4 Easy Steps to Unlock Charity Auction Profits

Want More Income? Try an Auction.

Items displayed for a charity auction.
Todd Williamson/Getty Images Entertainment

Auctions are some of the best fundraising events for charities, with a high potential for profits.

After all, who would not want to support a noble cause when a range of fabulous rewards like adventurous vacation packages and autographed movie props are on the line?

However, to make the most out any special event, charity auctions included, your organization must plan well.

Here are four easy steps that can help your organization unlock charity auction success, whether you are planning your first auction or your fifteenth:

  1. Ally with corporate sponsors.
  2. Advertise your items in advance.
  3. Go mobile.
  4. Provide other donation channels.

Let’s start planning!

1. Ally With Corporate Sponsors

The key to success:

Corporate sponsors can be terrific partners for nonprofits, especially for fundraising events.

Sponsors can provide support in the form of:

In return, nonprofits provide corporate sponsors with prime placement in all event advertising and the positive reputation boost that comes with supporting a good cause.

Ultimately, teaming up with corporate sponsors can help make your auction more profitable.

By sharing event costs, you can funnel fewer resources into event planning and make a greater return (ROI) on your event!

How to unlock it:

As with most professional relationships, when it comes to securing corporate sponsors, it is all about whom you know.

If you have hosted events before and have teamed up with corporate sponsors, those partners are a great place to start.

If not, begin with your nonprofit’s staff and board members.

Are there any internal professional connections that you can leverage? You can also turn to your donor database to see if any of your loyal supporters might be willing to reach out to their employers about a sponsorship.

Once you have targeted potential sponsors, you will need to sway them to supporting your cause with a convincing sponsorship letter. Check out this resource for some tips and templates.

To Sum Up: Allying with corporate sponsors creates a mutually beneficial relationship that can make your auction more successful. Draw on existing relationships for the best chance of scoring sponsorships.

2. Advertise You Items in Advance

The key to success:

Let’s face it: while many people give out of the sheer goodness of their hearts, human nature is still a powerful influence.

We are all more inclined to give when our good deeds receive a reward, and that is precisely what charity auctions do.

Charity auctions can be so profitable because they have a built-in incentive: the opportunity to acquire a coveted auction item.

To take full advantage of this incentive, your organization should promote your items in advance.

Being able to browse auction items before the auction will convince more supporters to attend (and bid at) your event.

If they see something they want, they will have to participate in your auction!

How to unlock it:

To promote your items, you will need to create an auction catalog.

In the past, organizations had to compile, print, and distribute physical auction catalogs, but now auction software makes the process a whole lot easier.

Here’s what creating an auction catalog looks like with software:

  • Create item records. By using the item and package management module in your auction software, you can create a record for each item featured at your auction. The module includes fields for listing all relevant data (such as number, starting bid amount, and minimum raise), as well as space for item descriptions and photos.
  • Generate the site. Auction software should let you create an event website with ease. The software takes all of the item records you created and makes listings for your items on the site.
  • Customize your site. Once your site is populated with all item and event data, you can customize it. Brand your site to match the look of your event and include all of the pages you need to promote and prepare for your auction. You can even open up bidding on your item listings to host an online auction. Online auctions can stand on their own or be paired with your live event to bring in even more funds.
  • Share the link. Promoting your event is now as easy as copying the link to your site and sharing it with supporters. Don’t forget to include it in all event outreach, offline channels like advertisements and direct mail, too.

Creating an auction catalog online has several benefits. Save money by eliminating printing costs, and start advertising earlier since you can update your site as new items come in.

Not to mention, the whole process will be more efficient and environmentally friendly.

To Sum Up: Advertising your auction items in advance encourages bigger turnout at your charity auction. Streamline event promotion by using auction software to create an online auction catalog.

3. Go Mobile.

The key to success:

The benefits of auction technology don’t stop there.

If you are hosting a silent auction, your organization should consider using mobile bidding, which lets donors participate in your auction directly from their smartphones.

Implementing mobile bidding simplifies logistics on the night of your auction and raises more money.

