From Paddles to Profits: A Guide to Hosting a Stellar Live Auction Event

Published on 8 Dec 2023 by Auctria

Running a successful live auction involves careful planning, engaging the audience, and creating an atmosphere that encourages bidding. Let’s dig into how your nonprofit can nail it.

What are the benefits of live auctions?

Auctions are a great way to inject a bit more excitement and competition into your event. And live auctions, specifically, are essential.

Mainly, live auctions create:

Engagement and excitement: Live auctions create a dynamic and engaging atmosphere. The excitement of live bidding, the interaction between the auctioneer and participants, and the competitive nature of the process contribute to a lively and memorable experience.

Real-time decision-making: Live auctions allow participants to make quick, in-the-moment decisions. The sense of urgency and competition can lead to higher bids as participants are emotionally invested in securing the items they desire.

Fostering a sense of community: The communal aspect of live auctions brings people together. Participants share the experience of bidding, celebrating wins, and supporting a common cause. This sense of community can strengthen connections among attendees.

Immediate results: Unlike silent auctions, where winners are determined after a set period, live auctions provide immediate results. Bidders know instantly whether they've won an item, fostering a sense of gratification and accomplishment.

Entertainment value: A skilled benefit auctioneer can turn the event into a form of entertainment. A charismatic auctioneer can captivate the audience, injecting humor, energy, and personality into the proceedings, making the auction more enjoyable for participants.

Higher perceived value: The competitive nature of live bidding often leads to items selling for higher prices than their intrinsic value. Bidders may be motivated to outbid others, contributing to increased revenue for the organization hosting the auction.

How to run a successful auction in three stages

  1. Pre-Event planning
  2. Day-of-event execution
  3. Post Event

1. Pre-event planning,

Define auction goal:

  • Overall fundraising target: Determine the total amount of funds the organization aims to raise through the auction, considering the budget for programs, projects, or specific initiatives.

  • Attendance goals: Set goals for the number of attendees at the auction. Larger attendance can lead to increased participation and higher bids.

  • Participation levels: Set targets for the percentage of attendees actively participating in the auction, whether through bidding, purchasing items, or making donations.

Secure sponsors

Reach out to potential sponsors outlining the different sponsorship tiers, benefits, and impact of their contributions.

Sponsors might be volunteers, board members, or past supporters, or even local businesses with whom you do or do not have a connection.

Select compelling items

When deciding which items to list in your auction, consider sending out a brief pre-event survey to gauge interest in specific items. Or, consider allowing for “bidder’s choice” — or the bidding method in which the highest bidder gets to choose one item or multiple items from one group of assets.

To help, take a look at Auctria’s list of no-risk auction partners.

Secure an experienced auctioneer and prep them

Invest in an experienced and charismatic auctioneer who can energize the crowd, build excitement, and encourage bidding. A skilled auctioneer can make a significant difference in the success of the event.

When choosing your auctioneer, be sure to select someone who specializes in nonprofit auctions so they can help your event bring in as much revenue as possible. A full list of specialized nonprofit auctioneers can be found here.
Once you’ve found an auctioneer for your live auction, be sure to prepare them by describing the mission of the charity and how it will helps, heals, educates, researchers, advocates for the recipients. Provide clear direction on auction items including:

Once you’ve found an auctioneer for your live auction, be sure to prepare them by describing the mission of the charity and how it will helps, heals, educates, researchers, advocates for the recipients. Provide clear direction on auction items including:

  • order of auction items
  • descriptions of auction items
  • necessary caveats such as usage or re-sell terms, expiration or blackout dates,
    opening starting bid
  • instructions if an opening bid is not secured, can the bidding start lower
    bid increments
  • instructions if bid increments can be adjusted
    number of times to offer ‘last chance’

Create a bidder registration and bidding process

Implement a bidder registration process to streamline participation. Provide bidders with numbered paddles and/or bid sheets.

Promote the live auction

The live auction is only successful when at least 2 or more bidders are actively engaged. Attract live auction bidders in the marketing of the auction event. Highlight the live auction items through the auction website, outbound emails, paper flyers and invites as well as at the actual event. Promote live auction items in advance to elevate interest level.

Day-of-event execution

Designate a prime auction spot. Designate a central and visible area for the live auction within the event venue. Ensure that all attendees can easily see and hear the auctioneer.
Encourage audience engagement

Create an engaging atmosphere by encouraging audience participation. Use entertaining elements, such as live music, videos, or testimonials, to captivate the audience.

Plus, be sure to display and describe the live auction items in the lead-up time to the event at the event display items with complete details, include live auction items within the bid catalog, and indicate starting bid amounts.

And, consider voiceover previews, pre-auction spotlighting, an auctioneer meet and greet, or even giving staff or commitment members neon “ask me about” name tags to make things a bit more lively.

According to Gala Gal, Jenelle Taylor, in her webinar with Auctria,

“ask me about” name tags are a great way to generate excitement and free buzz around auction items. To do this, staff wear bright “ask me about [auction item]” tags and strike up conversations with potential bidders before the auction. These potential bidders then organically talk to peers about the item and offerings.

“That person that’s now knowledgable about that item is marketing it for you. They’re telling their peers about this auction item and getting them excited about it. That is priceless.” — Jenelle Taylor

Highlight each item effectively Have the auctioneer highlight each item effectively. Share compelling stories, unique features, and the impact of the funds raised.

Encourage competitive bidding Encourage competitive bidding by tapping into the emotions of bidders. Emphasize the impact of the items and the contributions and how winning bidders can help make a real difference. When possible, use specifics, too, naming exactly what programs or specific benefits a contribution will have (i.e. “This money will pay for 6 scholarships.”)

Acknowledge bidders and winners Acknowledge and thank bidders promptly. Ensure that each winning bidder receives recognition, whether through applause or a moment in the spotlight.

Use fun, competitive techniques like:

  • Golden Ticket Raffle: Sell a limited number of "golden tickets" for a set price.
    Hold a drawing, and the winner gets to choose a high-value item or experience from a selection.

  • Mystery Boxes: Place various items or experiences in sealed boxes.
    Participants bid on the mystery box without knowing its contents. It adds an element of surprise.

  • Dessert Dash: Have desserts or other treats on display. Participants bid on the dessert they want, and the highest bidders get to choose and enjoy their treat.

No live Auction is complete without a fund a need, or raise the paddle

  • Fund-a-Need: Directly appeal to donors to contribute to a specific cause or project. Highlight a particular need or initiative and ask for donations at various levels.


Manage payment and item pickup

Streamline the payment process for winning bids. Clearly communicate payment options, and organize a smooth process for item pickup or delivery.

Express gratitude

Express gratitude to both winning bidders and sponsors who contributed to the success of the live auction. Send personalized thank-you messages.

Report on funds raised

Share the final results of the live auction, including the total funds raised and any specific achievements or milestones reached. Celebrate the success with your community.

Run a successful live auction event with Auctria
With auction event software like Auctria, nonprofits can save their teams time and stress, and make more impact in the process.

Our team of trusted professionals helps handle all the details of running an auction so you can focus on what’s most important—like making the world a better place.