Planning and Hosting an Amazing Charity Auction: 6 Pro Tips

Planning and Hosting an Amazing Charity Auction: 6 Pro Tips

By Kelly Velasquez-Hague, Director of Content Marketing, OneCause

Has your organization ever wanted to host a charity auction to wrap up a campaign, raise support for a specific project, or just give your donors a fun night out? If you’ve never planned and hosted one before, it can be tricky knowing where to start.

Charity auctions are some of the most effective types of fundraising events for nonprofits. They’re engaging and flexible, and they make a great impression on guests and new donors. Most importantly, they have the ability to raise a lot of support in a relatively short period of time.

You should always look for ways to make the most of your fundraising events. With charity auctions, it’s particularly easy to boost revenue and donor engagement by following a few planning best practices.

Let’s walk through a few pro tips for planning and hosting your best auction yet. We’ve broken them down into 3 key categories:

  1. Building a strong team
  2. Finding the right partners
  3. Expanding your audience

Remember, truly successful charity auctions require major investments of time and planning. Even more casual fundraising events that incorporate auction elements have a lot of moving parts that all need to be coordinated and accounted for.

Taking the time to review the essentials now will go a long way to help your team know what to expect as you dive into the planning process in preparation of the big day. Let’s get started.

Building a Strong Charity Auction Team

Your organization’s auction team or planning committee will oversee every aspect of planning, marketing, and executing your event. Take steps during the earliest stages of planning your event to ensure your auction committee is well-prepared and ready to get started.

Consider these tips for building a strong auction planning team that fully understands their roles and the purpose of the event:

Set clear goals and parameters early on.

The members of your auction committee will likely be composed of board members, staff members, and maybe a few dedicated volunteers as well.

Depending on their exact relationship with your organization’s mission, each committee member will a varying level of familiarity with your internal processes. They’ll also each have varying levels of experience with the types of tasks they’ll need to handle as they plan the auction.

This means it’s rarely a good idea to simply recruit a team and task them with organizing an auction, even if they all have some prior experience with event planning. Make sure everyone understands the core goals and parameters of your fundraising auction early in the process. This usually means determining KPIs, deadlines, and a budget for your event and regularly sharing them with the team.

Another best practice is to try recruiting committee members for specific roles based on what they can offer the team. A well-connected board member might do a great job at promoting the event or procuring donated items, for instance.

Focus on auction item procurement.

Procuring the perfect auction items and packages for your event should be a top priority for your team. The opportunity to come to support your organization’s mission is of course important to your guests, but never lose sight of the fact that the items you procure can be the main fundraising streams of the evening.

Your auction items will generate the majority of the donations you raise during the event, but they play other essential roles, too. Top items and packages can spark highly-engaging bid wars and should serve as the focus of your promotions leading up to the event.  

Procuring the right items can make or break a charity auction, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they all need to be extremely expensive and luxurious. Definitely focus on finding one or two star-attraction items, but also make sure to procure a variety of items that span a range of budgets. The exhaustive OneCause charity auction item ideas guide can get your team started brainstorming items that will appeal to your particular audience.

Unless your event is relatively small, try to avoid tasking only one person with item procurement. It can be a complicated and time-consuming job, so provide these team members with plenty of support and time.

Finding the Right Partners for Your Auction

Nonprofits rarely plan and host major charity auction events entirely on their own. Large-scale events can be expensive, and partnering with other organizations, companies, and volunteers provides benefits for everyone involved. Many nonprofits look first to the world of corporate philanthropy as they get started looking for partners.

Explore the world of corporate philanthropy.

Businesses large and small play all kinds of roles in helping nonprofits plan and execute their charity auctions. With the rise of CSR, or corporate social responsibility, as a driving force of the business world today, there are more opportunities than ever for nonprofits to find supportive partners.

Whenever planning an event, take the time to review your organization’s connections in the local business space. You might already have the perfect partner in your contact book to help fill one or more crucial roles for your event:

  • Making in-kind donations of event materials, set-up services, or food and drink.
  • Providing charity auction items, either as donations or on consignment.
  • Helping to sponsor the event in exchange for public and printed recognition.
  • Promoting the auction to their employees and offering matching gift or volunteer grant opportunities for participants.

