Do they use Facebook or Twitter or Instagram? Spend your time on those platforms, and don’t waste time where they are not.
- Establish social media presence early. Add a save the date to the banners for your social media account or make a pinned post for the auction fundraiser so the information isn’t lost in the fast moving world of social feeds.
- Work efficiently! Optimize your time by scheduling posts in advance. You can practically schedule the entire event’s social media plans in one sitting. If you are posting to multiple feeds, use a social publishing tool like Hootsuite or Buffer.
- Use videos, images and GIFs. Social media platform algorithms like photos, and they love videos and GIF’s. Include these to increase visibility and hopefully engagement. A few ideas for photos and videos include sneak peeks of the venue, snapshots of food that will be on the menu, and auction items. For example, are you auctioning off a trip to Napa? Post photos of the wine tasting, rolling vineyards, the gorgeous hotel... anything that can visually show the auction story.
- Use hashtags. Hashtags increase exposure. Use both common ones that are used regularly, and a hashtag that is something unique to the group or the event.
3. Auction Operations
For immediate and long-term auction success, track everything from day one of planning. "Everything" means donors, donations, bidders, ticket sales, table seatings, all the bidding and all the payment collections. Piecing parts together through spreadsheets, word processing applications and separate credit card services can be tedious and leaves room for human error. Use a program with useful features that is within the budget.
Consider if you want or need:
- Dedicated website
- Online auction catalog
- Ability to print a catalog, bid sheets, display pages
- Mobile bidding
- Integrated credit card for donor payment
- Ability to sell and up-sell event tickets, raffle tickets
- Ability to accept donations online
- Web-based program that can be used by the entire team at separate locations
Look out for programs that try to hard-sell, require multi-year commitment, or claim free but then take a performance fee. Look for a program with a stellar online reputation and a pledge to help the group keep as much of the funds raised as possible.
Fresh Revenue Streams
Finally, keep in mind that auction fundraisers may take a few years to develop. Because there are so many variables that can be offered in the auction fundraiser, variety keeps it fresh and lucrative. Additional elements that can boost the bottom line:
- Honorary guest or keynote speaker (boosts ticket sales)
- Fund-a-need, paddle raise, or give from the heart
- VIP table sales
Team members may come and go, and that’s okay. In fact, fresh ideas are good. Bidders energized by the auction offerings will share the auction news with friends and family, increasing the breadth of potential bidders (i.e. donors). This type of organic compassion widens the audience of the mission and vision for the charity or group, for years to come.
Special thanks to Auctria for sharing their expert advice that has been accumulated since 2011 and helping groups run over 21,000 auction fundraisers. Connect with Auctria on Facebook, Follow on Twitter and Save pins on Pinterest for fresh tips.