fundraising auction

As a nonprofit professional, what you do matters, from overseeing volunteers to running an fundraising auction. And the time you spend planning, marketing, and executing a fundraising campaign needs to be time well spent!

The good news is, there’s more fundraising optionality than ever before…

  • Fundraising Events
  • Online Donations
  • Peer-to-Peer
  • DIY Fundraising
  • Text-to-Give

But how do you know what fundraising strategy is right for you?

Nonprofits of all shapes and sizes are continuing to take advantage of charity auctions – a tried and true way of attracting a large audience, forging stronger donor connections, and generating a lot of revenue.

Charity auctions (whether live, silent, virtual, or hybrid) are fundraising events in which guests bid to win auction items and packages. The highest bid wins the item, and the nonprofit receives the proceeds. A win-win! These are highly engaging events that lay the groundwork for long-term engagement with donors.

If your organization is planning to host a fundraising auction or is looking for ways to adapt your auction strategies for a virtual setting, you’ve come to the right place. Auctions are an extremely effective way to raise money and engage your supporters. They do, however, require an investment of your time and resources to really pay off.

At OneCause, we’ve helped hundreds of organizations raise more with fundraising auctions. In this guide, we’ll walk through all the essentials you’ll need to become an auction pro, no matter the size of your nonprofit or your team. We’ll dive into 4 tips and tricks:

  1. Determine your auction type.
  2. Start preparing early.
  3. Connect with local businesses.
  4. Use a multi-channel marketing approach.

Let’s get started!

fundraising auction

To maximize the impact of your auction, you’ll want to determine the type of auction that best compliments your event. Here’s a quick rundown on the 4 most popular types of auctions.

Live Auction 

During these classic, high-energy events, an auctioneer will present auction items and manage the bidding process. Guests typically place bids by raising paddles or shouting, but mobile bidding tools can simplify and speed up the process. Live auctions are often more elaborate and hosted as part of a gala.

Silent Auction 

At a silent auction, your nonprofit displays items and packages on tables for guests to bid on, either by writing amounts on paper bid sheets or by using Mobile Bidding software. Nonprofits that use Mobile Bidding software over bid sheets typically see a higher number of bids and silent auction proceeds. Silent auctions are very flexible and can be easily adapted for any audience and price range.

Virtual Auction

An online or virtual auction is held exclusively online through a dedicated website and item catalog. Auction software helps organizations manage the process while mobile bidding features make it easy for donors to get involved. With the right solution, the logistics of virtual auctions are much simpler than in-person auctions.

Hybrid Auction 

Hybrid auctions have both in-person and virtual audiences bidding on items, typically within a silent auction format. Items and packages are on display for in-person guests while photos are featured on the event site for virtual guests. While this can create additional work for nonprofits, the benefit of reaching a wider audience with a hybrid auction is very appealing.

fundraising auction

Planning the perfect auction doesn’t have to be a daunting task! In fact, with charity auction software, your planning efforts are automated and centralized – saving your team time and hassle!

It’s important to get started early. By planning ahead, you can spread your planning out over multiple months while still working on other plans and initiatives to power your mission.

We’ll even let you in on the secret to planning a charity auction…don’t waste time transferring data, switching between platforms, or consulting various information sources! With OneCause, you can promote your auction, manage your items, sell tickets, and get the bids rolling in early and often.

With less time spent on planning your online auction, you can focus on the things that matter – engaging with your donors and fundraising for your mission. Let’s dive into three of the essential steps to planning your auction.

