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Auctions are some of the most popular and lucrative fundraising events for nonprofit organizations. If planned effectively, your auctions can bring in significant revenue and engage supporters year after year.
Whether you host your auction in person, virtually, or in a hybrid format, your success depends first and foremost on the caliber of the auction items up for grabs. The more appealing and valuable your auction items are, the more your supporters will be willing to bid on them, helping you reach your event fundraising goal.
In this guide, you’ll learn five tips for procuring better auction items that generate bidding wars, sell more event tickets, and ultimately raise more for your cause. Let’s get started.
1. Start the procurement process early
Auction item procurement is an ongoing process with a lot of moving parts. How many items you need to secure will depend on what type of auction you’re hosting as silent auctions tend to feature more items than live ones. Donors and suppliers may take time to respond to your solicitations, and opportunities to secure unique items may arise that you hadn’t previously considered.
To take all possible situations into account, start procuring auction items as early as you can, ideally at least six months before the event. Even better, if you host an annual auction, take stock of the items you might want to sell at next year’s event as soon as the previous year’s auction ends. Beginning the process early can open up more opportunities to find unique goods and services to auction off and reduce stress for your staff.
2. Assemble a procurement team
Once your auction date is confirmed, put a few staff members or dedicated volunteers in charge of procuring items. Your team size will depend on your organization’s size, but four to six people is recommended if possible.
Team members should be organized, enthusiastic about your cause, and able to clearly and succinctly explain what donations you’re asking for and why. Assemble a procurement packet for each member that includes your nonprofit’s auction wishlist, an in-kind donation form, and a procurement letter template that can be customized for each donor the team approaches. These resources should help your team ask for contributions through either in-person or digital outreach.
3. Hold an auction wishlist brainstorming session
Before sending your procurement team out to solicit donations, gather everyone involved in planning your event to create an auction wishlist. You could simply refer back to your item lists from past auctions, but holding a brainstorming session can help your team get creative with the items you solicit and add more variety to each auction you host.
To have the most productive meeting possible, ask your team to come prepared with a few ideas to pitch. Designate a note-taker, then spend 15 or 20 minutes discussing everyone’s suggestions. Once your team has finished brainstorming, assign your best ideas to particular team members so they can start reaching out to donors.
4. Procure items your supporters want to bid on
In addition to your brainstorming session, another way to figure out what auction items to procure is to survey your supporters. This strategy not only allows you to see what items will excite your event participants, but it also helps engage supporters early in the event planning process, making them feel valued and more likely to attend.
You might consider some items that generally tend to sell well at auction, including:
- Vacations to popular travel destinations.
- Themed gift baskets, especially ones that feature high-quality food and beverages.
- Highly sought-after tickets to concerts, sporting events, or other experiences.
- One-of-a-kind goods such as works of art or memorabilia signed by celebrities.
Lastly, consider which donor segments you want to appeal to at your auction. For example, if your organization has a growing number of supporters with young children or grandchildren, make sure to have some family-friendly auction items available for them to bid on, like theme park tickets or video game systems.
5. Leverage existing connections when soliciting auction items
It is possible to procure excellent auction items from donors you have no previous relationship with, especially if you approach a locally owned business that is invested in improving its surrounding community. However, it’s often easier to begin your outreach by considering your nonprofit’s existing connections, such as:
- Past event sponsors
- Business leaders in your staff or board members’ personal networks
- Loyal supporters who work for companies that may be able to supply an item
If you leverage existing relationships as you procure auction items, you might strengthen partnerships with businesses that can be mutually beneficial for years to come.
Find high-quality items for a successful auction
As your event draws closer and you ramp up promotions, include some of your big-ticket items in your marketing materials so auction participants arrive excited to bid on them. If you go about the procurement process strategically, you’ll likely be able to find a variety of high-quality auction items for free or at a reduced cost to help maximize your fundraising revenue come event day.