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How to host an auction: 11 essential do’s and don’ts

March 21, 2022
Shot of a young woman using a laptop and looking surprised while working on hosting an auction online. Learn how to host an auction in this guide.

Fundraising events are wonderful ways for your nonprofit organization to bring your community together, share the impact of your work, and offer your guests more opportunities to support your purpose. Incorporating live or silent auctions into your event strategy can create another valuable source of revenue for your nonprofit.

Auction technology, such as Bonterra Guided Fundraising’s Events and Auctions solution, has opened up possibilities for in-person participants and those not in attendance to view auction items, place bids, and process their payments electronically. Due to the increasing popularity of online donor engagement and virtual events, auction software has become more valuable than ever.

If your nonprofit is planning to take advantage of an auction’s ability to boost your fundraising and inspire supporter involvement in your cause, take note of these 11 do’s and don’ts for running a successful auction.

6 best practices for hosting an auction

1. Determine your auction type.

Before your organization fully launches into planning for your upcoming event, consider the different types of auctions and determine which will best meet your goals. 

Depending on your supporters’ preferences and your resources, you could host a live auction, where attendees quickly bid to secure each auction item, or a silent auction, which affords guests a little more time for bidding. 

2. Engage your board of directors and volunteers.

A crucial aspect of preparing for any auction involves acquiring the auction items for supporters to bid on. To maximize results as you solicit items, extend your efforts. Encourage your board and dedicated volunteers to help. They may have connections within the community or even have some gifts they’re willing to provide for your event.

3. Be creative with auction items.

As you collect items for your next auction, remember to think beyond just physical items and gift cards from local businesses. Corporate sponsors can provide in-kind donations that offer exciting experiences, such as vacation packages, museum tickets, and fitness classes.

Be thoughtful as you examine your supporter profiles and determine what items would appeal most to their interests.

4. Prioritize convenience with auction software.

Make it easy and convenient for your attendees to access and bid on your auction items by using auction software that allows bidders to participate in-person or online from their mobile devices. This way, even supporters who couldn’t physically make it to your event can still participate.

5. Prepare to deliver items.

If your item winners do not attend the auction in person, remember that you may need to ship or deliver their items after the event. Your auction software should make it easy to collect all attendees’ personal information and get their items delivered promptly.

6. Market your auction.

Before your event, promote the auction on all your social channels, feature it on your website, and notify supporters via email and text updates. Ask board members and volunteers to reach out to their personal networks and spread the word as well.

To encourage further engagement during your event, consider implementing a text-to-give option, so that donors can provide direct financial support in addition to their auction bids.

5 things to avoid when running an auction

By following the best practices highlighted above, your organization will already be on its way to planning and hosting a successful auction. However, to optimize your fundraising success, try to avoid:

  1. Rejecting the idea of adding a hybrid element to your in-person event.
  2. Being afraid to select creative consignment items you believe your community would enjoy. 
  3. Setting your starting bid or your “buy-it-now” price too high or too low. 
  4. Stopping marketing too early.
  5. Forgetting to prepare thank-you letters, emails, or personal video messages for donors and auction winners to thank them for their support.

It’s crucial to prioritize your supporters’ auction experience by consistently communicating updates and information, as well as showing your gratitude for their contributions after the event.

Leveraging auction technology

An effective auction platform will make it possible to stay in touch with event attendees and follow up with them before, during, and after your event all from one integrated system. Take advantage of these tools to optimize your auction management.

To get insider tips and tricks for your next auction, check out our Auctions Best Practices guide.

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