Online Marketing Campaigns for Auction Fundraisers: 5 Tips

Fundraising auctions provide nonprofits with a variety of benefits, from earning donations to building relationships with local businesses and sponsors. However, successful fundraising professionals know that even auctions with the best selection of available items don’t attract supporters on their own.

In recent years, online marketing has shifted from suggested outreach tactics to a necessary component of marketing virtual fundraisers. Fortunately, auctions have several natural benefits that your digital marketing team can leverage to create an effective online campaign.

Whether your team has experience promoting auctions or you’re getting ready to launch your first online auction, these tips will help you attract as many guests to your next auction as possible:

  1. Market High-Value Items
  2. Create a Microsite
  3. Use Multiple Communication Channels
  4. Send Personalized Messages
  5. Partner with Sponsors

Make sure to give your marketing team plenty of time to prepare the necessary marketing materials and plan their strategy. Auctions have multiple moving parts, and an effective marketing approach is often what determines whether the rest of your event team’s efforts will pay off.

1. Market High-Value Items

Unlike many other types of fundraisers, auctions provide donors something in return for donations in the form of bids. Guests often come to an auction expecting to pay a bit more for an item, understanding the proceeds go to a good cause. However, some attendees may be just as interested in winning a prize as they are in donating through their bids.

Your marketing team can use this interest to increase event attendance by providing previews of high-value auction items in your marketing materials.

Of course, not every item will generate the same level of interest. Here are a few types of items that are particularly effective for marketing campaigns:

  • Unique and one-of-a-kind items. Items that guests can’t buy at a store tend to attract more attention as your auction will be one of the only chances attendees have to purchase these items. Unique items range from signed photos and memorabilia to commissioned paintings and other artistic works.

  • Experiences. Vacations and getaways tend to do well at auctions, but smaller scale auctions can also find success with offering classes and day trips such as horseback riding or a massage. Have your procurement team reach out to your community or local businesses to find classes and local teachers who are willing to donate lessons to your auction.

  • Bundled items. Your procurement team will likely obtain many small and lower value items. Instead of marketing these individually for auctions, you can group items together into themed baskets, raising their overall appeal. Guests may see the opportunity to win multiple items as a quality deal, even if the bundle consists of smaller individual prizes.

Remember that while your highest value items are the most valuable for your marketing campaign, you should still procure a range of items, so guests at all giving levels can find something to bid on. Then, decide whether to showcase a select few high-value items or make your entire catalogue available before your auction to generate excitement and increase participation.

2. Create a Microsite

Microsites are small websites that contain a limited number of pages and are tightly focused around one topic. Event microsites provide a centralized location for your nonprofit to host all of your event information away from your main website, reducing the potential for cluttered web pages.

Along with helping keep your content organized, microsites provide a number of marketing benefits as well, including:

  • Brand visibility. Microsites are separate from your main website, providing an opportunity to showcase a new side of your brand. For example, for your auction microsite, you might focus on showcasing your nonprofit’s values of fun and community even more than you would in marketing materials on your main website.

  • Improved SEO performance. Microsites with valuable content provide potential supporters searching keywords related to your nonprofit an additional opportunity to find one of your websites. You can also improve your overall backlink profile by selectively linking between your microsite and your main website, though be careful not to over link just for the sake of it, which can be a red flag to search engines.

  • Highly-focused tracking. Compared to your main website, visitors to your microsite have fewer possible tasks they can complete, and all of them will be related to your microsite’s main focus. This means you can more closely monitor user behavior to determine how successful your website setup and content are. For your auction website, you might see high traffic leading towards a particular auction item from external links, which signals that the item has been especially successful at attracting visitors.

If your nonprofit needs help creating a microsite, consider reaching out to a nonprofit web consultant. These consultants offer a variety of services to help promote your event in addition to creating microsites.

3. Use Multiple Communication Channels

Even the most effective marketing campaigns rarely convince a supporter to take action after seeing a single message. More often than not, strategic campaigns focus on building up brand recognition by creating multiple touchpoints across several communication channels.

For example, Cornershop Creative’s guide to digital fundraising recommends leveraging the following platforms for your online marketing campaigns:

  • Your website. Your website gives your nonprofit the space to explain and market your event without any external limitations. You can make your website an effective digital marketing tool by making regular updates to it even when you’re not promoting a new event. This routine activity signals to search engines that your organization is healthy and producing new, valuable content, which can cause your website to rise in search results.

