Planning a Charity Auction? 6 Things to Know First
Some nonprofits shy away from planning a charity auction, even though these events have huge fundraising potential. Why is that? Because they typically involve a ton of in-depth planning!
For example, this private school spends an entire school year planning for their yearly auction fundraiser— but it’s also their most successful event.
There’s no denying that auctions are worthwhile if you put in the needed time planning. However, it’s important that you have all of the facts before you begin!
Planning a charity auction is slightly different than other fundraising event types. If this is your first time planning a charity auction, there are a few essential things to know:
- The basic structure of a charity auction.
- The different types of auctions.
- The team members required.
- The essentials of item procurement.
- The best practices surrounding checkout.
- The technology that can help.
It’s crucial to know just what you’re signing up for before you begin the months-long process of planning a charity auction. While a great fundraising option, these events involve many moving parts! Let’s get started.
The basic structure of a charity auction.
Even if your nonprofit is well-versed in planning fundraising events, auctions are an entirely different scenario. These events tend to follow a pre-set formula from start to finish, so if this is your first event, it’s important to study up.
Let’s review the basic timeline of a charity auction:
- Guests register. Offer online registration ahead of time. Further, strongly encourage guests to provide payment information at this point to ensure payment on any won items.
- Guests arrive. Prior to opening bidding, give guests plenty of time to peruse the space and your auction catalog.
- Bidding opens. Open bidding either manually or automatically. Ensure guests are aware of the parameters surrounding bidding, such as the starting bid (usually 30-50% of market value) and the minimum raise bid (usually 10-15% of market value).
- Bidding closes. Clearly announce the end of bidding. Whoever placed the highest bid on each item wins that item.
- Checkout. Guests purchase the items they won and collect the items. Guests can also purchase buy-now items (such as nonprofit merchandise, like t-shirts).
There can be some variation in this timeline, such as if you pause proceedings for a meal or entertainment of some sort. However, this is the general outline all auctions follow.
The different types of auctions.
There are three main types of auction and each varies greatly. The type you choose has major implications on all points of your auction planning, from which team members you recruit to how much you have to spend to host it successfully.
1. Live Auctions
When you think of a classic auction event, you’re probably thinking of the live variety. An auctioneer announces items one-by-one and guests bid, either by raising a paddle, shouting their bids, or otherwise catching the host’s attention.
These auctions are often more engaging and high-energy than the other options. However, they can also be more complicated and expensive to plan— especially since it’s best to hire a professional auctioneer to lead the charge.
2. Silent Auctions
During a silent auction, items are placed on tables around the venue space with bid sheets placed next to each item. Donors peruse the tables and write their bids down, raising the amount with each bid.
This type is extremely popular with nonprofits because they’re most conducive to donor interaction, less actively hosted, and generally more casual and flexible. However, they lack the urgency of live auctions, so guests may have less incentive to bid if you don’t work to keep up the energy.
Learn more through this silent auction planning guide by OneCause.
3. Online Auctions
Online charity auctions are hosted using auction software. Items are listed online with the bid time significantly longer than the other two types. They’re more flexible in general, as “guests” can bid from anywhere and at any time as long as they have access to the internet and are visiting during the time period it takes place (usually a span of 1-3 weeks).
Online auctions are the most cost-effective and lend themselves to seamless data collection, as the entire “event” takes place within auction software. However, they do lack the personal touch and central focus of the other two types, so they risk becoming an afterthought.
The team members required.
Planning a charity auction is a major undertaking, and you need a strong team of dedicated members to help in the charge. This includes staffers, volunteers, and even your nonprofit’s board.
Ensure you have the support of the following team members:
- Nonprofit Board: This body needs to greenlight the funds allocated to planning. Further, it’s always helpful to have a board member make a donation appeal during the event!
- Event Planning Team: This team handles all planning logistics, including booking the venue, handling marketing and social media, organizing volunteers, and more.
- Item Procurement Team: This team can consist of staffers and volunteers— they just need to be comfortable asking for gifts!
- Event Volunteers: Volunteers are incredibly helpful day-of in logistical roles such as event entry, bid watching, and checkout.
- Auctioneer or Emcee: An auctioneer is the ringleader of a live auction, while an emcee keeps a silent auction on track. We recommend hiring a professional to handle the task as this team member is integral to maintaining the atmosphere at your event!
With a dedicated team behind you, the intensive planning process will be significantly more efficient.
The essentials of item procurement.
Item procurement isn’t found in your everyday fundraising event and is pretty unique to auctions. It’s absolutely essential to nail this process in planning a charity auction— so if you’re unfamiliar, study up on this section.
Item procurement is the process of collecting items to be auctioned off. These items can be procured by donation, purchase, and through consignment deals.
This process should be handled by your item procurement team. Procurement involves soliciting items, tracking their transition to your nonprofit, and cataloging items after they’re procured. This team can contain volunteers and staffers alike. The only important thing is that they’re comfortable asking for donations!
Item procurement should begin as soon as possible, as early as 9-12 months in advance. Aim to procure items spanning a wide variety of categories, such as:
- Travel and outdoor accessories
- Sports and other activities
- Community-based and local
- Arts, culture, entertainment
- Family-friendly items and packages
- Food and drink
- Rare and hard-to-find items
The items you procure should correspond to your donor base. Ensure you’re not procuring items outside of your guests’ giving capacity or general interests. For procurement inspiration, check out these charity auction item ideas by OneCause.
The best practices surrounding checkout.
Checkout is historically a major pain point in hosting a successful auction. It occurs after the excitement of the event has ended, and if not planned carefully it can mean long, inconvenient lines and a clustered pick-up area.
You’ve spent quite some time carefully crafting your nonprofit’s story and planning an auction event that reflects it accordingly. The last thing you want to do is leave guests with a bad last impression of your event!
There are a few best practices to know when planning checkout for your charity auction:
- Designate a separate pick-up area. Set aside an area of the venue specifically for winners to collect items after the event. Immediately bring items to that area once they’re won, so the main auction floor doesn’t become chaotic.
- Create physical donation booths. Sometimes guests want to make donations on top of purchasing won items. Create a separate booth for accepting those gifts so the main checkout lines can be shorter.
- Incorporate mobile bidding processes. Mobile bidding allows guests to make digital bids directly from their smartphones. Then once an item is won, payment can be processed immediately with receipts sent automatically to the winner.
- Prepare for all types of payment. Create processes to accept card, cash, and check gifts, so guests can pay using the method they prefer.
Checkout is one way that charity auctions differ from other fundraising events. If it’s your first time planning an auction, it’s essential that you study up on the process.
The technology that can help.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of this months-long planning process, know there’s another team member that can help you in the charge— auction technology.
Auction technology can simplify many aspects of the planning process, by:
- Tracking item procurement.
- Managing guest registration.
- Hosting an online auction catalog prior to the event.
- Allowing guests to bid via their smartphones.
- Notifying guests when they’ve been outbid.
- Automatically processing payment once an item is won.
- Collecting auction data before and during the event for future insights.
Charity auctions are well worth the time you’ll spend planning, especially if you’re starting with a solid knowledge base. Ensure you understand and have planned for the above points, and you’ll be off to a great start.