Running Tech-Savvy Charity Auctions: 5 Best Practices

by Josh Meyer, Director of Marketing for OneCause

Planning and managing a charity auction event can often be a time of chaos for many nonprofit organizations.

Between seating arrangements and procuring items, you’ll have your hands full—and that’s just within the planning stage! Luckily, there are innovative ways to go about organizing your next charity auction.

With the right technology, your organization can have a mini event planner in your pocket at all times. Once you pick the right event management software provider for your nonprofit, you’ll just need to know how to use the software’s features to streamline your planning.

Check out our 5 best practices for tech gurus to conquer running a charity auction:

  1. Understand charity auctions inside and out.

  2. Select the right type of charity auction for your organization.

  3. Use the right charity auction software.

  4. Procure the best charity auction items.

  5. Maximize your charity auction revenue with mobile bidding.

Fundraising trends come and go, but the classic charity auction is only getting more effective with time and technology. Keep reading to learn how to infuse your auction with tech and reap the rewards! If you’re ready to master your next charity auction event, let’s dive in.


1. Understand charity auctions inside and out.

Charity auctions are typically large events and have incredible revenue potential for your organization. It’s important to think through key fundraising questions before you carry out your auction.

  • Open bidding. Before your guests have arrived, you’ll want to open the bidding to begin your event. This is one of the benefits of auction software and mobile bidding. Keep in mind that if you’re hosting an online auction, bidding will open automatically.

  • Start with the base bid. Your base or starting bid is the predetermined amount your organization has agreed upon for every item. It’s typically about half of the item’s market value and sets the lowest amount an attendee can offer for the item.

  • Set a minimum raise amount. Each bid will need to increase by a certain amount to avoid guest upping their bids by dollars or even pennies. Typically minimum raise amounts are roughly 10-15% of the market value of the item.

  • Close bidding. Once you’ve auctioned off every item or nearly every item, you’ll want to close your bidding. The guest who placed the highest bid is the winner of the appropriate item. Look at the programming and make sure there’s clear time for donors to focus on the end of the auction. Don’t rush your auction’s conclusion and jam it into the middle of your programming. You’ll want to draw attention to the end to drive final bids.

  • Tell winners how to proceed. Lastly, you’ll want to inform your winners of how they should go about paying for their item and collecting their winnings. Make sure they know they’re responsible for following through with their bid and know all of your auction’s guidelines. Your software can simplify this process by collecting payment up front and instantly notifying the guest via text if they won an item.

If you know exactly how charity auctions work, you’ll better understand how to host one yourself.


2. Select the right type of charity auction for your organization.

There are three main types of charity auctions that your organization can host: live, silent, and online. You’ll want to choose the right type for your audience, resources, and cause. Think about which will be the most successful for your nonprofit in terms of revenue and strengthening donor relationships!

Silent Auctions

As for silent auctions, items will be placed on display for bidders to browse. Historically guests have written bids down on paper sheets located next to auction items, but with the help of software your attendees can place bids using a mobile bidding app.

Silent auctions are often anything but silent. Allowing guests to bid on their mobile devices usually allows for more mingling, leading to a lively event and more bidding as guests aren’t hovering over paper bid sheets.


Live Auctions

A live auction is the most traditional event and most likely the type of auction that first comes to mind. During a live auction, an auctioneer will call out auction items, running the event, and bidders will typically raise paddles get the auctioneer’s attention to place their bids.

This type of auction is often very fast-paced and always sparks a friendly yet competitive environment.

Online Auctions

Online auctions are basically silent auctions but 100% online! With the help of online auction software, your organization will be able to upload images of your items for supporters to browse through. Your donors will bid online.

The best part about online auctions is that they’re all inclusive! This means your supporters can place bids from anywhere, whether that’s from their couch a mile away or from a restaurant halfway around the world.



3. Use the right charity auction software.

Finding the right charity auction software is essential to your event’s success. This software helps your organization with both the planning and execution of your charity auction.

