8 Tips For Holding a Successful Online Auction

Online fundraising has become wildly popular after the pandemic and after organizations were pushed to go completely virtual. Online auctions still require preparation but are less overwhelming compared to in-person auctions or galas. ClickBid provides an event fundraising platform and has helped many nonprofits transition from in-person auctions to online auctions. To help you maximize your fundraising efforts, we’ve compiled a few tips from our experience with online auctions.

1- Item Procurement

Most silent auction attendees are not major donors, so including various item options and prices is recommended when gathering auction items to encourage higher involvement from all guests. Finding items and packages that appeal to adventurers, food lovers, sports fans and music lovers is a great way to boost participation from all types of individuals within your audience. Start your item procurement process early to give you and your team enough time to finalize this information.

When planning an online auction, it is important to create a wishlist of potential items you believe your donor base would be interested in. Once you have created an item wishlist, send this list to your donor database and encourage them to donate to your event. It is also important to give your donor base the opportunity to make a monetary donation towards your event. You can then use these monetary donations to purchase items for your online auction. 

Another helpful way to procure items is by reaching out to local businesses. Encouraging them to donate a single item or package to your fundraising event will create desirable and unique items that your donors will be interested in. 

If your organization is still struggling to find quality items for your event, take a look at TravelPledge’s items. TravelPledge offers unique item packages that enhance your event and connect your bidders with local and not-so-local experiences. ClickBid’s event fundraising platform easily integrates with TravelPledge to make it super simple for your organization to transfer data back and forth. With TravelPledge, your winning bidders will directly receive item certificates once your event is over and sales are paid. To learn more about the ClickBid & TravelPledge integration, click here

2- Set Reasonable Starting Bids & Bid Increments

Properly pricing your silent auction items is essential to maximize revenue. Yet, it can be a very challenging task. How you price your auction items has a direct impact on the success of your silent auction. Pricing your items too high can reduce bids. If they’re too low,  you risk not meeting your auction fundraising goals. 

A crucial part of pricing your silent auction is establishing the correct fair market value (FMV) for each item. No matter what the item is, if it is being auctioned and is expected to receive bids, it has an FMV. When bidding on items in a charitable auction, any amount paid over FMV is tax-deductible, stressing the importance of the item’s FMV. That is why it is very important to get the most accurate information regarding FMV for your auction items.

In the industry, a typical starting price would be 30-45% of FMV. We also recommend the following: 

  • If the FMV is under $100, round up to the nearest $5
  • If the FMV is up to $400, round up to the nearest $10
  • If the FMV is up to $600, round up to the nearest $25
  • If the FMV is up to $800, round up to the nearest $50
  • If the FMV is up over $1000, round up to the nearest $100

Setting the correct bid increment also plays a significant role in the success of your silent auction. We recommend the following bid increments for the corresponding FMV: 

  • $5 bid increments for items with FMV between $50-149
  • $10 bid increments for items with FMV between $150-249
  • $20 bid increments for items with FMV between $250-399
  • $25 bid increments for items with FMV between $400-599
  • $50 bid increments for items with FMV between $600-999
  • $100 bid increments for items with FMV over $1,000

3- Use Quality Photos

Your auction participants will likely look at your items from their phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices. Make sure all added images are quality, clear, and an accurate representation of the item you are auctioning off. It is best to add more than 1 image per item to add appeal to each item and allow your bidders to gain excitement about your items. A business’ logo on a white background is an easy addition and makes an item quickly recognizable. If you are offering signed memorabilia, have a photo of the complete item, but also include a close-up shot of the autograph(s). Stay away from collage photos; they lose their impact on mobile devices’ smaller screens. 

If you are taking your own photos, ensure the lighting and setting are appropriate. If there is something special about the item, ensure that you are capturing it. 

4- Define Online Auction Rules

When holding an online auction, your bidders will likely have questions about how they’re supposed to secure or pick up their items, or what the logistics around shipping might be. For example, you can alert all winners via email or phone for delivery options. Alternatively, if shipping is available, be sure to define the costs that are associated with the item as well as any additional information the bidder may need to know.

It is best practice to anticipate as many questions as you can and put the information on your event website for your bidders to reference. Communicating helpful information like how to bid resources, event dates, and shipping logistics will be super beneficial to your participants. You also can communicate these details in any emails or messages when you first announce the online auction.

5- Promote Your Event

Now that you are hosting an online auction, it is important to effectively communicate to your donors and supporters via email and social media about your upcoming event. The easy thing about online auctions is that anyone can join or participate in your event from anywhere around the world. Ensure that the link to your online auction is easy to find and that your supporters share the link with their friends and family, This will extend your reach and encourage more participation in your auction. You will want to promote your event early enough to give your participants enough time to prepare and gain excitement about your online auction.

6- Utilize Max Bidding & Buy Now

Max Bidding and Buy Now are two great value-added features for online auctions. Max bidding allows a bidder to set a ‘not to exceed amount’ and let the system bid on their behalf. When someone bids a higher amount, the system will check for a max. If one exists, the system sets the higher amount and the item sells for more money.

Buy Now allows you to set a top price that you are willing to sell an item for. Typically, if a bidder chooses to purchase with the buy now feature, bidding stops on that item, and the item is sold to the bidder for the buy now price. If you allow a buy now option for an item, be sure to set the price significantly higher than the market value to ensure you make money from this item. 

7- Host Multi-Day Auction 

A great feature of online auctions is that you are no longer locked into one single night to capture all of your bids. You can host an online auction over a multi-day period and you can even consider opening the auction a week early. Opening your online auction early allows you to send multiple emails and social media posts promoting your event and encouraging more participation from your bidders. These extra days of online auction allow you to boost your fundraising efforts and give your donors enough time to bid on their favorite items. 

8- Keep Everyone Motivated

Remember, with an online auction, you are competing for a donor’s attention online, so give them a reason to pay attention to you. For example, you can send company swag or gifts and use them as giveaways to anyone who shares a picture on social media about your event and tag your charity. Be sure to communicate when these incentives are happening so your audience is aware and can take part. This will become yet another touchpoint to connect with your donors and keep them engaged. 

Sending emails and messages to your audience throughout your event dates will encourage them to keep bidding and participating in your online auction. Within your messages, you can highlight specific items and bring focus to unbid items. Keeping your bidders interested in your ongoing online auction is a challenge, but will bring great rewards. 

Get Started Today!

Online auctions are a great way to reach a wider audience and further expand your charity’s mission. With the provided tips above, you are all set to hold a successful online auction! 

Interested in giving ClickBid’s Event Fundraising Platform a try? Sign up for a free trial account of the software or request an interactive demo today! Click here to get started

Caroline Price

Caroline Price is an account manager at TravelPledge partner ClickBid. Charities use ClickBid to raise more and delight donors. The seamless experience of ticket sales, event promotion, online/in-person bidding, live auction, fund-a-need and real-time video broadcasting makes ClickBid your single solution.