presented by Constant Contact featured partner Qgiv.

Fundraising auctions are a way for your nonprofit organization to raise funds for different projects or your annual fund. Whether online, in-person, or a mix of both, a well-executed auction can help you boost your income and also increase community engagement and awareness around your cause. Planning for a fundraising auction can seem complicated, but there are some quick tips you can follow to ensure your fundraiser runs smoothly!

Fundraising auction overview

A fundraising auction is an engaging event where your supporters bid on items or experiences to contribute to your nonprofit. It’s an interactive way to involve your donors in your mission while providing them with a unique and enjoyable experience. But not all auctions are the same! Fundraising auctions can take various forms, including virtual, in-person, hybrid, and silent auctions, each offering distinct advantages depending on your organization’s goals and circumstances.

Quick tips for hosting a fundraising auction

Auctions can look different based on your nonprofit’s needs, but here are seven steps to get you started on your auction journey:

  1. Decide the type of auction for your fundraiser

Choosing the right type of auction before you begin planning for your fundraiser is crucial for its success. The right auction type should encourage your donors to bid on items and engage with your mission. For inspiration, look at where your donors are the most active in their communication with your nonprofit. Virtual auctions happen completely online, allowing your donors to bid on the items they want from the comfort of their own home, which is great if your organization has donors with busy schedules, supporters in various locations, or a donor base that is a primarily online community.

For supporters who come to gatherings or want a fun night out, in-person auctions are nice events to celebrate with your community and can include a dinner or other activities to engage your donors.

Hybrid auctions offer your donors the best of virtual and in-person auctions by providing them the option to join your nonprofit in-person or bid on items from home through online bidding software.

Most nonprofits use a silent auction format for fundraising auctions, where the items are displayed and attendees place their bids on a bid sheet or through an online platform, but you could also host a live auction with an auctioneer where bidders call out their bids to provide a fun experience for your supporters.

  1. Recruit staff and volunteers for your auction committee

Building a dedicated auction committee is essential for a well-organized and successful event. By recruiting staff and volunteers, your committee will have diverse perspectives on what will appeal to your donors and what is possible for your organization to achieve. To recruit volunteers, try reaching out to your community through email, social media, or even in person! With your committee in charge of planning, you’ll have multiple eyes on the event to ensure it goes smoothly. 

Your committee will be in charge of drafting a budget for the auction, choosing a theme, and deciding the venue, as well as handling any guest management needs that arise before and during your event.

  1. Choose the right auction software

The right auction software can help you streamline processes and enhance participant experience throughout your fundraising auction. There are a few key factors to consider when choosing your auction software.

  • Bid experience: Choose a platform that offers a user-friendly and engaging bidding experience for participants. While some auctions can benefit from paper bidding, mobile or web-based bidding is often more convenient and accessible for your supporters. To maximize your auction’s fundraising potential, you should also look for platforms that allow you to establish starting bids, bid increments, and minimum bids to provide your bidders with clear rules while encouraging competition.
  • Event registration and management tools: Use software that simplifies attendee registration, ticketing, and overall event management. Your auction software should allow you to create branded event forms to make your auction recognizable to your supporters. Within your registration setting, you should be able to provide multiple ticket options to appeal to donors with different budgets, while also using custom fields to collect necessary information from attendees. Another major management tool you should look for in auction software is easy item setup. Choose a platform that allows you to easily create new item pages, organize items into categories, or import an item list into the platform.  
  • Other fundraising elements: Ensure your chosen software supports various ways for you to fundraise during your auction. Donation appeals, raffle options, Fund-a-Need appeals, merchandise, and food and drink sales are all great ways to diversify your revenue during a fundraising auction.
  1. Procure auction items

The success of your fundraising auction heavily relies on the appeal of your auction items. When deciding which items your auction will use, you should include a diverse range of items in both type and price. Different item types can include experiences, services, and tangible goods that cater to different interests. Offering items with various price points allows you to maximize the number of participants by accommodating multiple budgets.

When procuring your items, consider asking for in-kind donations from local businesses and donors to enhance your item inventory without increasing expenses. This allows your supporters to aid your cause without needing to donate monetarily.

When looking for item ideas, consider unique and exclusive items that align with your organization’s mission and values to help you reinforce the purpose of the fundraising auction to your bidders.

  1. Market your auction

Effective marketing is key to driving participation and maximizing the impact of your fundraising auction. To generate excitement for your auctions, you can make pre-event announcements and teasers. Advertising big-ticket items is another way you can start creating a buzz around your auction. On all your auction marketing, make sure you include all necessary information your supporters need to attend your event. Clearly communicate your auction’s date, time, venue (if applicable), registration instructions, and any special features.

Don’t limit your marketing to social media or email lists! A multi-channel marketing approach guarantees your auction reaches a larger audience. Utilize a combination of email marketing, social media, direct mail, and text messaging to reach your donors, no matter their communication preferences.

  1. Streamline your auction experience

Creating a seamless and enjoyable experience for your participants is essential for a successful fundraising auction. Depending on your auction software, there are tools that can help you streamline your auction experience, including:

  • Easy check-in/checkout: An easy check-in and checkout experience provides your auction attendees more time to participate in your auction. One tool that can help is QR-code tickets, which provides contactless entry to the event. A virtual terminal for online payments is also a great tool to help speed up your attendees’ checkout. Receipts within a mobile-giving app can provide instant acknowledgements to your participants and provide transaction documentation.
  • Engage guests throughout the event: Besides making your check-in and checkout process easy, you should also ensure your auction experience is engaging. Tools like outbid notifications alert your participants when they have been outbid, encouraging them to re-engage with the auction. To motivate participants to make larger bids or contribute to donation appeals, use a fundraising thermometer to display your real-time progress toward your fundraising goal. A sense of urgency is another way to inspire your auction guests to engage in bidding, and you can create this urgency by utilizing auction closing notifications to let your bidders know that the end of the auction is near.
  1. Follow up after your fundraising auction

The post-event phase is just as important as the event itself. Create a post-event checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. When following up after your auction, you should thank your auction attendees for their support, as well as thank any sponsors or volunteers for helping you run a successful event. You should also automate your receipts from the auction to ensure they reach your participants in a timely manner. 

Besides expressing your gratitude, it’s best to look at other ways to measure your auction’s success. Consider collecting feedback from participants through post-event surveys to gather insights for future improvements and understand what worked well. You should also assess your auction success by analyzing financial results, participant engagement, and feedback.

Final thoughts

Hosting a fundraising auction requires careful planning and execution, but that doesn’t mean it has to be overcomplicated. By using these seven tips, you can create a memorable and impactful event to raise money for your cause and strengthen the connection between your supporters and you. With thoughtful preparation, strategic marketing, and the right technology, your fundraising auction can become a cornerstone of your organization’s fundraising efforts.

About Qgiv

Qgiv is an online fundraising platform empowering over 20,000 nonprofit fundraisers to raise money for their causes. Through online giving and event registration forms, text fundraising, peer-to-peer fundraisers, and auction events, fundraisers can provide a more personalized giving experience for donors while keeping costs low. To learn more, visit