The Ultimate Guide to Online Auction Fundraising

Are online auctions profitable? The answer to this question depends on your auction and audience. Some nonprofits can raise tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in one evening. The trick is finding the right auction items for your donor base, tools to host the auction online, and ways to engage your audience. Virtual fundraisers…

7 minutes read
The Ultimate Guide to Online Auction Fundraising

online auction fundraising

Are online auctions profitable?

The answer to this question depends on your auction and audience. Some nonprofits can raise tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in one evening. The trick is finding the right auction items for your donor base, tools to host the auction online, and ways to engage your audience.

Virtual fundraisers give you more options to fundraise and entertain, so online auctions can be more profitable than your traditional event.

This article will discuss the steps you must take to set up an online auction.

  1. What is an online or virtual auction?
  2. 4 types of online auctions you can hold to raise money
  3. 8 important steps to online auction fundraising
  4. 3 great ways to attract and engage online auction audiences

What is an Online or Virtual Auction?

An online or virtual auction helps bring the process and benefits of an in-person auction to the online format. Online auctions can be done as a separate campaign or added to a hybrid event.

Either way, you’ll need auction items, mobile bidding tools, and a team to pull it off. Virtual auctions can be done in several different ways. The type of online auction you choose must fit your donors and the items you can find.

Here’s an example of a fundraising page including an online auction that went on for a number of days and provided details for online bidding to raise money for a cause.

how to do an online auction

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4 Types of Online Auctions You Can Hold to Raise Money

1. Live auction

An auctioneer calls out items and donation amounts during a live auction, whether online or in person. Larger and high-priced items are best for live auctions. Online live auction items that may draw attention include trips to unique locations and VIP experiences.

You’ll also want to solicit auction items that fit your event’s crowd. For instance, if you’re holding a golf outing, you can get a few foursome gift certificates to local country clubs.

2. Silent auction

Silent auctions are an excellent option for every event, regardless of the size or donor base. With silent auctions, you can solicit items that stand alone or include several smaller items in a basket that fits a theme.

You can still raise thousands of dollars with an online silent auction. You’ll want mobile bidding software and auction items that photograph well to run a successful virtual silent auction.

3. Fixed-price item sales

Another way to raise funds during an online auction is with a fixed-price item sale. You can add this to your live or silent auction. Examples of fixed-price items people are willing to purchase include wine and baked goods.

Since all things during this sale are the same, you can also turn it into a blind auction. You can cover the bottles or desserts in bags or wrap them up. Ask everyone to purchase a bag for $20 without knowing what they’ll get.

On the night of the event, choose a day and time for everyone to tune in. Live stream the sale and let everyone see their items simultaneously.

4. Paddle raises

Paddle raises are an exciting way to ask for donations during live or live-stream events. The best way to do this is to have the auctioneer start with the highest amount and have a donor already ready to give. This significant gift will excite the crowd and get things off to a good start.

Pro tip: Share a video about your nonprofit, its mission and programs, and give examples of where donors’ gifts will go. Connecting the virtual auction event with your organization’s mission will encourage more participation and significant gift amounts.

8 Important Steps to Online Auction Fundraising

Virtual auctions are similar to in-person events, but there are a few things you’ll need to do differently to entice more online attendance and keep people engaged.

1. Set fundraising goals

Set attainable goals for your online auction. This should start with involving your board members and volunteers who have a similar experience. If you have held an auction in the past, KPI measurements from that should also help.

Choosing and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), like an increase in donation amounts, finding new donors, gaining more website visits, and encouraging more online volunteers, will help you see the success of your event. You can base your auction’s goals on these results.

2. Create a volunteer event team and plan for the event

Instead of taking sole responsibility, your auction needs a volunteer event team. Once you have a team, you can start planning your pre-event, event day, and post-event auction activities.

Remember, this is an event, so act like it. Get your volunteer event team involved from the start and hand out jobs.

Who will handle –

  • Sponsors
  • Marketing and promotions
  • Ticket sales
  • Major donors
  • Auction item procurement
  • Hosting of the online event
  • Managing the online event at the backend
  • Event follow-up
  • Delivery of auction items

Make sure you have discussed all the above points and even more with your team of volunteers. If you have staff members, it is suggested that you ask for their suggestions and help as well.

3. Create an item wish list and start procurement

The first pre-event activity your volunteers must start with is item procurement. Have volunteers connect with personal connections and businesses they know to find exciting items for your auction.

You’ll also want to communicate with past sponsors with donation request letters. Wondering how to secure corporate sponsorships for your online fundraising events? Watch this webinar recording (+ get a free corporate partner outreach pack!).

Finally, you can post an in-kind donation request online through your website, emails, and social media. Once you receive enough items, you’ll want to start bid sheets with a price of 35% of the item’s market value. This amount is generally low enough to encourage numerous bids but not too low to cost you money.

4. Create an online-auction fundraising or event page

As you solicit auction items and prepare for your online auction, you must create a customized auction fundraising page. This campaign page should include information on the event and how it supports your organization’s mission.

