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How to Host a Fruitful Virtual Fundraising Auction

In an “always-on” world where supporters are juggling many responsibilities, flexibility is a must. For this reason, nonprofits are increasingly moving to online fundraising auctions for their events. In this post, we share a variety of formats you can use for your nonprofit’s auction and practical tips that will help you raise more revenue. 

Virtual Fundraising Auction Formats to Boost Participation

While there’s no one right format for a virtual fundraising auction, here are the three that we recommend and the advantages that each has to offer. 

Open Before the Event, Close at the Event

When you open the virtual auction before the fundraising event, you give supporters more time to browse the items and decide what they want to bid on. Closing at the event condenses the final bidding so that people looking for last-minute deals will be motivated to participate.

Launch at  Event, Continue Bidding After the Event

Launching the auction at the event is a great way to draw extra attention to it, and continuing the bidding for a scheduled amount of time after the event can drive higher bids. The key to using this format effectively is to target the timing of the close — you want to allow enough time to encourage continued bidding, but you don’t want to drag it out past the amount of time you can sustain interest and excitement. Knowing your audience will allow you to choose the ideal timing. 

Launch at Event, Close at Event

Launching and closing at the event condenses the auction into a short, exciting burst of activity. Depending on the audience, this format may encourage people to attend the event and remain more engaged. It’s also ideal if your audience is made up of deal-seekers since the condensed format results in fewer bids, but you’ll likely raise less revenue with this format. 

Want more on effective fundraising events? Read Virtual and In-Person Events: The Future of Fundraising is Hybrid

How to Host a Fruitful Virtual Fundraising Auction

10 Tips for a Better Virtual Fundraising Auction

Janet Cobb, CFRE, CNP, and one of Network for Good’s Personal Fundraising Coaches, shares the following virtual auction tips from her experience working with over 300 small nonprofits. 

1. Know Your Audience

This first tip is the most important because different audiences have different preferences. Find out what your supporters are expecting from the auction and how they want to engage. Ask for input on what they would bid on. As well as you think you know your community, don’t make assumptions!

2. Have a Variety of Options

While you’ll want to tailor your auction to your audience, you’ll also want to offer various options. No audience is entirely homogenous. For example, some participants will be ready to spend big bucks while others will have a limited budget.

3. Don’t Have Too Many Items

Since virtual auction items are displayed on a screen (and most participants will be using their mobile devices), it’s best to limit the number of items to encourage people to scroll all the way through. If you have many items, try to combine them into packages if possible. 

4. Release Large Numbers of Items Consecutively

If you have a lot of virtual auction items and there’s no way to combine them into packages or the price points are high, releasing them consecutively can eliminate the problem of having to scroll through pages and pages. 

5. Plan Carefully for Consignment Items

With consignment, your organization partners with an outside company to offer charity auction items, tickets, or experiences. Your organization pays only for what it sells. If you have only a small number of items to auction, consignment can be a good option — if you’re in a hungry crowd with hot items. But because you have an investment in the items, you need to be absolutely sure that the bidding will go high enough to cover your cost.

6. Be Strategic With Bidding Increments

Base your bidding increments on your audience, targeting spreads that aren’t too high or too low. You want to encourage a lot of bidding without throttling how high the bidding goes.

7. Don’t Short Sell Your Opening Bid 

As with your bidding increments, your opening bid should be based on the nature of your audience. And you don’t want to start too low, or you’ll limit how high the bidding goes. Start just low enough to encourage bidding.

8. Open the Floor Ahead of Programming

Once your programming begins, people will likely (hopefully!) be paying attention to the programming, not scrolling through auction items. So give people plenty of time to look through items ahead of sessions and activities. 

9. Communicate Ticketing and Auction Information Separately

Email best practice is to focus on one message per email so that people quickly and easily grasp what you want to communicate. This is especially important when it comes to communicating ticketing and auction information. 

10. Highlight Items You Expect Will Get Traction

You know certain items will do especially well with your audience at auction — such as sports or movie memorabilia, vintage collectibles, and tickets to unusual experiences. Highlight these items to make sure all participants know about them.

Fundraising Auction Items That Drive Bids 

If you’re looking for unique auction items that will do well, consider these ideas. 

  • Friend-Raisers — Friend-raisers such as a chili cookoff help to build community.
  • Experiences — Fun experiences almost always do well at auction. For example, you might offer a reading with a popular author.
  • Big-Ticket Experiences — For especially large-ticket items like a dinner with a famous chef or a boat cruise, encourage people to bid together and share the experience as a group.

Raise More With a  Well-Run Virtual Nonprofit Auction

A virtual auction can serve as an effective booster for a fundraising event, allowing you to increase engagement and raise more revenue. And with good technology to support you, running a virtual fundraising auction is simple! 

Explore Network for Good’s auction platform and see what it can do for your next fundraiser. 

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