3 [Big] Steps to Run an Auction Fundraiser: Plan-Run-Close
Auction Fundraisers have multiple purposes: raise money for a cause and raise awareness for a cause, and increase the overall number of supporters. Auction fundraisers can turn one-time donors and bidders into long term supporter post event with a little care and encouragement.
Auctions are a great way to engage and interact with the current donor and potential future donor population. The purpose of the auction itself is to offer goods, services and opportunities that are bid-up by donors. This auction should be looked at for both short term and long term goals.
Obviously you are there to fundraise for the cause however this is the perfect venue to:
Educate donors about the mission
Communicate specific needs
Auction fundraisers tap the unique supporter that wants something in return for their donation. Since auction items are almost always donated there is no outlay of $ by the group or charity for the items that will be up for bid.
Auctions are great stage to share and care about a beloved cause. Bidders are energized by the auction offerings and share the auction news with friends and family increasing the breadth of potential bidders i.e. donors. This type of organic compassion widens the audience of the mission and vision for the charity or group.
It takes just 3 BIG Steps to run an auction fundraiser but first you must choose what type of auction; event based or online only
- Plan the auction
- Run the auction
- Close the auction and convert the bidders & donors to long term supporters
Types of Auction Fundraisers
Auction fundraisers fall into two categories. Event based and non-event based. Event based auction fundraiser is the prototypical silent and live auction that is encased in a party or gala. A non-event based auction fundraiser takes place online only. There are pros and cons to each but mostly it’s a matter of how much support do you have to plan and organize the event? And how much loyalty is in your supporter base to participate in the auction fundraiser.
Event Based Auction
Silent & Live Auctions are in-person events. In person event limits bidding to attendees only so finding a location, date, time and a price point that will encourage attendance and fill the seats is crucial.
Advantages to an event based auction:
Party atmosphere enhances bids
auction & event can run concurrently so fill the event time with entertainment, keynote speaker, celebrating success showing photos and videos of how the cause had helped the recipients.
event income can dramatically increase with sponsorships, sell sponsorships from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, sponsorships can be used to cover entire portions of the event like valet parking, or the dessert table,
In person boosters like raffle, and paddle raise work well in a social setting
In person auction fundraisers provide the backdrop to personally connect with bidders and share the story and successes for the cause.
Online Only Auction
Online only auction lessens the overall workload of running the auction fundraiser and can extend the auction fundraiser over a much longer timeframe.
Advantages to consider with an online only auction:
Less overhead to run an event, less workload because no longer have to plan an event or party
no barrier to entry so potentially larger bidder pool
Auction can run multiple days or weeks
Bid from the couch or mobile device with immediate notifications
Donations of goods need to be delivered or shipped after the event concludes
An online auction is much less personal, less opportunity to share the story behind the cause.
For a fuller in depth review types fundraisers check out the pros & cons, of each.
Planning the Auction Fundraiser
Planning the silent and live auction fundraiser with a hosted event takes time to plan the event plus the auction. The event can range from casual carnival, to sporting event like a golf tournament or a sit-down themed gala.
In summary, on the event side save the date, plan the venue, choose the food and entertainment, decide upon using a live auctioneer, select a key-note speaker or honoree.
Getting the team started by defining roles and tasks to map out an overall plan. Chairperson(s) will guide the team and strategically plan the overall auction process. This person should be well organized with the abilities to both work and delegate simultaneously.
Major tasks planning the auction:
- Define goals, purpose & target audience for the auction
- Define target donors and solicit for donations, here is sample procurement letter, be sure to send out and follow up on all donation requests in a timely manner
- Track everything meticulously
- Price and set bidding increments for all auction items consistently
- Offer sponsorships
- Offer other for-sale items like online ticket sales and raffles
For event based auction additional tasks:
- Create all auction documents: bid sheets, display pages, gift certificates, bid catalog
- Prepare bidder management, bidder numbering and close-out
Running the Auction Fundraiser
Running the fundraiser is the point where you go from planning to public promotion for the auction event. Start with early promotions and through all channels that your audience receives your messaging. Promote with efficiency by including links and one-stop registration, entrance ticket admission, upsell raffles, VIP seats and most important pre-register bidders. By using the pre-registraiton process the entire bidding and closeout can run efficiently, especially when using an online auction program.
Major tasks running the event based auction:
- Promote and sell event tickets
- Promote online catalog
- Use bid sheets and a display page are furnished to advertise each item and clearly note closing times for category or individual items
- Bidder registration
- Bidding process, silent and live
- Sell raffle tickets and pull raffle ticket winners
- Conduct the live auction
Online auctions add a layer of flexibility for both the auction itself and the participants. Online auction can run for much longer period of time usually lasting many days. This gives many more bidders much more time to raise bids higher and higher. Online auctions have the unique ability to manage proxy bidding and anti-sniping activity. Proxy Bidding is a feature available with an auction software program to allow a bidder to put in a max bid yet provide a bidding mechanism to keep their actual bid as low as possible yet provide a path to remain the winner. Anti-sniping prevents bid sniping by last minute bids outbidding people before they have a chance to react. The auction software program can be set-up to extend the bidding time on any item that was bid on for a defined time prior to the auction closing. In doing so the previously outbid bidder has a chance to re-bid and become the higher bidder.
Major tasks running the online only auction:
- Set up website to promote the auction and accept bidder registration
- Set-up bidding rules, proxy bidding & anti sniping
- Promote, share links and advertise the auction fundraiser with wide messaging
Closing the Auction & Extending the Relationship
Harness the energy and excitement of the auction event by staying connected with all participants of the fundraiser. Everyone from donor to bidders, vendors and sponsors. Each made the event a success so be sure to formally thank each for their contribution.
Major tasks closing the auction:
- Close silent auction items systematically or by category for a smooth check-out
- Collections and financial reconciliations
- Distribute the auction goods, since this is an onsite event most goods and certificates should be distributed on location
- Thank you letters and receipts
- Report auction activity
With an online only auction the close-out and collections will be very simple since bidders will have pre-registered, the distribution of the auction items will require a bit of coordination
Bidders into Donors: bidders have spent money to help the cause, extend the relationship to help benefit the cause on an ongoing basis. Maintain connections that have been made during all auction activities. Auction fundraisers bring out the core supporters who in turn bring friends to join in the festivities. Identify the new patrons and connect with them promptly. Send an auction receipt along with a list of ways to connect and save the date for future events. Get on the radar of the new friends and make them part of the family. Show bidders why their support for the cause is important and worth future commitments in terms of time or money.
Final Questions to Self-Assess
Let’s wrap up with some final thoughts so you can determine whether an auction fundraiser is right for you. Take an honest look for an answer:
Will our current audience financially support an auction fundraiser?
Do we have the people to prepare and run an auction fundraiser?
IF YES, then determine the type: online or silent & live and define some goals and get started! Auction fundraising provides for social competition that can be healthy for raising money for a great cause while also increasing awareness. Make the long term goal to convert bidders to long term supporters long after the auction closes.