One of the most important—and arguably, most complicated—parts of planning any charity auction is the item procurement process. Because the majority of your fundraising revenue will be collected in the form of bids on auction items, it’s crucial that you invest enough time and effort into collecting high-demand, valuable items prior to the big day.
Here at Snowball, we work with nonprofits, schools, and faith-based organizations of all shapes and sizes to raise more funds in the most effective ways possible. That being said, we know a thing or two about auction items that sell!
Whether you’ve planned and hosted a number of charity auctions in the past, or you’re currently prepping for your first, we’ve put together this handy list to speed up the process. Here, we’ll cover the following:
Feel free to skip around to the sections that interest you most—otherwise, read along with us from the top to learn about all of our favorite items. Ready to jump in? Let’s get started!
What are good auction items for nonprofits?
The best types of auction items are things that your supporters will be willing to spend a good amount of money on, whether it’s a physical gift or a memorable experience. In other words, items should be worth significantly more to your supporters than their typical retail value. After all, that is how you turn a profit from your event!
Here, we’ve divided our favorite auction items by category (such as type of auction or type of organization). However, it’s important to note that if a particular item catches your eye, it can very well be used for whichever type of auction you’re hosting.
Live Auction Items
Live auctions are likely the most popular form of a charity auction, and for good reason. These high energy, interactive events are one of the most effective ways to truly engage with your donors while simultaneously raising a ton of money for your cause.
Let’s walk through a few of our favorite items for live charity auctions:
1. Travel package
This is one of the most popular choices for auctions of all shapes and sizes. That’s because many individuals are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a fantastic vacation, but you can usually obtain these packages for much less by forming partnerships with businesses involved. Be sure to include plane tickets, hotel gift certificates, and a fun adventure to partake in at the destination.
2. Live artwork
Bidding on artwork at a charity auction is very common. This, however, brings the experience a few notches further! Invite a well-known and talented artist to create a unique piece of art at your event while guests watch in real-time. Not only will the winner receive a beautiful piece of artwork, but it’s also a powerful memento of a very special night.
3. Pamper basket
Everyone deserves a relaxing night in. Encourage your event attendees to spoil themselves by bidding on your pamper basket. A basket like this might include moisturizing face masks, bath bombs, fancy soaps and body washes, and a few candles. In other words, everything you might need to host a fancy spa day in the comfort of your own home! Be sure to contact your local spas and beauty retailers to solicit donations in the form of relevant products.
4. Signed memorabilia
For this popular auction item idea, a few top considerations include sports gear (like a ball or jersey) signed by a famous athlete or music equipment (like a guitar or record) signed by a world-renowned singer or band. The more famous the individual signing the memorabilia, the more your dedicated supporters will be willing to pay!
5. A personal chef for an evening
Sometimes you just want to sit back and relax while someone else does the cooking for you. Because your supporters likely don’t have their own personal chefs on staff, you can auction off that exclusive experience for a night. That way, the winner (and their family and/or friends) can get a taste of luxury, while also supporting a mission they care about.
6. Lottery ticket basket
A lottery basket is a great idea for an auction item, and one can be put together without investing a ton of money on your part. Be sure to include a range of tickets, with a few pricier ones supplemented by several single-dollar tickets. Guests will be intrigued by the sense of mystery to see how much they’ll collect! Plus, it gives the recipient the chance to win over and over again, even after placing the winning bid on your basket.
7. Homemade baked goods
Everyone knows that goodies that are baked with love taste better than their store-bought counterparts. That, plus knowing that proceeds go toward a good cause, is what makes supporters willing to pay big bucks for homemade baked goods. Perhaps you even have some aspiring pastry chefs in your midst who are looking for an opportunity to show off their skills. Therefore, you can encourage team members to make their best and prettiest cakes and pies to auction off at your charity event!
8. Season sports tickets
By partnering with your local professional sports teams, you can likely receive season tickets at a discounted rate to then auction off to the highest bidder. For even more fun, see if you can gain access to some VIP seats at the stadium, and provide coupons or gift certificates good for concessions. After all, what’s a baseball game without a hot dog?
9. Wine package
This is an intriguing auction item for guests who are looking to expand their tastes in wine by testing out a variety of choices! Be sure to collect many different types of wine and include a brief description of each. You might even ask each member of your fundraising team to share their personal preference of wine to include a range of team favorites.
