Tips to improving your charity auction

Later this morning, I am facilitating a discussion among some non-profit professionals about how to improve your auction fundraiser event. I am apparently itching to get this conversation underway. So, I thought it might be fun to start it online with the DonorDreams blog community. I suspect that I also have auctions on my mind because a number of local charities that I support are gearing up for their 2013 auction fundraising events right now, and I see them working hard at securing donations.

Let me first start by saying that I am not an auction expert, but I attend a number of these type of events and can speak to the issue from a donor’s perspective. In my experience, I am spending money when:

  1. The mood in the room is fun, and I am surrounded by friends who are bidding.
  2. There are auction items that I find appealing.
  3. Alcohol helps open my wallet.
  4. The check-out procedure appears to be easy and hassle-free (e.g. I won’t have to stand in long lines to check-out if I win my bids)
  5. I can bid on a project to directly support the charity (e.g. underwrite a scholarship for a year, purchase a mattress for the homeless shelter, etc)

Here are a few things that I’ve seen fundraising professionals do to support the things I just mentioned:

  • Survey last year’s participants well in advance of the event to get an idea of what types of items that want to see in the auction.
  • Latch onto an event theme and use it throughout the event to create a sense of fun.
  • Offer both a live and silent auction format.
  • Don’t close the silent auction until AFTER the live auction is done. This way people who lost their live auction bids and still have cash in their wallet can still invest it in winning their silent auction bids.
  • Use auction software to automate the check-in and check-out procedures. Integrate other technology into the auction (e.g. electronic bidding) in order to add a new wrinkle.
  • Keep the theme focused on the auction (e.g. don’t mix-and-match your themes such as an awards dinner and auction).

As I always say at the end of my blog posts, “We can all learn from each other.”  Please take a moment this morning to answer one of the following questions (I plan on using these same questions to start my roundtable discussion off on the right foot this morning):

  • What is your check-in and check-out procedures (and what role does accepting credit cards in advance play in that process)?
  • What best practices have you seen used with “silent auctions” vs “live auctions” that can help drive revenue?
  • What kinds of policies do you have around alcohol and getting your bidding public “liquored up”?
  • What kind of data do you collect and how do you use it from year-to-year to drive revenue? How does it line up with pre-event engagement strategies?

I recently bumped into Dave Naffziger’s Blog and I think his post on “How to run a successful charity auction” is one of the better ones that I’ve recently seen. You may want to go check it out.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Eric, we just concluded our Auction a couple of weeks ago and decided to try the elctronic bids with texting. to my amazment it worked really well. This auction is over thirthy years old, and making such a change was worrysome, but it did work. We netted $330,000, which was our goal, and we have not made goal in the previous four years.

    1. Bob . . . thanks for the feedback! In my meeting yesterday with a group of ExDir’s, we talked about electronic bidding and injecting technology into an auction, but no one had really played with it yet. Thanks for weigh-in, and congratulations on hitting goal!

  2. I think success can come in having some of your first couple items “pre-sold”. To me this is setting the tone that people aren’t there to get a deal and looking to get some cash into the hands of the organization. Its the same when it comes to the “fund a need” if you know one of the first bidders will sponsor multiples, people are more likely to sponsor more than just 1 as well.

    1. Ryan . . . first and foremost, thank you for your comment. If I am not mistaken, I think this is your first time making a comment. I am honored that you’ve joined the conversation. Sincerely, Thank You!!!

      I have spoken with a number of folks who “chum the waters” prior to their event. It is absolutely a best practice and sets a tone.

      Nice comment. Thanks for sharing. I hope to see much more of you around here. 🙂

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