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5 Ways to Fill Your Nonprofit’s Auction Fundraising Catalog and How and When to Ask for Donations

Learn more about how to make the most of your nonprofit's auction in this guide.
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Learn more about how to make the most of your nonprofit's auction in this guide.

Event and auction fundraisers make money because people are drawn in by the auction offerings. A well-stocked catalog consists of a diversity of items and starting bids because you’ll want to attract the largest quantity of bidders. Naturally, the more bidders you have, the more bids come in and the higher the final bids will land.

For this reason, don’t start advertising and promoting before the catalog is complete. The last thing you want is for people to view the incomplete catalog, not find something they love, and never return again!

Here are six ways to fill your nonprofit’s auction fundraising catalog so it’s overflowing and attractive to the widest audience possible:

1. Ask everyone.

When soliciting for auction items, ask everyone! You might even want to have a donation request letter handy at all times, as who knows when you’ll run into a potential donor!

Tell everyone about the upcoming event by leading with your mission. Ask if they will donate and provide a printed letter with contact information. Ask those in your inner circle, both professionally and personally.  And, even if they cannot help with a donation, they may be inspired and share about your upcoming auction with their network. Sometimes it takes just that one person to make the assist to secure a donation.

It may feel awkward to make that first ask, but it’ll be thrilling to receive the first yes! After that, the subsequent requests become easier. You may still get a few rejections, but that’s fine. Thank the person for taking the time to listen and move on.

Finding auction items is easier when you start as soon as you can and make it easy for others to help out. A key we’ve seen to maximizing success has been prioritizing the “one-to-many” opportunities, potentially yielding multiple donations with a single touch. Reach out to past event donors, your Board of Directors, staff, and event committee, and consider using a service such as DonationMatch or a no-risk consignment company.

2. Offer keepsakes and priceless items.

Many auction items don’t require outside help. Take a look within to see what items you can offer that are unique and one of a kind.

Unique keepsakes and priceless items bring in the audience and the bids. They can also be a dynamic way to increase auction awareness and success. Keepsake items work particularly for school-based events, but in any scenario, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal for these types of items is to evoke an emotional response in your audience and make them want to support your nonprofit.

Pricing keepsake items is also flexible but can produce very high yields. Here are some keepsake auction items if you need inspiration:

  • Photo. This can be a themed, large group photo or a collage of the class or group.
  • Photobook. This book allows for more content, including a photo and a special anecdote for each child such as:
    • What they want to be when they grow up
    • A favorite handwritten recipe they love
    • Their favorite part of the school day
    • Their favorite book character
  • Big projects. If the class is already working on a big project, document the progress.
  • Artwork. Feature things like a self-portrait collage or highlight their collected artwork.
  • Personal touches. Offer household items, furniture, and textiles that are embellished with students’ handprints or fingerprints. Be sure to include each child’s name and let that go with the item to truly make it a priceless keepsake. Think:
    • Furniture such as a bookcase, step stool, chair, etc.
    • Blanket
    • Canvas print or art on t-shirts, puzzles, or calendars
    • Homegoods such as a pillow, beach bag, mug, or water bottle

Priceless items are those that cannot be purchased in a general marketplace and are considered a value in terms of time and or money; this can include VIP access for events or other unique opportunities donors can’t set up on their own. Think of any experience where there is a high volume of participants with a chance to have special access, entrance, or even exit.

Here are some priceless auction items for inspiration:

  • Early access or extended back door access to a special event like a show, graduation, presentation, prom, or game
  • VIP seating, parking, or networking
  • One-on-one or small group activities, tours, or access to visit a person or see a facility

3. Search Pinterest boards for inspiration.

Pinterest is the perfect platform for auction item inspiration, as a simple search for auction items brings up thousands of ideas. Start with a general search and you’ll find:

  • Auction basket ideas for fundraising
  • Auction items for fundraisers
  • Auction basket themes
  • Auction projects
  • Auction ideas
  • Auction art
  • School auction projects

For direct donation requests or inspiration, we recommend following these boards:

4. Offer consignment and no-risk items.

Consignment items can fill the gaps in the auction catalog and bring attention to the event. In a nonprofit auction, consignment items are free to use in your event—you only purchase an item if it sells, at the minimum price you set. You keep everything above the price of the item. If something doesn’t sell, you don’t pay a dime.

Besides the significant revenue bump, other benefits of offering big-ticket packages include the ability to identify high networth donors in the crowd, save time in fulfillment, and elevate the caliber of the entire event.

It’s smart to offer items within your donors’ spending capacity. That said, you never want to underestimate what donors would be willing to pay. People will pay for the right item at the right time, especially in support of a good cause.

Alternatively, to add excitement to a silent auction, you might utilize a niche of travel like consigned hotel stays. You can offer luxury properties in top destinations at a lower price point than full travel experiences. Best of all, consigned hotel stays can be offered with zero risk or upfront cost if they don’t sell.

Partnering with a travel provider ensures a positive experience for your winning bidders. This means they’re likely to return to your event year after year, buying travel packages in support of your cause and encouraging friends to do the same.

Rather than trying to fill your entire auction with consigned packages, consider this a tool to round out your offerings and capture more funds than you may have been able to get otherwise—all with no upfront cost.

5. Solicit from your event website.

Your organization’s website is the best primary source for asking for donations. Set up your event website in advance of the event and auction fundraiser with the purpose of marketing to potential donors. Use your online presence to show authenticity and credibility for the upcoming event. Make it easy for potential donors to make a contribution with a built-in donation form. Pair this with the donation letter on the same website page.

As donations come in, recognize the donors publicly. Donations beget donations, as potential donors visit the website they see others that have already donated. Listing their logo and a link to their website gives the donor the confidence that they will be acknowledged and appreciated.

How to ask

Use an effective procurement letter that is to the point when asking for donations. Procurement letters are those that are sent out when you need items or services, not direct monetary contributions; you’ll send different letters when you’re looking for fundraising event auction items. These letters are most often written to local businesses, but on occasion, they’ll need to be sent to individual potential donor prospects.

When to ask

Ask for donations while you’re a patron of or spending money at a location. Donors may feel a sense of obligation to support you if you’re seated at the dining table or just leaving with purchased items.

3 big steps to run an auction fundraiser

Hosting a well-run auction fundraiser can be a wonderful avenue to raise money and awareness for your cause. When you do start promoting the auction, make it the best catalog possible. This catalog is filled with desirable goodseasy to navigate, and pleasing to the eye. The sooner a visitor finds something they like, the sooner they’ll support your cause.

It takes just three big steps to run an auction fundraiser plan the auction, run the auction, and close the auction and convert the bidders and donors to long-term supporters. You can use a platform that is built for auction fundraisers. For example, Auctria helps streamline everything!

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