The below fundraising page for an online auction event includes the mission as well as auction details. This crowdfunding page was created and customized using Donorbox. We let you create unlimited fundraising campaigns for free and our platform fee is one of the lowest.

how to do online auctions

You must also add all auction and fixed-price items so people can bid before and during the event. Don’t forget the item name, item details, value amount, and starting bid.

Here’s an example of an online event page including an online auction and item details. They’ve also added a link to the bidding platform. This event page is hosted on Donorbox. Donorbox Events is a simple event ticketing platform letting you create event pages and ticketing forms easily (and much more!).

how to do online auctions

Create a Nonprofit Event Page

Remember to take and post high-quality images, and use social media and emails to promote the items weekly.

5. Choose an online bidding tool

This is one of the most important steps of hosting an online auction event. You’d need a mobile bidding tool that is easy and quick for people to learn and use.

You have options like Handbid that gives your audience one of the best mobile bidding experiences. They can easily find listed items, get push notifications, and bid on items.

Auctria is another online tool that allows mobile and text bidding. It is important for you to keep your goals and needs in mind while choosing the right bidding tool.

6. Plan other activities

You’ll want at least one volunteer to handle the flow of your online auction to keep viewers’ attention. Live stream parts of the event. Share it on Facebook Live, Instagram Live, YouTube, or Zoom. Have one or more dedicated volunteers for this activity.

You can start the auction with speeches, videos about your nonprofit’s mission and programs, and a commercial from a sponsor. You can also post item information on social media throughout the event to grab the attention of your donors and others.

Once the auction starts, you’ll want to live stream the main event and include games and trivia to keep participation up.

In the end, share who won what, how much was raised, and make sure you thank everyone who joined the auction.

7. Highlight sponsors, donors, and volunteers

Another way you can keep people’s attention is by thanking and promoting sponsors, bidders, donors, and volunteers throughout your online auction.

You can let sponsors share commercials and speak about their products in exchange for donations, but this won’t necessarily excite your audience.

On the other hand, sharing honest gratitude for your volunteers and donors with stories and testimonials will let your audience know how much their participation means.

8. Follow up

Your auction attendees should receive automatic receipts when they purchase items. You can schedule a social media post to go out immediately after the event to thank all participants and tell donors how much was raised.

Within forty-eight hours, you’ll also want to send personalized acknowledgments. Thank donors for their attendance and gifts, and share how they’ve helped your nonprofit.

A thank-a-thon is another excellent way to great donor communications. This personal touch is vital to an online event. Get your volunteer event team, board members, and staff members to call all online attendees and thank them for participating.

Pro tip: Don’t ask for a donation. You can inform them about upcoming events. Focus on building relationships and adding them to your donor database. Based on your further research, you can approach them for donations.

3 Great Ways to Attract and Engage Online Auction Audiences

The question remains: will my online auction drive more participation and revenue?

Let us help you with a few additions you can use to ensure more engagement and money.

1. Use online ambassadors

Use online volunteers and your board as social media ambassadors and peer-to-peer fundraisers.

Before anything goes live, help them create their own campaign page and share how they can pre-record or live-stream themselves talking about their experience with your organization.

You can also give them exclusive information on auction items and encourage them to discuss why they’re excited about the auction. This will help find new sets of audiences and engage existing volunteers and donors.

2. Start early bidding

Auction bidders want to feel like they’re special or getting a great deal. One way to do this is with early bidding. When planning your auction, give those who registered early VIP status the option to bid on a few exclusive items.

Promote early bidding for those who register by a specific date. Once they register, send an e-blast with the donors’ bid number, images, and details on the early items.

Give them a new time to start bidding for these items, and let them pre-register their credit cards to use online or on a mobile app.

3. Connect with donors by text

Before and during the event, you must connect with online attendees. Online events don’t have the urgency that in-person events have. Connection with donors to let them know what’s expected will help keep them accountable for their registration.

Send texts before the event to remind attendees about the online auction. You’ll want to continue texting during the auction to let donors know when they’ve been outbid, give fundraising updates, or announce new auction items.

Final Thoughts

An online auction is an exciting opportunity for any nonprofit, and with new mobile technology, any size nonprofit can be successful. The trick is finding the right auction items, tools, and fun elements for your donor base.

Following a few steps and tricks to engage an online audience can make virtual auctions more profitable than your traditional event. If you’re interested in receiving fundraising tips and resources to use at your next online auction or event, check out our Nonprofit Blog. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive the best Donorbox resources in your inbox directly.

To level up your auction fundraising and other online fundraising events, use powerful Donorbox features such as Recurring Donations, Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer, Events, Memberships, Donor Management, and more. We have designed a success package to help upgrade your fundraising and donor acquisition efforts – it’s called Donorbox Premium! Get expert coaching services, a dynamic set of tools, the best pricing (personalized) in the market, priority support, and more!

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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