10. Private plane flight
Most of us don’t have our own private jets as a means of transportation, but most of us are curious to give it a try! Auctioning off exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime type experiences are a great way to raise money for your cause, especially if you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) with a private plane to donate for an evening.
Silent Auction Items
A silent auction is a type of event where guests are invited to browse items on display and bid anonymously for the ones that grab their attention. This alternative auction form is typically popular for more upscale events, and tend to pair well with other fundraising events as well. Silent auction items should essentially sell themselves, as there will be no live auctioneer to position them in a certain favorable light.
Here are a few examples of fantastic silent auction items:
11. Yoga classes
For those who want to explore the world of yoga but aren’t entirely sure where to start, bidding on yoga lessons at a charity auction is a great first step. Choose a local yoga studio and see if they’re willing to give you free or discounted lessons for your auction. If all goes well, you might even be bringing them their next long-term customer!
12. Cooking class
A cooking class provides attendees with an exciting experience paired with the opportunity to learn and practice relevant life skills. When you auction off a private cooking class, you give the winner that opportunity to share with their friends and/or family. For a unique touch, see if you can strike a deal with a local chef at a favorite restaurant who would be willing to share their own tips and tricks for a successful meal.
13. Wine tour
A wine tour is a popular silent auction item because it pairs a fun experience with a tasty one. Between sightseeing and exploring beautiful locations, trying new drinks, and learning more about favorite wines, the winner of this auction item will have a brilliant memory that lasts. Be sure to reach out to local tour companies and see if you can get a discounted ticket package for your fundraiser.
14. Tablet or computer
Who doesn’t want a new tablet or computer? When auctioning off technology, it’s a good idea to get the latest and greatest versions of any tablet or computer you want to offer. That way, guests will be more inclined to bid high! When looking for technology to put up for bid at an auction, consider reaching out to local tech retailers near you. Sometimes, these businesses are willing to sell to nonprofits at a discounted price or even donate items altogether.
15. Hot air balloon ride
A hot air balloon ride is another one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that most people don’t choose to purchase for themselves. However, when proceeds are going to charity, that’s a whole other story! See if you can partner with a local tour agency that is willing to donate a balloon ride (or even provide a discounted rate), and encourage the winner to share their breathtaking photos with you on social media.
16. Spa gift certificate
Encourage your supporters to treat themselves by auctioning gift certificates to your local spa or salon. You can choose between a single-person offering, or opt for a couples’ spa day, and include services such as facials, massages, and mud baths. Who wouldn’t want to spend a relaxing day while also knowing they’re supporting charity?
17. Fancy jewelry
For more upscale audiences, nice jewelry can be a big hit at any charity auction. To ensure you choose the most valuable pieces, keep an eye out for names like Buccellati, Cartier, and Harry Winston. Additionally, you might want to hit up some local designers who might have a more affordable price point. As far as choosing the types of jewelry, you’ll probably want to stay on the more practical side and collect items like necklaces, earrings, and men’s watches.
18. Designer handbags
Similar to the jewelry mentioned above, the right kind of upscale audience will jump at the chance to bid on your highly valuable, designer handbags. Be sure to look for brands such as Birkin, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and more. This can be a great opportunity for your supporters to purchase a high-end accessory they might otherwise not have.
19. Limo ride to a nice restaurant
A limo ride is an experience to remember. Consider auctioning off a ride for a group of 6-8 guests, who will then be dropped off and picked up from an upscale eatery. Be sure to include a gift card to the restaurant of choice, so that the guests can simply sit back and enjoy their evening.
20. Party catering
This is an especially popular auction item for events nearing the holiday season, although it can be quite successful year-round. Auctioning a catering crew for a specific-sized party (such as 20-30 guests) is an exciting offering for many of your party-planning supporters. Therefore, they’ll be able to plan and host their own event without nearly as much of the stress!
Virtual Auction Items
Recently, virtual auctions have become a hugely popular alternative to traditional live and silent, in-person auction events. Thanks to top-notch auction technology, virtual auctions are easy for supporters to participate in even from the comfort of their own homes.
These are some of our favorite auction items for virtual charity auctions:
It only makes sense to offer top technology as auction items at your virtual event, and Smartwatches are very high in demand. The most popular brand is definitely the Apple Watch, although Fitbit is a big name as well. It may be a good idea to include both Apple and Android-based watches in order to let most everyone in on the fun.