Charity auction software allows for a streamlined event and lets you better your donor engagement before, during, and after your event with automated communications.

Before you look for software, take some time to evaluate what your organization absolutely needs for your upcoming auction events.

Take a look at some of charity auction software’s most popular features:

  • Event management. Look for a solution that allows you to track and organize your event’s details in one central location.

  • Item and package management. You’ll more than likely want a solution that can manage your items from start to finish, which means crafting a master list and recording details like market value and donor of each item.

  • Mobile bidding. Let your supporters bid from anywhere around the world to allow for even more bids and more revenue.

  • CRM integration. Find a software that supports seamless integration with your CRM solution so you can use the data you collect from your charity auction to improve your overall outreach and fundraising strategies.

  • RSVP management. Manage your guest from start to finish! By tracking your RSVPs, you can automate bidder numbers, table assignments, and more.

  • Reporting and analytics. Compare your latest event to your previous auctions! See full reports on your guest, auction items, and more to measure your event’s performance and monitor trends.

Check out BidPal’s Charity Auction Software Guide for more helpful pointers on selecting the best provider for your nonprofit.



4. Procure the best charity auction items.

Pick items that fall under your guests’ interests and price ranges! You can use the notes in your donor database to help you decide which items will be the most appealing your audience.

There are six main categories that charity auction items can fall under: travel and outdoors, sports and activities, services and community, kids and family, food and drink, and lastly, arts, culture, and entertainment.

  • Travel and outdoors. This category often includes exotic getaways, trips, guided tours, and more.

  • Sports and activities. This typically includes activities like tickets to a big game, baseball cards, personal training sessions, and more.

  • Services and community. This category can include everything from maid services to chauffeur services to makeovers.

  • Kids and family. This might include packages like class pizza parties, professional family photos, or a trip to Disney.

  • Food and drink. The category encompasses everything from private cooking lessons to wine tastings.

  • Arts, culture, and entertainment. This category might offer packages like signed memorabilia, award show passes, or music lessons.

Use your charity auction software to keep track of your procured items. For each entry, you can record the donor, the market value, your starting bid, and even add photos of the package. You’ll be able to build your catalog directly from these records.

Plus, you’ll be able to entice supporters to join your charity auction by advertising procured items that interest them!

Take a look at BidPal’s Guide for Procuring Charity Auction Items for more pointers about collecting the right charity auction items for your audience.


5. Maximize your charity auction revenue with mobile bidding.

Mobile bidding opens so many doors for your nonprofit’s potential revenue. Mobile bidding solutions, like BidPal’s, typically come stocked full of helpful features.

Automated Bidding

Bidders will be able to automate their bidding so they won’t need to worry about constantly checking up on their favorite packages. They can set a maximum bid and your mobile bidding solution will automatically bid for them!

Auction Scoreboards

Auction scoreboards let guests see real-time updates during the auction event. They’ll be able to check the status of their favorite items, see your organization’s Twitter stream, and check your general fundraising thermometer.

Additional Donations

Mobile bidding even allows donors to make additional contributions and purchases. Boost your event revenue by offering more chances to donate and an easy way to purchase extra drink or raffle tickets.

Item Browsing

Your donors will be able scroll through your item catalog to pick out their favorite packages and place bids. Letting your guests browse online means you can keep bidding open even longer!

Text Notifications

Your bidders will be able to sign up for text notifications so they’ll instantly know if they were outbid or if bidding is about to close. With text notifications, they’ll never miss out on an auction package.

Mobile bidding will give your donors other ways to bid and engage with your event, all the while easing the stress of event management.

Now that you have our 5 best practices for running tech-savvy charity auctions, there’s nothing standing in your way. Encourage your bidders to use your mobile bidding software and use your charity auction solution to help get your event underway!


Joshua Meyer brings over 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as the Director of Marketing for OneCause. Currently, as a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Josh manages all of the firm’s marketing efforts. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.