The Top 3 Strategies For a Successful Online Charity Auction

This post was contributed by Auctria.

Looking for strategies to improve your online charity auction?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations across the globe to shift their operations and strategies. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations that rely on face-to-face events to host auctions. The pandemic brought strict social distancing regulations and shelter-in-place orders that prevented nonprofits from hosting successful in-person events. 

So, now the question is – how does your nonprofit adapt to these changes?

The answer is simple – you’ve got to shift to the virtual realm. 

Although fundraising events are incredibly complex and have many moving parts, online charity auctions are a great solution.

Getting the right message to the right audience will be crucial to the overall success of the fundraiser. Data-driven marketing is the compass to guide you. 

As a result, the world of online nonprofit events has already been established. Additionally, there are online auction tools that you can use to manage the entire auction process. 

What Is an Online Charity Auction?

Before we dive into the three strategies you can use to host a successful online charity auction, let’s first cover what an online charity auction is and what it entails.

An online charity auction is a virtual fundraising event that lets attendees bid to win auction items and other packages. The highest bidder wins the item on offer, and the nonprofit receives the proceeds.

These virtual events are held through a dedicated website and item catalog. Nonprofits can also use auction software to manage the entire process. Additionally, mobile bidding lets donors get involved by clicking a button while they’re on the go. 

In fact, the ecommerce and online auctions industry’s market is expected to increase by 8.5% in 2022.

Charity auctions are essential for nonprofits since they help organizations establish long-term relationships with donors and boost donor retention. 

Next, we’ll cover three crucial strategies to help you host a successful online charity auction.

1. Adapt to a Virtual Setting

Although charity auctions require a high investment of time and resources to be a success, planning and executing a well-planned auction can deliver a significant ROI for your organization. 

Over the past few years, online auctions have grown more popular, and you can use tools to manage the entire process.

With auction software, you can easily manage your auction event, create item catalogs, take advantage of mobile bidding, and automate payment processes. 

Additionally, many people rely on the internet and their phones to work, pay bills, and more. And donating to auctions is no different.

Here are a few ways you can adapt to a virtual setting for your auctions:

  • Use auction software: To host a successful online auction, you need to use online auction software supporting mobile bidding and auction website creation. 
  • Creating a digital item catalog: Create an online item catalog with all the auction items available for bidding. You should also add images, descriptions, and starting bid data.
  • Promote pre-registration and payment methods: Your attendees will have all the information they need to participate in the auction by promoting these two factors. You can do this by assigning bid numbers to attendees before the event begins. 
  • Pre-register credit cards: Encourage guests to register their credit cards on your auction site. This will speed up the checkout process.
  • Avoid one-time events: Online charity auctions can span over a few days. This way, attendees have the opportunity to bid on several items. 
  • Determine shipping methods: Determine how you will promptly ship the items to the winning bidders.

Virtual auctions are also more cost-effective than in-person events. This is especially true when you think about all the costs you can avoid by hosting an online event. 

For example, you can avoid paying for a venue, catering, entertainment, staff, and more. This way, your nonprofit team can focus on making a difference and other business goals.

2. Create an Item Catalog and Tailor it to Your Audience

Begin the inventory process by listing down all the items you were planning on offering during your in-person auction. 

However, you should avoid offering travel packages and other excursion items since the COVID-19 pandemic has made it incredibly difficult to travel. 

This also allows your nonprofit to offer other items like shopping gift cards, signed memorabilia, gift baskets, and more.

But it’s essential to choose items that resonate with your attendees. 

To do this, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is your target audience, and what items would they be interested in?
  • What items have appealed to your target audience previously?
  • What can your bidders afford to bid on?

For instance, if you’re targeting environmentalists, it’d be a good idea to offer anti-pollution art or a visit to a conservation area. Sell one or 50 items over some time – the choice is yours. However, it’s a good idea to start with a small number of items and add more later. 

3. Engage with Donors Regularly

During your online auction event, it’s crucial to engage with your donors throughout.

This also includes regularly asking for donations. 

To do this, you can use text messages to notify attendees that they were outbid and then encourage them to make a donation instead. 

But you can’t ask for a donation casually – you have to ask clearly and convincingly. To do this, you should add images, a story, an explanation, or even a video in the text message that explains why the attendee should donate to your nonprofit’s cause. This way, the donor has all the information they need to make an informed decision. 