22. Subscription box
There are tons of subscription boxes available on the internet. For this auction item, simply choose one that will attract your audience, and encourage bids at your event! You can either go through a subscription service or opt for DIY-style boxes on your own. Popular types of subscription boxes include weekly meal kits, monthly pamper baskets, and entertainment packages.
The length of time is up to you (longer time frames equal higher bids!), although we recommend going for 6- or 12-month cycles. Something to keep in mind, however, is that whoever purchases the subscription should be sure to go back and cancel at the end of the winner’s subscription.
The best thing about offering SkyMiles as an auction item is that many can quite easily be transferred from one person to another. That means if someone in your organization has some miles saved up with no use for them, they can easily be transferred to the winner, meaning a very low-cost (but high-impact) auction item!
24. Coffee package
Did you know that more than 150 million Americans drink coffee every day? As such, a coffee package is an appealing auction item for many. Be sure to include a high-tech coffee maker, like a Keurig, along with fresh, quality coffee beans, grounds, or K-cups, and a set of beautifully designed coffee mugs. This way, the recipient will have everything they need to get an elevated coffee shop experience right in their own home.
25. Home gym set-up
This is perfect for those who have always wanted to get in shape but have a hard time making it out to the gym on a regular basis. For this auction item, you can include weights, a yoga mat, and even a modest-sized workout machine. Then, don’t forget to provide instructional videos and share your support!
26. Date night package
Every couple needs a nice date night every once in a while, but many find themselves too busy or stuck in the same old routine. That’s where this auction item comes in. Be sure to include a gift card to a favorite local restaurant, along with movie tickets and some snacks to sneak in. You might even reignite some sparks with your charity fundraiser!
27. Car detailing
An opportunity to have one’s car detailed can be very worthwhile, especially for a family with kids. This is something that can either be done with a gift certificate to a local professional or perhaps a team member within your network of support. Either way, the winner ends up with a car that looks so good, they might not even recognize it as their own!
28. Photography class
Auctioning off a paid seat to a local photography class is a great way to raise money for your cause while inspiring creativity as well. To really sell it, be sure to include photos taken by the instructor or previous students so that bidders can really imagine the type of work they’ll be learning to do.
29. Pet pampering
Anyone with a pet knows how difficult it can be to keep on top of their furry friend’s grooming habits. Perhaps Fido needs a bath, a haircut, or a nail trim! You can either auction off a gift card for the winner to take their pet to a local groomer, or have someone from your team do the pampering themselves. Then, the pet is returned to the owner looking squeaky clean and cuter than ever.
30. Ballroom dance lessons
Many untrained dancers wish they had the knowledge and skills to prosper in the area, although few actually take the steps toward learning. That’s why offering ballroom dance lessons as an auction item can be a unique and creative idea! This works especially well for couples who might be approaching an anniversary or another special date. After all, who doesn’t want to feel like a Disney princess?
School Auction Items
School auctions are a fantastic school fundraising idea to raise money and provide an engaging experience for students, families, alumni, and other community members. Regardless of whether your items are directly related to your school, it can be an extremely worthwhile experience for all attendees.
Effective and popular school auction items can include the following:
31. School merchandise
More than likely, you already have a set of school merchandise on sale, including t-shirts, hats, lanyards, and more. However, for your dedicated auction items, it’s a good idea to roll out limited-time merchandise with new designs. The exclusivity and urgency will lead to more bids!
32. Student-made artwork
This can be a powerful money-maker for students of all ages, especially because a student artist’s own family members and friends will likely be willing to pay more for their special person’s artwork. Feel free to auction off items that students create in their school art classes, or collect artwork created on a students’ own free time.
33. VIP graduation package
If you’re raising money for a high school or even a college or university, a VIP graduation package can be a great idea for your auction. Include things like an optimal parking spot, front row seats, a photoshoot with the principal, and a unique diploma frame!
34. Parking spot
This auction item can easily be adjusted to fit whichever audience you’re selling to. For high school or college fundraisers, auctioning off a highly-coveted parking space in the student lot is a great way to raise money from students who are tired of walking so much. On the other hand, a middle or elementary school fundraiser can encourage parents to bid on their own parking spot which allows them to skip the parent pickup line each day.
35. Principal for a day
Best for younger students like elementary and middle-schoolers, auctioning off the opportunity to be the “Principal for a Day” is a great way to ignite school spirit while raising money at the same time! To many students, the principal is almost like a superhero, so it’s definitely an exciting option. For an extra perk, consider adding a fast food meal of choice at lunchtime to sweeten the deal.