If you need to reach out to find new partners, always start by looking for companies with proven track records of CSR initiatives. Use sponsorship letter templates to hone your proposal down to its key points before getting started reaching out to potential partners.

Consider recruiting fundraising ambassadors.

Peer-to-peer ambassador fundraising is the perfect strategy for keeping your community energized in the lead-up to a major event, like a charity auction.

Fundraising ambassadors are simply your most loyal supporters who agree to fundraise on your organization’s behalf and generate momentum as your major event approaches. Many nonprofits are finding new ways to engage ambassadors to create new revenue streams for their fundraising events. Conducted mainly online or via social media, these campaigns can be extremely effective at boosting proceeds and engagement across your campaigns.

Recruit well-connected supporters in your local community, like donors who have been highly engaged with your work and events for several years. You might even consider asking your board, committee, staff, and sponsors to recruit ambassadors of their own as part of your partnership.

Peer-to-peer fundraising has become a popular fundraising style over the last several, but ambassador-centric fundraising techniques are relatively new. If it sounds like a smart move for your organization, study up with our ambassador fundraising guide.

Expanding Your Charity Auction’s Audience

Charity auctions are among the most engaging types of fundraising events for nonprofits to plan and host. While engaging with your longtime supporters is essential for maintaining your relationships and expressing your gratitude, don’t forget that auctions are a perfect opportunity for meeting new donors and growing your reach in the community.

Try going digital with mobile bidding tools.

We’ve written before about how to make the most of the ‘mobile’ in mobile bidding, but it bears repeating. Mobile bidding software can be a game-changer for organizations when used to streamline event logistics and reach new supporters online.

It also gives your team a new level of flexibility to plan the most engaging event possible, no matter which type of auction you’re hosting:

  • Live charity auctions. Use mobile bidding software to manage your items, track bids, automate payments, and create leaderboards updated in real time.
  • Silent auctions. Guests can use mobile apps on their smartphones to place bids and browse your catalog, and your organization can easily track progress without the need for paper bid sheets.
  • Online auction events. Go fully digital to offer a unique auction experience online via mobile bidding software.

Using mobile bidding auction software can give you the best of both worlds. Guests at your auction enjoy a streamlined, intuitive bidding experience, while those who can’t attend still have the opportunity to bid on their favorite items in your catalog. Just be sure to promote these features heavily in your marketing materials leading up the auction.

Conduct a multi-channel marketing campaign.

Your organization’s charity auction is most likely your biggest event of the year, whether as part of an annual gala or as a standalone event. You’ll certainly devote time and energy to promoting it, but make sure your marketing campaign takes advantage of every opportunity to reach supporters through multiple channels.

  • Email campaigns. The most direct way to reach wide segments of your donor base, your emails should be targeted to engage particular types of supporters in different ways. For instance, the invitations you send to donors who regularly attend your events and those who haven’t attended your events for a year or two should be targeted to interest them in different ways.
  • Social media. Nonprofits have come to rely heavily on the power of social media platforms to increase their visibility to supporters and potential supporters in organic ways. Plan a social media strategy early in advance, especially if your auction relies on ambassadors or is the grand finale event of a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

Always consider how each marketing channel can support the others and drive more traffic to a central location. In the case of an auction, this should be a well-designed event website with easy-to-use registration tools.

Marketing your auction is also a great opportunity to begin the process of screening your registrants and interested supporters for major giving potential. Track engagement with your digital content, analyze your guest list, and conduct some prospect research.

A new attendee might become your next major donor if you notice them early and develop a strategy for growing your relationship! Explore a few wealth screening best practices from DonorSearch if you’ve never conducted this type of research before.


Planning a charity auction can seem overwhelming at first, but preparation makes all the difference. This extends to the planning process itself, but it also includes studying up on pro tips before you even officially begin planning the event.

Once you’ve recruited an auction committee or planning team to help you get started, make sure everyone’s on the same page and knows what to expect. Take your time to research the whole process of planning a charity auction, familiarize everyone with a few industry best practices, and you’ll be halfway there before you know it.

Need help with an auction? CGC can help! Please visit our Auction Management page for more information.

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.

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