Hosting a Charity Auction: A Step-by-Step Guide for Success

A charity auction can be an excellent and fun way to raise money while bringing your community together.
A charity auction can be an excellent and fun way to raise money while bringing your community together.

So you want to host a charity auction. That’s great! Auctions can be a fun way to engage your supporters and raise funds for your worthy cause. Plus, bidding on a unique item can be just the right motivation your donors need to give.

If you’ve started planning an auction, you know that it can take a lot of work. To get the most out of your event—whether it’s virtual or live—you need to maximize your donation potential.

This article will guide you through the process to help you raise the most funds from your event. Let’s take a look at the steps:

  1. How do you host a charity auction? FAQ
  2. Select comprehensive auction software.
  3. Choose your auction items wisely.
  4. Promote your event and items to generate excitement.
  5. Accept online and mobile bids.
  6. Engage with supporters during the auction.
  7. Set up a place to accept donations from those who don’t win.

Whether you’re a seasoned auction host wanting to brush up on best practices or you’re planning your first auction, this guide will give you all of the information you need for success. Let’s get started!

How do you host a charity auction? FAQ

A charity auction can be an excellent and fun way to raise money while bringing your community together. However, it can be a big task to take on, especially if you’ve never hosted one before. To help you out, we’re answering some of the most frequently asked questions about charity auctions. 

This guide primarily focuses on live charity auctions, but silent auctions are another great option that your organization can explore. 

What can I sell at a charity auction?

There is no end to what you can sell at a charity auction! Depending on your particularly supporter base and your organization, some items may make more sense than others but there are always many options that are a great fit. From experiences to free meals, massages, works of art, and more, you can find the right items for your event in our list of 101 auction items for different organizations and types of auctions. 

How does an online charity auction work?

A virtual auction works very similarly to an in-person charity auction, with just a few key differences. This is also true of hybrid auctions, which combine the best of both worlds! 


To host a successful virtual auction, you’ll need robust virtual auction software as well as digital catalog capabilities, and potentially a platform to host your event on, like Zoom. 

Step #1: Select comprehensive auction software.

Step #1: Select comprehensive auction software.

Think of your software as the foundation for your charity auction. It will help you prepare for all the planning that’s to come!

Charity auction software helps you set up your event and track your items. Additionally, it allows donors to bid online with mobile phones (or any device, for that matter), enabling widespread participation and making bidding easier.

That’s why auction software is so crucial. But, what features do you need? Let’s look at a few that can help you raise even more money:

  • Event websites with item listings. Your nonprofit will have a unique site dedicated to your auction. Your site will be the place where supporters come to register for the event and where you can promote your items. You can even open up online bidding on your items before or after your in-person event to raise more!
  • Secure payment processing. Before the bidding has even started, donors register their payment information. If they’ve won an item, their cards are securely and automatically processed.
  • Scoreboards and fundraising thermometers. Keep participants updated on the top bidders with visuals that they can easily access on your site.
  • Tracking and analysis. Choose software that lets you track your progress, learn about your donors’ giving habits, and gives you other insights that will help you hone your auction.

Of course, every auction software platform has different features, so look for a provider that meets all of your needs. 

The final point: Maximizing your auction’s full potential starts with getting the right software. Choose one with features that will better promote your event and make it easy for donors to give.

A charity auction can be an excellent and fun way to raise money while bringing your community together.

Are you ready to plan your best auction yet?

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Step #1: Select comprehensive auction software.

Step #2: Choose your auction items wisely.

The next thing you want to consider is your list of auction items. To get your supporters excited, you need to collect items that they’ll genuinely want. Usually, unique, one-of-a-kind items or experiences perform well.

Donors will be more motivated to bid if the items can’t be found elsewhere. Additionally, when multiple donors have an interest in one item, they can drive the bids higher.

So before you go out and procure items, think about your target audience. Which supporters are you trying to target with this event?

For instance, you don’t want to pick items that are priced too high, especially for donors that don’t have the financial means to give that much.  However, if you’re hosting the event for your major gift donors, then you should absolutely aim for those big-ticket items!

As you choose your items, it’s also important to consider what type of charity auction you’re hosting. With a live auction, your emcee will be able to fully explain each item and generate excitement. As a result, you can choose items that are unique and less well-known.

For example, if you’re auctioning artwork created by a lesser-known artist, the emcee will be able to tell the story of the piece and the artist’s vision behind it.

Alternatively, with an online auction, you’ll have less space to compel donors to bid on your items. Of course, you’ll be able to write about each item in your catalog and display pictures from several angles. However, there won’t be an emcee that can gauge the audience to really sell the item. In which case, you might want to procure items that are more recognizable.

The type of items you pick will depend on your donors and the kind of auction you’re hosting, but make sure there is a mix of options so that everyone can find an item (or experience) that they’re interested in.

Some ideas for your auction items can include:

  • Tickets to a local museum or theater
  • Technology (laptops, phones, TVs, etc.)
  • Signed sports equipment
  • Plane tickets to an exotic location

The final point: Your auction items are what makes your event unique. Find things that cater to your donors’ interests, so they’re more motivated to bid.

Promote your event and items to generate excitement.

Step #3: Promote your event and items to generate excitement.

Before your event begins, you need to start promoting your auction and the items. That way, donors can get excited and start figuring out what they want to bid on.

You should promote your event in a way that reaches the most people, so use multiple channels to reach out to your supporters.