36. Naming rights
Whether you’re installing a new bench or restoring an old building, auctioning off naming rights is an exciting way for students to leave their legacy. This can be great for both parents to win for their younger students or graduating students as they transition to alumni. Be sure to include a small plaque on whichever item is being named, and allow the winning student a brief message of their choice.
37. Professional photoshoot
Professional photos make nice mementos, but getting them done can be so pricey. That’s why a photoshoot is a great auction item for your school fundraiser. Choose a location with a nice background and scenery, and perhaps you even have a talented photographer in your midst who might volunteer to take photos for free! Then, be sure to get high-quality prints of the pictures, and provide the winner with the digital copies as well.
38. Theme park tickets
Is there an amusement park or water park fairly close to your school? Auctioning off a four-pack of tickets is a great idea to raise money at your fundraising event. For an added bonus, you might want to turn it into a basket, complete with branded t-shirts from that park! This way, the winners will be all set for their trip and they’ll fit right in.
39. Camping package
This is a great idea for younger students and parents who want to plan a family trip or older students who would like to experience the outdoors with their friends. Be sure to include several sleeping bags, a good-sized tent, firewood, s’mores ingredients (and other snacks!), and a gift certificate to a local campground.
40. Private zoo tour
Zoos are exciting experiences for students of all ages, and a private tour with behind-the-scenes offerings can bring the intrigue up several notches. That’s why you should auction off tickets to a local zoo. You might even want to work with the zoo management to see if you can offer tickets for an after-hours tour so that the winners get free reign of the area.
Church Auction Items
If you’re raising money for your church or religious organization, an auction can be a great idea. Not only can you bring in thousands of dollars in charitable support, but your congregants get an exciting event (and hopefully a fun auction item) out of the process!
Here are some popular auction items among churchgoers for your auction:
41. Youth chore team for a day
Perhaps your congregation is comprised of elderly guests or working parents with young children who might have trouble keeping up with important tasks around their homes. In this case, a chore team is a great resource to auction off at your fundraiser. To do so, be sure you have a group of 6-8 hardworking individuals who are willing to donate their time for an entire day.
42. Gift cards
Gift cards are a fun, yet extremely simple item to auction off at any charity event. Plus, many local businesses and restaurants are willing to trade gift cards for some extra exposure for their company. To get started, find out if any of your church members have connections to the local businesses—whether they own them or know the management! Good ideas include popular restaurants, spas and salons, and other experiences.
43. Worship concert tickets
Is there an upcoming worship concert by a well-known Christian band or singer in your area? Try to secure some good seats, and auction the tickets off for your church fundraiser. For best results, be sure to take into consideration the music that your congregation is partial to—whether that’s traditional, contemporary, indie, or even Christian hip hop.
44. Vacation home usage
More than likely, someone in your congregation has access to a vacation home. For this auction item, see if they’ll donate that home for usage by another member or family for a week or so as a high-demand auction item. If you can’t find an available vacation home, see if you can get a good deal on a hotel or Airbnb. The best part about this is that it will likely go for high bids, but be given to your church at a low (or no!) cost.
45. Coffee crawl
You’ve probably heard of a bar crawl—and a coffee crawl is just the same! Collect gift cards from several local coffee shops and draft up a map to demonstrate a suggested route that the winner can take. Even better, you might include reusable coffee mugs from each location, so that the individual also has a set of mementos from the unique experience.
Hiring a babysitter can get pretty pricey, especially if there’s more than one kid to consider. That’s why for many churchgoers, childcare for an evening can be a popular auction item! Similar to a chore team, be sure to recruit responsible churchgoers (whether youth and/or adults) to volunteer their time to look after the winner’s child(ren) for a night. For an added bonus, you might position this item as a “date night” package, and include a gift certificate to a favorite romantic restaurant as well.
47. First pitch at a game
If you have a professional sports team or two in your area, this can be an exciting auction item for kids and adults alike. By partnering with a local sports team, you can provide an exclusive opportunity for your auction winner that will be a great memory for years to come. And, despite the name, a similar experience can even be offered for other sports as well—like football or basketball!
48. Professional landscaping
Who doesn’t want their front lawn landscaped nicely—especially when the money is going to support a good cause? More than likely, someone in your church family has some experience (or at least a connection). If not, try reaching out to local landscaping businesses to see if you can work out a discount for your auction offering.