But you can also use text messages to engage donors in other ways:

  • Deadline announcements: Sending texts to remind attendees that there are only a few days or hours left to place a bid on their precious items.
  • Additional offerings: Send texts promoting and marketing other items during your online auction. For example, buy-it-now items and raffle tickets. 
  • Boost engagement: Notify attendees that there’s an item that hasn’t received any bids yet or an item that everyone’s bidding for. 

Additionally, text messages are a great way to get guests back on their phones so they can start bidding again.

Other Useful Tips

Here are a few other handy tips you can use to host a successful online charity auction:

A. Create Clear Rules And Regulations

Bidders will most likely have a ton of questions when it comes to a virtual charity auction since they won’t be able to pick up their items at the checkout table once the event ends or engage with your staff face-to-face.

As a result, you need to set clear rules and regulations to help your bidders understand the process and answer every question they might have. This includes clarifying shipping logistics, ticket sales, and when winners can receive their items.

To do this, you can inform winners about shipping arrangements and give them updates via phone, social media, or email.

Additionally, if your nonprofit isn’t covering the shipping or delivery costs, then you’ll need to inform winners about that too. 

It’s also a good idea to cover all this information on your event website or in the initial email you send out announcing the online charity auction. 

B. Promote Regularly

Before your online auction begins, it’s crucial to start marketing and promoting the event. You can post the event landing page with a few items on social media channels. This way, potential bidders will look forward to your event and be aware of the type of items that are on offer. 

Remember to include photos of your essential items and encourage potential attendees to pre-register for the event. We’ll cover pictures in more detail in the next section. 

You should frequently post about any new auction items on social media as well. This way, your viewers can stay updated and might even come across an eye-catching item that they’re interested in.

Another option is to use your auction software to mass text message and email your target audience. Auction software makes things easier since it automates most processes and takes minimal time and effort to set up.

In the exclusively online auction, direct mail can cut through the clutter. Direct mail marketing can help you reach new supporters; paired with an online event with a low barrier to entry, this can bring in some new and easy wins. 

C. Use Photos

Since your nonprofit is hosting a virtual auction, it’s essential to have clear images that depict the items adequately. 

Here are a few tips for adding auction photos:

  • Add at least three photos per item.
  • Use stock photos if you don’t have an image available.
  • Add business logos to images so potential bidders recognize the item easily.
  • Signed memorabilia require a photo and a close-up image of the autographs.
  • Make sure the photos you add can be viewed on laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.
  • Ensure the lighting and background is appropriate and professional if you’re taking your own photos
  • If an item has a unique feature or other USP (unique selling point), ensure you capture it in the photograph; for example, vintage wine bottles should have images that showcase the wine’s label, vintage year, and winemaker. 

It’s crucial to describe and showcase your items properly since only 29% of auction participants would bid on items with no seller information. 

D. Keep Donors Engaged

With online auctions, you lose the ability to communicate and engage with your audience face-to-face. As a result, you need to find other creative ways to keep your audience engaged and motivated. 

You can do this by:

  • Reserve a few key items from the auction and offer them as a giveaway to someone who shares something about your online auction on social media. 
  • Offer your audience a gift for showing interest in or participating in your auction until the last day. You can offer them discount codes, gift baskets, vouchers, and more. 
  • Continue to improve upon your direct marketing to increase engagement. 

Whatever engagement tactic you choose, ensure you regularly communicate and promote these incentives to your donors. This way, they are aware of these additional incentives and can participate. 

Although online charity auctions are more cost-effective and require less logistical planning when compared to in-person events, these virtual events can still be incredibly challenging to manage. 

Additionally, virtual charities bring on a whole new set of challenges – from donor engagement to shipping arrangements.  

Fortunately, there are powerful Auction tools like Auctria out there that can help you manage every step of the auction process. 

By using Auctria, you’ll be able to organize and run your online charity auction from the first donation to the final collection with ease. This way, you can focus on maximizing your fundraising.

About the Author

Laurie Hochman has a passion for helping groups exceed their fundraising goals. After using Auctria for many auction fundraisers, she joined the team to help others boost their auction fundraising for many wonderful causes. Auctria has been utilized in over 40,000 event fundraisers raising over $400M.  

“The beauty in what is done with the money raised with Auctria is what motivates me every day to help auction teams succeed. Hope all your bids soar!” 

Written by Gabrielle Perham, MBA