Assemble a team of volunteers 

Surround yourself with a great group for fundraising success! Form a team of staff and volunteers and designate specific responsibilities for different team members. These responsibilities could include:

  • Technology
  • Marketing
  • Sponsorships
  • Auction item procurement

Coordinate logistics of the event 

After assembling your team of volunteers, it’s time to turn your attention to planning your fundraising auction logistics. Consider elements like:

  • Securing a venue (or setting up your auction website if being held virtually).
  • Planning additional activities, like wine pulls, raffles, and entertainment.
  • Preparing your food or catering plans for the event

Additionally, you’ll need to start thinking about the bidding experience and flow of the event’s activities. Ask yourself these questions:

Question Answer
How will supporters register for your event? We’ll cover event registration in the next step.
How will attendees check into the auction? Make sure you have hardware (like a tablet) that can save payment information in person.
How will attendees check-out and collect the auction items they won? Pre-registered payment information streamlines the registration and checkout process.
Will you use paper bid sheets or mobile bidding tools? If using mobile bidding software, how will you orient bidders to its features?
How long will the auction last? Around three hours is an average duration.
If occurring during a larger event, like a gala, where does your auction fit in? Avoid too much overlap between two revenue-generating activities. For instance, don’t close your silent auction during a live auction. This distraction will hurt engagement on both fronts.
Who will provide instructions, commentary, and announcements? A hired or volunteer emcee with a wireless mic is a smart move. Mobile bidding software also allows you to send push notifications to bidders.

Getting started early will give you plenty of time to decide and adjust your strategies. The most important thing is to consider them now, as scrambling on the day of your auction can seriously impact your fundraising.

Procure auction items 

Your online fundraising auction is only as successful as the quality of your auction items. The best items for a charity auction will appeal to your demographic. Think: What kind of auction items would my donor base be excited about?

When identifying the best items to procure, follow these top tips:

  • Review your past auction’s performance. With online auction software, data from previous events will be invaluable for guiding your procurement process.
    • What types of items were popular?
    • What types of items only had few bids?
  • Use donation request letters. Using donation request letters when soliciting items for your school auctions is a smart way to save your team time, give them a solid framework to expand on, and simplify the donation process.
  • Get creative! Your offerings need to be unique and interesting to draw as much attention and competition as possible. Get creative with your procurement team!

Online auction software makes it easy by allowing you to track what member of your team is responsible for procuring an item, if the item has been picked up from its donor yet, and where the item is being stored before the event.

But how do you procure the best auction items for your event? That leads us to our next tip!

fundraising auction

Although most companies know that aligning their business models with charitable causes is a good way to improve brand image, securing corporate sponsorships isn’t always easy.

Here are 3 ways to connect with local businesses to create an auction win-win for them and your mission.

Share Sponsorship Opportunities 

At their core, corporate sponsorships are a way for businesses to align themselves with a charitable organization or cause in exchange for financial donations or support.

From tax incentives that appeal to c-level executives to engaging team-building opportunities for employees, corporations gain serious perks when they become corporate sponsors for nonprofits, including:

  • Brand awareness
  • Financial incentives
  • Corporate reputation

Keep in mind though that corporations are approached by dozens (if not hundreds) of nonprofits every single year to receive support (either financial or underwriting). To forge a lasting partnership – one that will turn a one-time corporate donor into a long-term supporter – you need to create a personal message around why the organization is a fit for your nonprofit.

Offer Free Marketing 

While corporate sponsorships are clearly beneficial to nonprofit organizations, they also offer a unique set of benefits to the sponsors themselves.

Sponsoring a nonprofit organization can help increase brand awareness of a business. They also put products and services in front of new audiences that might be outside of the company’s typical profile, and help increase brand awareness in new circles.

Here are a few free marketing offerings to consider:

  • Include your sponsors’ logos on your event website, direct mail, social media.
  • Create a sponsor page with a blurb about each sponsor.
  • Give your sponsors a shoutout during the live auction.
  • Have your sponsors’ logos rotating on the slides at the event.
  • Promote your sponsors on social media leading up to and during your event.
  • Add a promotional video of your top sponsor on your registration page

Sponsoring a nonprofit event can help consumers associate a brand name with a specific cause – or at least with corporate social responsibility.

Ask for Volunteers 

Companies often love the opportunity to volunteer for events that align with their corporate mission. In fact, there are many businesses out there that encourage their employees to give back to their community through volunteer and service work.

