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How to Run a Charity Auction Online: Definitive Guide

How to Run a Charity Auction Online: Definitive Guide

We may not like to admit it, but there is one thing to be incredibly thankful for in recent years, and it’s how versatile the virtual world has become. All efforts that we regularly made in person have been eloquently translated into the online space, including fundraising. Only a couple of years ago many events were held in person with big drives and efforts for attendance. 

Now, we welcome virtual and online events where there are fewer set-up costs and still the same amount of fun to be had. While accessibility to these events has never been higher, it can be difficult knowing how to run a charity auction online, which is why we’re giving you this definitive guide.

Before you do anything, make sure you know your fundraising goals, this will help you plan your auction event and in turn raise funds. This guide will help you run virtual auctions, live events, mobile fundraising or any charity fundraising event. 

Why you might need to run a charity auction online or a live auction

Recent years causing mass lockdowns and restrictions on physical attendance aren’t the only reasons you may need to run a charity auction online. Even though it may seem the most obvious.

If you live in a rural area, where there are a couple of small towns every few hundred miles, gathering a big audience for an event can be extremely difficult and financially strenuous. This is a great reason for hosting online. You don’t need to try and coordinate an event across multiple towns or counties and there’s no need to worry about how your guests will get home with their new purchases.

Similarly, if you can’t target enough people, hosting online gives you an unlimited audience. You can quickly transform your small town’s charity audience into an international one. With the right marketing strategy and resources in place, you could see attendance shoot through the roof without having to pay a penny for a larger venue.

Just like the pandemic hit with little warning, so can other natural disasters such as storms. A fallen tree, a collapsed bridge or a hazardous power line. There are multiple freak accidents that can occur, so at a single moment’s notice you might need to run a charity auction online. In which case, follow these steps.

What you need to do to run a charity auction online:

Your first step is to find a vendor for the live charity fundraising event. Consider that if you’re going to run the auction, the vendor should support you in your location and beyond. If you find a fundraising technology provider that only works in Australia it isn’t going to work for your guests in New York. So, investigate if your vendor can support you in all countries where your attendees live.

You also need to make sure that the vendor will help make the auctions process smoother and not more difficult. This means it needs to be easy to use, for you and those who are bidding. Can you share the link to the auction online? Can you say with confidence that it is easy for everyone to take part in the auction? Bids need to be secure through the site and allow the user to dictate exactly how much they want to bid, not just broad options such as $50 or $100. If the experience is not friendly and safe for the user, they will be less likely to follow through with the transaction.

Find your items to sell at the auction

There are many ways to go about doing this. You could look for items in your own time and sell them at the auction for a profit, there’s the potential to ask for people to donate items from their personal life or alternatively you can ask businesses and wealthy corporations to donate something. 

Just because your charity auction is a fundraiser, does not mean your items to sell at the auction need to be old or dated. You can auction off a holiday to the Bahamas just as much as you can auction an old antique statue.

When finding items to sell at auction, consider how you’re going to get them to your audience. If you’re inviting people from out of state to take part, how will you ship them their items? Even more consideration is needed if it is going overseas. You’ll want to make sure these types of costs are covered (something which, if you select the right vendor, can be arranged when placing bids). And if you get stuck, you can always use us to provide some ‘wow factor’ consignment items.

Select the right number of goods

When looking for items to sell at your online charity auction try and imagine how long the process will take. Too many and the event will go on for too long, potentially losing the attention of those watching and causing them to leave. On the other hand, too few and you won’t make enough money for your selected charity. 

Consider how long it might take to introduce an item, how long it takes everyone interested to log into the bidding portal and then how long the process takes. From there, you can make sure that you find an adequate number of items to auction for the duration of your event.

Take high-quality photos of products and create enticing descriptions

Especially with an online charity auction, this one is essential. Do not run the risk of underselling your auction items by taking poor quality photos and minimal effort descriptions. Although people are bidding on these items, ultimately they need to be sold in order to want to bid. Therefore, it is your job to sell them in the best possible way.

If you do not own a high-quality camera, using your mobile phone can work (depending on its quality also). You don’t need to carry out an expensive photoshoot for this. Just make sure that there is a neutral backdrop – such as an old white bed sheet – and that there aren’t too many shadows going across your photo. 

When it comes to writing a description, be sure you give the facts first. What it is, who and where it was produced/created, how old it is and its function. Then you can add a little spice by saying how you could use it, why someone might need it or where they could put it. You’ll need a bit of both, the facts to inform the bidder but the spice to make it seem appealing to anybody on the fence.

Do your research for market values on your products

There are a couple of ways you can go about this depending on what items you are auctioning. If you’re dealing with antiques and other older items it might be a good idea to go and get them professionally valued. Just in case you have discovered a rare gem that is worth thousands and you intended on starting bids at $50.

If your auction items are obvious in value, make sure your starting bid is lower as this is what will drive bids. Nobody wants to bid on a $500 spa day at the starting price of $500. You need to start bidding slightly less in order to gather interest. 

Remember that you can always put a minimum bid on an item. For example, that spa day won’t sell for less than $500, the important thing is not to tell people what your valuations are because this will make them feel like they’re only getting a deal if it’s less than that, which can restrict bids.

Announce starting bids

Starting bids are important. As we have briefly discussed, when it comes to selling items for a profit the last thing you want to do is undersell. This is why it’s important to do your research beforehand. But how low do you start your bids? Showing the starting bid on the system beforehand can be great at attracting instant attention, but you need to think carefully about how much that starting number is.

We would recommend making your starting bid 10-25% lower than the value of your item. This will help show your bidders that there is a good deal to be had without welcoming any skepticism about the authenticity of an item. It also means that when the bids start to roll in, you don’t need 20 bids in order for the item to reach its value. 

The further away you start from a minimum bid or the value of an item, the longer it will take to reach any form of profit. There needs to be a balance between a deal and losing out, we believe that’s at a 10-25% reduced value starting bid.

Market the auction via social media etc

When it comes to running a charity auction online, one thing you will need to focus on is promoting the event. It can be more difficult than hosting an event in physical space because there isn’t a venue to put posters up on, there isn’t a street where you can spread the word. All you have is the online space. That being said, if you use it well, you might end up with more people in attendance than you could have dreamed of.

Social media posts can be a great tool and is exactly where you should start to promote your online charity auction. Go into online Facebook groups and post information but make sure it’s relevant. If your auction is raising money for a charity related to cancer research, look at groups online that relate to this. It could be survivors, families or current patients. Facebook groups are a great way to spread the news of events as well as ask your personal friends to share the event. This is just another reason why it’s important to select the right mobile bidding provider, so it’s easy to share event details online.

Dan Rohn

Dan Rohn

Vice President of Sales

Dan has served in the fundraising space for over a decade, consulting and assisting non-profits all over the world to become more effective and efficient by implementation of interactive digital solutions.