30th July, 2015

Going, going, gone!

Fundraising auctions are great fun, hard work and can bring high returns.  Here are my top tips to make the most of your event:

1. You need money in the room

Most importantly, you need an audience who can afford to bid on your items. You ideally need two or more people who want each item.  Even once-in-a-lifetime experiences can be sold for a pittance (or withdrawn) if the audience is unable to bid beyond the item’s value.  Think of the Pareto principle – try ensure that your guest list comprises of around 20% of attendees with the capacity to give 80% of target funds between them.

2. Have a variety of items of items for different budgets

Despite the above, you should involve everyone somehow if you want to have an event that people will want to come back to in subsequent years.

A silent auction of lower-price items, as well as a quirky raffle, will help to include people whose pockets aren’t too deep.

You need a variety of items that will cater to different tastes; your items are worthless if people don’t want to own them.

At a recent auction I helped to organise for aGender, the charity I am a Trustee and Chair of, I personally paid 7 times more than the retail value for a graphic print because I wanted it … and so did someone else; it was my rival’s counter bids that pushed my bidding up this high.  I felt good about the purchase though, and still do, and that’s important; you want your supporters to get a warm glow from their donations or purchases.  This is the print; it will bring a smile to my face for years to come.

Smack my ketchup

Smack My Ketchup by Erica Smith (because the only thing that should be smacked is a bottle of ketchup)

3. Create a buzz

The buzz starts with online activity in advance.  An online catalogue is highly recommended so you can use your social media networks to promote items in the run up to the event, and draw them to the attention of supporters who you think would be interested.

Your auctioneer or host can play off that, perhaps by being primed with pre-event tweets and status updates from keen bidders. A live feed from a well-chosen hashtag during the event can help to keep the buzz online and in the room.

If your venue can accommodate it, have a cabaret layout and serve drinks to the tables. A bit of food will stop people sloping off early, if you can afford it.

Try to organise some entertainment in the room – Shake down your networks to see if among your supporters is a guitarist, comedian, or magician who can walk the room.

During the auction, a double-act of an auctioneer and host works well; it helps if the host knows the people in the room (or has at least been briefed well), and can drum up competition between bidders in order to heighten the fun and maximise income.

4. Prepare thank you letters in advance

No matter how efficient you make auction events, they are exhausting.  You will wake up the next day feeling elated (hopefully) but shattered.  The last thing you will want to do is send out thank you letters.  Don’t let this slip.

Although you’ll struggle to find the time, get all of this set up in advance so that you can send receipts and thank you letters the morning after the event, together with instructions on how bidders can claim any uncollected items.

A few token thank you gifts on the night would also go down well, particularly for your host and/or auctioneer, who will no doubt have worked their socks off to squeeze every last penny out of bidders.

5. Make the admin easy on yourself

The admin involved with an auction can be a nightmare. I managed auctions manually, through spreadsheets, for years until I discovered charityauctionorganizer.com. I have nothing to gain from recommending this tool, but cannot recommend it highly enough for a small-to-medium size event.  A free account is available for up to 30 items and $2,500 in bids (fear not British readers, currency and spellings are customisable).

Here’s just a few ways that Charity Auction Organizer can help with your auction:

  • Creating a database of donated items.  You can send receipts/thank you letters to donors at the click of a button.  An online and print catalogue is easy to produce, as is a simple presentation of items;
  • Bidders can register in advance and bid online; registering bidders on the night and recording highest bids is easy;
  • Taking card payments on the night is a doddle with the use of a USB credit card swiper (at the time of writing available here for £13.99) connected to a laptop, although cash and cheque payments can still be recorded;
  • With the click of a button all winning bidders can be thanked, and sent a receipt of items won and payments received;
  • The technical support from the US-based company is great; I had a few questions about setup that were answered within an hour or so.


Sharing is caring; what are your tips for a successful auction?


Header photo credit: Isaac Hernández/IsaacHernandez.com (licence)

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