Here’s why:

  • It’s more convenient. With mobile bidding, placing a bid is as easy as taking out a phone and clicking a button. In fact, supporters can make maximum bid amounts. This convenience makes mobile auctions about three times as profitable as paper auctions.
  • It eliminates event check out. Ask anyone who’s run a silent auction with bid sheets, and they will tell you that check out is the longest and most complicated logistic of the night. Mobile bidding automatically determines winners and processes their credit cards, taking care of most of the checkout process for you.
  • Anyone can participate. When all bidding is online, supporters anywhere can join. With mobile bidding, your organization can open up your auction to more donors, increasing your fundraising potential.
  • You can leave bidding open for longer. Since you will not have as many post-auction logistics to handle (here’s looking at you, check out), your organization can leave bidding open longer to score as many bids as possible. In fact, since supporters do not have to consult your display to bid, you can even start breaking down the venue before bidding has closed.

How to unlock it:

If your organization is considering mobile bidding for your next auction, it is time to start shopping for a vendor.

There are many mobile bidding software vendors out there, and all provide various features and levels of support.

It is important to consider your organization’s needs carefully before making a purchase. For example:

  • Is your auction a one-time occurrence or will you be hosting many fundraising events annually?
  • Is the software specialized for nonprofits?
  • How many bidders and items does the platform need to manage?

To learn more about auction software and what to consider during the buying process, consult this guide.

To Sum Up: Silent auctions that use mobile bidding are more successful. This software opens up the auction to more supporters, makes bidding more convenient, and simplifies event check out, all of which lead to more successful events.

4. Provide Other Donation Channels.

The key to success:

Although bidding will be the primary fundraising method at your auction, it should not be the only one.

If bidding is the only donation option available at your auction, many of your supporters will have no way of contributing.

Think about it: not everyone who attends your auction will participate in the bidding. Even those who do participate might not win items. Some supporters (like corporate sponsor guests) might not even pay for their admission.

Make sure that everyone who wants to support your nonprofit can by providing other donation channels at your auction.

By appealing to more of your supporters’ giving preferences (and making donating viable for more people in the first place), your auction will be more profitable.

How to unlock it:

There are many additional donation channels that your organization can open up at your auction.

Here just a few popular methods:

Hold a live appeal.

There’s no better way to get what you want than to ask for it!

That is exactly what a live appeal is: making an in-person request for donations at your event.

For this strategy to work, choose one of your most eloquent staff or board members to make the ask during your auction program. Set out a clear goal and let supporters know where proceeds will go, so they understand the impact of their contributions.

If you are hosting a silent auction with mobile bidding, you can use the donation portal in your software to collect donations. If hosting another type of auction, you can accept donations through a standard text-to-give app or by passing out paper pledge cards.

To heighten the challenge, display a fundraising thermometer that keeps a running tally as supporters submit their gifts.

When they see how close they are to reaching the goal, they will not be able to let you down.

Host a raffle.

Another easy way to make more money is by hosting a raffle. Simply take a universally appealing item out of your auction and turn it into a raffle prize.

You can sell raffle tickets as a fixed-price item on your event site, through your mobile bidding app, and/or at a physical booth at your auction.

All that’s left is to collect tickets and pull a lucky winner!

Just keep in mind: most states have regulations for raffles. Look up guidelines in your jurisdiction ahead of time to make sure you are playing by the rules.

Sell merchandise.

Merchandise and charity auctions make the perfect pair.

After all, auctions are about things. Supporters attend expecting to walk home with an item they can enjoy. By selling merchandise, you can please those supporters who do not win anything at the auction.

Also, branded merchandise provides additional advertising. Every time supporters sport your gear or use your product, they bring you a little extra visibility.

As with raffle tickets, you can sell merchandise as a fixed-price item on your online event site and set up a merchandise booth at the event.

To Sum Up: Bidding will make up a significant portion of your auction fundraising, but it is important to provide additional donation channels, too. Conducting a live appeal, hosting a raffle, and selling merchandise are just a few ways to increase auction proceeds.

Hopefully, these tips have gotten you well on your way to unlocking charity auction success. Best of fortune on your next event.