We’ll go over a few strategies you can use to market to your donors:

  • Use social media, text messages, and email to spread the word. Use as many channels as you can to share your event with donors. Include links to your auction page and encourage your supporters to spread the word.
  • Educate donors on the bidding process before the event. Send out emails before the event with instructions on how to make bids online or through their mobile phones. Additionally, if you’ve set up an auction site, it should include a page that teaches donors how to participate in the auction. That way, donors are already prepared on the big day.
  • Create a catalog of your auction times. Your catalog can be online on your auction site or in print. Either way, each item should have high-resolution images and a description. When your participants know about the items, they’ll be more excited to bid on the day of the auction.

The more hype that surrounds your event, the more supporters you can get to participate. Additionally, a strong interest in your auction items will increase the bid activity so that your organization will raise more.

The final point: Promote your event so that donors have plenty of time to get interested and share it with their friends and family.

Accept online and mobile bids.

Step #4: Accept online and mobile bids.

According to BidPal, mobile bidding generates about 10-30% more funds than traditional bidding. Coupled with the convenience of online auctions, your organization’s auction fundraising potential is greater than ever before.

Auction software lets donors bid no matter where they are. With more bidding options, donors will be more receptive to participating in your auction, since they can do so in the way that’s preferable for them!

Aside from an increase in funds, online and mobile bidding offer other advantages, such as:

  • Instantly alerting donors when they’ve been outbid.
  • Fewer elements to manage (i.e., keeping track of bid sheets or manually keeping track of bid activity).
  • Bidding on the go, which enables more supporters to participate.
  • Faster payment processing.

Additionally, mobile bidding makes it easier for you to engage with donors throughout your auction (more on this soon!).

The final point: Accepting mobile bids makes it easier for you to manage the auction and improves your fundraising. What other reasons do you need?

Step #5: Engage with supporters during your auction.

As we mentioned in the last section, mobile bidding makes it easy for you to engage with your donors on their mobile phones. During the event, your donors are already spending a significant amount of time on their phones, so it makes sense to interact with them through this channel, too.

For example, you can use your mobile bidding software to:

  • Update donors on your fundraising progress.
  • Showcase items with the highest bids.
  • Highlight items that have fewer bids to focus more attention on these items.

Interacting with donors keeps them just as excited about the event as it’s happening as they were when it started. Additionally, interaction with donors gives you the opportunity to cultivate your relationships further.

If you’re hosting a live event, you can learn about their interests and preferred giving channels.

All this information can help you make improvements when planning your next auction so that you can raise even more funds!

The final point: Interaction with your donors isn’t just about raising more funds; it’s about getting to know your supporters on a more personal level.

A charity auction can be an excellent and fun way to raise money while bringing your community together.

Are you ready to plan your best auction yet?

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Step #6: Set up a place to accept donations from those who don’t win.

Unfortunately, not everyone can win in an auction. And without the right setup, those donors who don’t win will leave without giving to your nonprofit (aside from paying for their tickets, of course).

Those that don’t win are still interested in giving to your organization. Therefore, having a place where they can contribute will give everyone who wants to the opportunity to support your cause.

Luckily, you can address this by having a donation station (if your event is live) or by sending reminders at the end of your event encouraging donors to give through other channels (for example, text-to-give). If you’re using mobile bidding software, donors will also have the option to make a donation right from the platform.

If your auction is live, you can also set up giving kiosks to accept credit card donations. Giving kiosks are portable donation forms that organizations can use during events or on-site.

Kiosks work great because they can be branded to match your organization and are easy to use. Just set up your kiosk in a prominent, visible location and place a sign beside it that shows donors how to give.

As guests start to use your device it will encourage even more supporters to give via your kiosk.

No matter how you decide to accept donations, make sure that your giving tools integrate with your charity auction software. Capturing donors’ information will aid your follow-up strategy and allow you to more accurately measure your event’s success.

The end of the event is also the perfect opportunity to engage with guests through text messages and emcee announcements. With these channels, you can promote your giving methods as well as suggest ways guests can stay connected to your organization, like following you on Facebook or Twitter.

When you ask for contributions throughout the event, your guests are more likely to visit your donation table at the end and contribute if they didn’t win an item in the auction.

With other donation channels in place, supporters who don’t win and had every intention of giving won’t leave without donating, helping you maximize your donations. Plus, guests will be happy to leave your event feeling they’ve supported you in some way.

The final point: Encouraging the participants who didn’t win to contribute still is an excellent way to raise more funds during your auction.

With this step-by-step guide, you can increase your fundraising potential and make the most out of your next charity auction.

Now, it’s up to you to start using these strategies. If you want more ways to maximize your fundraising, check out next year’s trends to help you raise even more.

For more nonprofit fundraising advice, read these fantastic additional resources: 

  • Online Donation Software. Whether you’re hosting an event or just want to provide donors with more convenient ways to donate, this guide to online giving tools will help you collect donations from even more supporters.
  • Free Fundraising Software. If you plan on using software for your charity auction, this guide will help your find the perfect tool. Keep reading to get 9 top free fundraising platforms.
  • Mobile Giving Guide. Learn more about mobile giving options and how to promote them at events like charity auctions!
A charity auction can be an excellent and fun way to raise money while bringing your community together.

Are you ready to plan your best auction yet?

Get Started Today

Get in touch with us to take a tour of the Snowball platform and find the right fundraising solutions for your nonprofit.

Get in touch with us to take a tour of the Snowball platform and find the right fundraising solutions for your nonprofit.