Charity Auctions: 3 Best Practices for Fundraising Success

One of the most profitable events a nonprofit can host is a charity auction. These events give donors a new way to support your organization while being highly cost-effective. Auctions are also very flexible and can be adapted for a number of audiences and goals.

We know how easy it is to fall into the same routine of hosting the same event every year, so we’ve compiled a list of tips to help set your next charity auction up for success. Use these best practices and fresh ideas to create a profitable and memorable auction.

1. Host an Online or Hybrid Auction.

Traditionally, most nonprofits hold in-person auctions. People get dressed up, hire babysitters, and enjoy a night out. But what if it wasn’t the only option?

Adding online bidding options creates a hybrid auction where your guests can participate as they’re able. Online bidding gives virtual attendees the tools they need to bid from anywhere, and it also enables people who have to leave early to stay engaged with their open bids. Donors don’t have to be in the room to support your cause – they are invited to join in the fun from afar.

To keep your remote bidders engaged, follow these best practices:

  • Host a livestream. Hybrid auctions don’t have to sacrifice the face-to-face element that in-person guests rely on to engage with one another. One popular solution is to host a livestream where you present the items to the online audience as well. We also recommend that you use this livestream as an opportunity to publicly thank your donors – both in-person and virtual.
  • Provide them with a mobile bidding app. With mobile bidding, attendees will be able to bid across the globe or even without cell coverage. As long as they have internet access, they can participate! Plus, instant push notifications and text updates will notify them when they’ve been outbid, so they can jump back in. This also helps in-person attendees stay engaged no matter where they are at your event. When you use a mobile bidding app, you’ll see fewer bid sheet mix-ups and be able to provide a faster checkout experience for the winners.
  • Add photos or a video to each item in your catalog. Since your remote attendees won’t be able to see your auction items in person, high-quality images or embedded videos are the next best thing. With images and videos, they can see exactly what they’re bidding on, so take time to choose the right angles and lighting for the most visually appealing results.

Whether you plan to go fully digital or just incorporate mobile bidding into your physical event, using technology doesn’t mean your events have to be any less engaging than traditional ones. Incorporating the above tips will help you create a positive online bidding experience.

2. Market Your Auction Well in Advance.

Prior to hosting your event, you’ll need to develop a detailed strategic marketing plan that will help you proactively promote the event to supporters. Market early and often to effectively spread the word. After all, if no one hears about your auction, attendance will be very limited.

To start, you’ll need to take advantage of multiple marketing outlets. With numerous platforms available, you’d be remiss if you didn’t take advantage of them. We recommend considering your audience and their communication preferences and then choosing the outlets that will best reach your audience. These might include email, social media, eCards, text, or direct mail.

From here, you can incorporate the following practices to take your marketing strategy to the next level and amp up support for your next charity auction:

  • Leverage social media. Don’t overlook the power of the share button! As part of any strong digital strategy, social media is crucial. Simply put, it allows supporters to share your auction with their personal networks, expanding your reach to a much larger audience. With nearly 4.9 billion social media users worldwide, it’s an excellent opportunity to market your charity auction.
  • Include the link to your auction site in all marketing materials. An auction site houses all the important information regarding your event. This includes event details, information about your cause, your auction items, and more. Using an auction site eliminates the need to print out a physical catalog and makes it much easier to share key information in each message.
  • Highlight your top items and packages that will be up for bidding. Your auction items and packages are the main attractions for your event. Incentivize potential attendees to register by showcasing bidding items that are tailored to their interests. Be selective about which items you share ahead of time – you want to make sure you leave room for some surprises.

Marketing is a critical step in the planning process. Refining your promotion strategy well in advance gives you plenty of time to spread the word and boost registrations. The above tips will serve as a solid starting point, so you can start generating buzz around your upcoming auction.

3. Use Nonprofit-Specific Auction Software.

Charity auctions have several moving pieces, which can be overwhelming to many newcomers. With the right software though, you can streamline the entire process, from registration to item distribution. The right tools can alleviate stress and make hosting an auction a breeze.

Don’t just settle on the first auction platform that comes your way. Instead, go with a solution that’s specifically designed for nonprofit use. Nonprofit-specific auction software will give you a range of functionality without having to piece together individual solutions, starting with easy management and planning tools.

Let’s take a look at some of the features you’ll need access to, so your charity auction is the best it can possibly be:

  • Mobile bidding app: As we touched on earlier, mobile bidding allows people to bid at their convenience wherever they are, whether they’re socializing at your auction or in the comfort of their own homes. Apps account for nearly 90% of people’s internet time on smartphones, so bidders will be very receptive to this approach. Make sure your tools offer instant push notifications, an intuitive interface, and secure checkout options.
  • Gamification: Gamification tools add a layer of friendly competition to your charity auctions. Keep the energy high with tools like leaderboards that showcase top bidders, a countdown timer to drive those last-second bids, and a live fundraising thermometer so people can see their bid’s impact in real-time.
  • Livestreaming capabilities: The best charity auction software will offer its own livestreaming tools which will allow you to stream directly within the app or the web platform. This way, the bidding experience won’t be interrupted by making participants access the stream elsewhere. What’s more, you should be able to promote items directly under the livestream to drive participation.
  • Robust reporting features: Reports will help you gain deeper insights into your bidders’ behavior and your auctions’ performance. This will help you tremendously in pinpointing areas of improvement, so you can refine your strategies for future auctions, launching your team towards success.
  • Secure payment processing: Processing payment through your mobile bidding app is much more convenient for your guests, providing faster checkout and shorter lines. When comparing options, make sure that the auction software is PCI-compliant to ensure the security of your guests’ personal data and payment information. And ask about the payment types your guests can use, like credit cards and Apple Pay. Accepting multiple types of payment will increase trust and increase the revenue potential of your event.

The tools you use for your auctions can mean the difference between an engaging, successful auction and one that falls short of expectations. Taking the time to choose the right tools upfront will lead to greater results later on. Looking for the above features will help you make a much more informed decision, putting you on the fast track to success.

Along with choosing the right software, training your in-person volunteers on how to use the software will be invaluable. They don’t need to be experts, but make sure that they’re trained for the level of software support for their volunteer roles. Not only will your guests feel at ease that your volunteers know their way around, but your volunteers will be more excited and engaged during the event, increasing volunteer retention.

If you need guidance in finding the right charity auction software for your team, check out Handbid’s complete nonprofit auction software guide. You’ll learn about key features to prioritize in your search and gather some tips for making the most of your tools along the way!


As you get started planning your next charity auction, take these ideas back to your team and adjust them to suit your needs. In no time, you’ll create an engaging and profitable fundraiser that beautifully impacts the success of your nonprofit.

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