  • Social media. Social media has become a new staple of nonprofit marketing due to its low investment costs and large potential audience, with Facebook alone boasting almost 3 billion active monthly users. For your auction’s marketing campaign, keep in mind the content strategies that succeed on each platform. For example, Instagram, which has a focus on photos, might be a more effective channel for sharing your auction catalogue than Twitter, which specializes in short updates.

  • Email. Email marketing is fairly standard among nonprofits, but your organization can improve your email campaigns by implementing segmentation strategies. By dividing your supporters based on their interests and past participation, you can create a more relevant communication experience for each donor. For your auctions, you might create two email streams, one for supporters who have attended similar events in the past and others who are new to auctions and might benefit from more introductory how-to information.

You can further improve your marketing by incorporating A/B testing. A/B testing helps nonprofits identify which messages are most effective by sending out two copies (an A and a B) of the same marketing materials with a single specific change. If your auction messages include sample pictures of items bidders could win, consider changing them up to test which kinds of items receive the best response rates.

Send Personalized Messages

While you likely can’t write unique messages to every supporter, you can use templates and your donor software to personalize all of your outreach. By tailoring your messages to each supporter, you not only treat them like individuals, but also encourage them to build deeper connections to your nonprofit overall.

You can get started creating personalized materials for supporters by taking the following steps:

  1. Collect donor information. Your CRM or donor management software should keep track of basic information about your supporters, such as their name, address, and engagement history. More advanced tools such as wealth prospecting software can help provide greater insight into your supporters’ philanthropic interests, capacity to give, and current profession.

  2. Download or create messaging templates. You can find resources online like Fundraising Letter’s templates for fundraising letters, event invitations, thank you messages, and more. Customize these templates to match your nonprofit’s brand and communication strategy by adding specific statistics, anecdotes, or impact statements.

  3. Segment your supporters and adapt templates as needed. Divide your supporters based on characteristics that are meaningful to your current marketing campaign. Then, adapt your templates to fit these unique differences. For your auction, you might divide supporters by capacity to give, creating one set of templates that promotes high-value items and another that focuses on more moderate items. Also, create places in your template that can be populated with specific information relevant to your supporters, such as their previous event attendance.

Consider how you can further segment your audience to get even more specific, such as dividing supporters based on how long they’ve been with your nonprofit or if they made an additional donation at your last event. By combining segmentation and personalization strategies, your nonprofit can craft marketing materials that are highly relevant to each supporter.

5. Partner with Sponsors

Your nonprofit will likely need to partner with multiple local businesses in order to obtain items for your auction. Many sponsors request recognition at your auction in exchange for their donation as part of their corporate philanthropy and responsibility strategy. Corporations benefit from their association with nonprofits like yours, meaning you can further leverage these relationships by asking them to assist in marketing your event.

For example, ask your sponsors to help promote your event by displaying your flyers or mentioning your auction in their internal emails to employees. This will help spread the word about your event in your community and attract the attention of your sponsors’ employees, as well. Then, at your event specifically thank your sponsors for their contributions to your auction.

Thanking your sponsors and encouraging them to publicly support your nonprofit will benefit both your organization and their business. Doing so also opens the donor to long-term partnerships, meaning that sponsors who had a positive experience supporting your last auction are more likely to sign on to help market your next event, as well.

Additionally, you can offer businesses that want to support your auction but don’t have any items to give the opportunity to match donations made throughout your event up to a certain threshold. Of course, no matter what contributions you receive from your sponsors, be sure to thank them for their generosity.


Successful auction marketing campaigns leverage the most exciting aspects of your event to engage supporters, while also using personal details to create messages tailored to each guest. You can further advance your online marketing strategy by launching microsites and partnering with nonprofit web consultants to build unique outreach tools and receive advice on your current digital fundraising efforts.


Special thanks to Sarah Fargusson - Director of Digital Strategy at Cornershop Creative for the expert advice.

Self-described as a “non-profit junkie,” Sarah has dedicated her career to serving the needs of the non-profit sector. Her project management experience spans a variety of non-profit management disciplines including strategic planning, community engagement, capacity building, fundraising and research. She has worked both in and for the non-profit sector at the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, and the consulting firms The Lee Institute and The Curtis Group. With her ever expanding non-profit tool belt, Sarah joined Cornershop Creative to tap into her techie, creative side, while developing meaningful partnerships with her clients to help them more effectively achieve their goals.