Special Events

How-To Create a Successful Auction for your next Fundraising Event


With the spring gala-season officially upon the philanthropic community, I wanted to share how to create a successful auction. I think the number one reason for success might surprise you.


Typically, fundraising events raise the bulk of the money in two ways:

  • Sponsorships: sold pre-event
  • Auction: silent/live at the event


The biggest influencer on the success of your auction – as defined monetarily – is your event ticket price.


Say what?


Yep, your event ticket price.


For a silent and live auction to be successful, you need people attending your event who can bid copious amounts of money on these highly sought out, once in a lifetime, priceless auction items. Otherwise, all that work that you put into recruiting your auction items is for naught.


Many of us have had the experience – as event attendees – of walking away with a steal-of-a-deal auction item. While this exhilarating as the buyer, it does not ultimately help the nonprofit, as intended.


My experience with nonprofit fundraising events, tells me that one of the most popular conversations conducted at an event committee meeting is around ticket price. One committee member (or staff) suggest a ticket price increase. Often, this suggestions is buoyed by a variety of valid reasons such as: covering the actual cost of each attendee’s meal at the event, keeping up with trending ticket prices at other nonprofit events… and of course, attracting attendees who have deep enough pockets to positively influence the bottom line of your silent and live auction.


However, this conversation tends to go sideways because ultimately the discussion of increasing the ticket price turns into Catholic guilt of committee members not wanting to exclude individuals who cannot afford a more expensive ticket price, thus making the event elite.


Pause for a moment. This is EXACTLY what you want to do for a fundraising event. You want an exclusive group of people who can afford a higher ticket price and therefore, afford the higher end auction items. The ticket price also sets the “value” of the event. If a ticket price is $75, I have a certain expectation of that event and most likely will pick up a “deal” at the silent auction tables. A ticket price of $500 will probably exclude me (personally) from being competitive with the auction bidding, but I sure will be sitting on the edge of my seat mesmerized as the live auction bids go higher and higher.


The goal of your silent and live auction is to raise as much money as possible to support your nonprofit organization. In order to do so, you need to have attendees at the event who can bid large sums of money on these items.


A couple other ideas to increase the success of your silent and live auction:

  1. For each auction item, declare a starting bid and the bid increase amount. This sets the pace and tone for the bidder and excludes the jerk bidder who increases the $1,000 valued auction item by $10, thus slowing the whole process and negatively impacting the nonprofit’s bottom line.
  2. Advertise your unique auction items:
    1. Send out an email a week before the event to all your guests highlighting a handful of diverse (and high-end) auction items. This will wet their appetite and allow you to include photos, longer descriptions and links to give further detail on the items.
    2. Promote the live auction items during the silent auction. While people are milling around with cocktail in hand and bidding on the silent auction, give them an opportunity to check out the live auction items and read up on the details. Many live auction items are trips for 2 or more couples and this gives attendees a chance to partner up and bid together on a trip of a lifetime. See examples above.


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