Start by putting out an ask for volunteers to those that have already committed to sponsoring your event. Then ask those that responded to your initial sponsorship ask with a “maybe next year.” Volunteering can be a non-financial way for local businesses to show their support!

The number of volunteers you need is dependent on the size of your event. Some roles to keep in mind would be finding someone to:

  • Greet and register guests
  • Monitor the auction
  • Check out guests and deliver items
  • Clean up the venue
  • Generate buzz in the livestream chat

Whatever your use case for volunteers may be, be sure to clearly outline the roles and set up both job-specific training sessions and a training session on your mission and event.

fundraising auction

Marketing is crucial for any type of auction, live, silent, virtual, or hybrid. For online fundraising auctions, digital promotions are especially important to make up for the lack of in-person engagement and to reach wider audiences to drive more bids. We recommend taking a multi-channel approach to marketing your auction.

Here’s how it might work:

fundraising auction

The main idea of a multichannel marketing campaign is to use each of your digital outlets to drive more traffic both to one another and to your target action – in this case, your auction registration page.

Here are a few top tips for creating a successful multichannel marketing approach.

Combine digital and print marketing

Get your supporters onto your site and into the fundraising groove by combining digital and print marketing using these 4 steps:

  1. Social media: Tell your story, share impact, and drive participation on social. By adding your social media profiles to your online auction site, you can connect with your supporters wherever they are!
  2. Direct mail: Direct mail is a wonderful way to engage with your supporters, whether the focus is on cultivating relationships or promoting your upcoming auction. Be sure to strike a balance between the two when you’re creating a direct mail piece.
  3. Email marketing: Send out an email to your supporters highlighting all that your upcoming event has to offer and where to register. With all your donor information in one place, this is a quick and easy way to promote your event.
  4. Text messaging: With OneCause, you can message supporters directly from your auction site. With a call-to-action statement, like “Register to bid in our Virtual Gala!” you’re sure to drive traffic.

Maintain consistent branding 

You recognize logos of the brands you interact with every single day – Apple’s white apple, McDonald’s golden arches. What do these big-name brands have in common? Consistent branding!

For some nonprofits, talking about a ‘consistent brand’ is a foreign concept, but your brand is just as important in the nonprofit world as in the for-profit world. It’s the combination of your message, your mission, your purpose, and the way you voice this value to the world.

But consistent branding goes beyond ensuring your brand is easily recognizable across all marketing channels and touchpoints. It’s about creating and maintaining trust with your nonprofit’s key stakeholders. Nonprofits who aren’t consistent in their mission and messaging will quickly lose the trust and support of their donors.

Consistent branding will:

  • Earn trust
  • Increase loyalty
  • Strengthen relationships
  • Optimize marketing efforts
  • Impact fundraising

No matter the size of your nonprofit, creating a consistent brand in your marketing efforts is essential!

Tailor marketing strategy to the channel

We live in a technologically empowered age where individuals are communicating across multiple platforms on multiple devices – cell phones, laptops, e-readers, wearables, the list goes on.

That’s why it’s essential to tailor your marketing and messaging to the different audiences that interact with your brand across different channels.

You wouldn’t promote your next fundraising auction on twitter the same way you would in an email, right? Here are the things you need to consider for each of your marketing platforms:

  • Audience
  • Platform usage
  • Nature of content
  • Algorithm
  • Optimal size and dimensions of images

Once you’ve nailed down a plan for each channel, you’ll be able to determine how to best interact and engage with your donors. From there, the sky’s the limit!


With some foresight, planning, and hard work, a fundraising auction can be one of the most lucrative ways a nonprofit can fundraise. They are fun, lively and can certainly be a win for all involved. And with this quick guide and resources, you’re ready to start planning an amazing auction event!

These tried-and-true strategies are sure to lead your organization to an exciting event and shattered fundraising goals.

Now, your job is to put them into action and have your best fundraising auction to date.

About the Author

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.