49. Voice lessons
Many people are willing to pay big bucks for voice lessons. When it’s the music pastor or another member of the worship team offering, it can be an even more exciting experience for everyone involved. Perhaps the winner can even showcase their new skills by singing in the choir on a Sunday morning!
50. Parking spot
We all know how frustrating it can be to run late on a Sunday morning, only to find the parking lot already packed by the time you arrive. That’s why auctioning off a high-demand parking spot is a great idea! You might even offer decorating rights, allowing the winner to paint or chalk their spot for a little extra personalization.
How do I get auction items?
Now that you know which items make the best auction items for your upcoming fundraiser, you may have a few questions about how to acquire those things. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick list of tried-and-true item procurement tips as well!
When planning your auction, be sure to consider the following:
1. Share key details about your cause.
Prospective donors are much more likely to give to a cause that they’re well-informed about, especially if there’s any sort of personal connection. One of the most powerful ways to leverage this knowledge is by sharing true stories about constituents who have been positively impacted by your organization (with their permission, of course). This way, potential supporters can better visualize themselves as a part of the solution you’re offering.
2. Reach out to friends and family.
Sometimes your best resources are already within your close networks of team members’ own friends and families. That’s why it’s a great idea to begin the procurement process close to home. Perhaps a team member has a connection to a major donor who may be willing to provide either auction items or financial support for your upcoming event. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
3. Create a procurement team.
If you rely on a single team member to reach out to potential donors and collect items on their own, the results will likely be less than desired. That’s because it’s a big task that ideally should be delegated among a good-sized team of staff and volunteers (typically 5-6 individuals). Then, once you have your team in place, be sure to divide projects up into smaller checklist items so that each person knows exactly what they’re responsible for.
4. Provide suggested donations.
When reaching out to potential item donors, it’s a good idea to include a list of 10-20 suggested items to donate. This can remove significant stress from both the team member soliciting donations and the potential donors themselves. For best results, craft each list to match the prospective donor from which you’re requesting a gift.
5. Form partnerships with local businesses.
When charitable organizations work together with for-profit businesses, they can often form powerful corporate partnerships that strategically benefit both parties involved. Charity auctions are no different! Fundraising events like these provide businesses with exclusive marketing and promotional opportunities, while they can donate unique goods and services for your auction in return.
6. Make sure your asks are big and often.
One of the biggest mistakes that fundraisers make when planning a charity auction is limiting the number and scope of their fundraising asks. This is, understandably, often due to a fear of rejection. However, it’s important to get into the mindset that you should ask as many potential donors for support as possible, and understand that the worst they can do is say no!
Along the same lines, be sure to make your asks worthwhile. If you only ask for items in the $20 range, you’ll likely only receive items worth $20. The bigger you ask, the bigger you’ll receive—even if it doesn’t quite match the amount you requested.
7. Consider consignment items.
Offering consignment items is a great way to raise more with big-ticket items without as much risk. That’s because, with consignment items, you don’t pay the company offering the item or experience until after an auction attendee has made their purchase. This way, you don’t have to worry about shelling out tons of money pre-auction on your main attraction items with the worry that they might not sell.
8. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Like any aspect of your auction planning, you want to get the ball rolling on the item procurement process as early as possible. Otherwise, you risk coming up empty-handed as your event approaches, which won’t work out well for anyone. Instead, be sure to stick to a well-thought-out fundraising calendar to keep your whole team on track, and you’ll be able to receive top items right on schedule.
It’s a good idea to begin brainstorming item procurement at least 3-6 months in advance of your auction, and then continue the process from there.
Having the best auction items possible will set your event up for success. Not only will your array of items draw in more attendees ahead of time, but you’ll also encourage guests to spend more while they’re there. You can thank us later!
For more information, take a look at our other informational guides and top fundraising resources:
- Text-to-Give | Complete Guide for Nonprofits and Fundraisers. Mobile giving is popular among both fundraising teams and their supporters. Even better, you can integrate this easy-to-use giving method as a bonus source of revenue at your charity auction!
- Virtual Fundraising: The Complete Guide for 2020 & Beyond. Virtual fundraising is more popular than ever before. If you’re looking for new tips and tricks to raising more for your organization, be sure to read our powerful guide.
- Free Fundraising Software for Nonprofits: Top Providers. The most effective fundraisers utilize effective tools. Take a look at our list of favorite free and low-cost fundraising software perfect for nonprofits like yours.
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