Hosting a Memorable Charity Auction: 4 Tips

Tips for Hosting a Memorable Charity Auction: Guest Experience is Key

March 29, 2022

The success of your next nonprofit auction hinges on a number of factors. How organized your team’s back-end processes are, the items your source, the timing of your event, and the technology you use are all important. However, the guest experience is the most crucial part.

The fact of the matter is that you can be well-prepared and organized to host a successful charity auction event… but if your guests don’t enjoy the experience, they’re not going to give.

In this guide, we’ll discuss four tips that you can use to host a charity auction that guests enjoy and reminisce about for years to come. Let’s dive in.

Bookend the event with straightforward processes.

Have you ever been really excited to attend an event, but then it slowly lost its shine because it was difficult to participate in?

Maybe it’s a highly-anticipated concert. When you arrive, you drive around for 30 minutes searching for a parking spot. Then, you have to complete a series of disorganized security checks with long, trailing lines that make you late to the opening act. When it’s time to leave, you trickle out of the building with the thousands of other guests, only to wait another hour in the parking lot as cars slowly exit with little assistance from event management.

The show itself may have been fun, but it’s going to be hard to forget the stress at the start and end of the experience. Bookend your event with straightforward processes— from registration to checkout— to avoid being memorable for the wrong reasons.

Start by making it easy to join your auction:

  • For ticketed, in-person events, generate digital tickets. Guests can simply flash their phone with the barcode and have it scanned to join the event.
  • Use auction software that allows guests to easily discover your event online. For example, you could send guests a link that automatically opens your event in the software. Or, the software could empower guests to search for all auctions in their area and select yours.

Then, make checkout as smooth as possible by:

  • Allowing guests to view their invoices directly in the mobile bidding app.
  • Having guests put their preferred payment method (whether a credit or debit card, Apple Pay, or Google Pay) on file before bidding.
  • Empowering guests to make a payment directly from their phones once they’ve won an item.
    Automatically generating tax-compliant receipts for guests to note their purchases.

The truth is, arriving at and leaving your event should be the least memorable part of it. With these procedures in place, your event will be bookended with simple, straightforward processes, allowing the rest of the event to take center stage.

Get creative with your auction items.

Have you ever attended an auction? If so, you may have encountered the following auction items:

  • A “wine and dine” dinner and wine pairing experience.
  • A 3-day excursion to a regional vacation spot.
  • Season tickets to a local sports team, located in a standard part of the venue.

None of these ideas are bad, necessarily. But, if you’re familiar with them, you can trust that your guests are too. And because of that, they’re simply not exciting! No one wants to purchase something that they’re not excited about, regardless of how worthy the cause is.

A great auction item meets two requirements:

  • It’s aligned with your audience’s interests.
  • It’s hard to find elsewhere.

Stretch your creative muscles when procuring items to get things that guests remember long after the event is over. Consider the following intriguing examples:

  • Instead of basic concert tickets, which guests can purchase themselves, procure tickets that include a meet-and-greet with the performer.
  • Instead of “wine and dine,” procure an artisanal dining experience where the chef crafts each dish and explains the flavor profiles in person.
  • Instead of easily-purchased sports memorabilia, auction off signed and authenticated sports gear from a local team.

Of course, not every single item is going to be a show-stopper. However, consider how you can repackage those items to be more exciting, such as bundling them with other items or making them into a basket. For example, the “standard” sports tickets mentioned above could be bundled with parking in a prime location and free meals to increase their value.

Foster a sense of healthy competition.

The final seconds of an auction are the most exciting.

It’s the countdown to the close of bidding, and guests are rushing to outbid competitors as the clock runs out. Time slows and guests wait in anticipation. Did they win the coveted item? Did they lose? Cue the gasps.

Your nonprofit has many options when it comes to types of events to host; these final minutes are what makes auctions stand out in that list. A healthy sense of competition is what drives guests to continue bidding and makes it a fun experience from start to finish.

Encourage this healthy competition to host a truly memorable auction. For example, include a:

  • Leaderboard that shows which supporters have bid the highest amounts, donated the most, or are winning specific high-value items.
  • Thermometer that shows how much has been raised through the event so far and how much more you need to raise to reach your goal.
  • Live ticker that shows each bid and item won in real-time.
  • Live-streamed elements, such as an auctioneer who is chanting through each featured item.

While you could accomplish some of these through analog means (like an oversized fundraising thermometer that is updated Vanna White-style throughout the event), we recommend investing in dedicated auction technology that has these tools built-in. That way, guests can browse items, bid, and experience competition all in one solution.

Implement bidding processes that guests will love.

Have you ever watched a sports game— let’s say it’s the Super Bowl and your favorite team is playing— and wished you could be on the field? Football-aficionado or not, you’re thinking of what you’d do differently to drive your team to victory. It’s an almost anxious feeling of competitiveness, while not being able to actually do anything about it.

Let’s compare that to your auction. While you want to encourage healthy competition across your guests, you also need to make it easy for them to compete with one another after you’ve done so (i.e. don’t show a leaderboard and then make it hard for the person in second place to catch up). To do this, you’ll need to nail down the mobile bidding experience.

According to Handbid, mobile bidding empowers guests to place and check on bids using their mobile phones or tablets.360MatchPro’s fundraising statistics show us that your guests probably favor a mobile process; in fact, “Mobile users grew as a portion of donation transactions by 17% compared to the previous year.” Mobile bidding, more specifically, improves the auction guest experience by eliminating paper bidding processes— so goodbye fighting over bid sheets or stealing them to sabotage their competitors (yes, it happens)!

Here are a few key features to look for in a mobile bidding solution:

  • Text and push notifications. Use notifications to tell guests when they’ve been outbid so they can quickly counter-bid in response. This draws them back into your auction and helps guests actively participate from start to finish.
  • Max bids. This allows guests to set a “maximum” bid for certain items. The mobile bidding software will keep bidding on behalf of the guest up until that max amount, driving bids higher throughout the event.

Not only will mobile bidding tools make it easier for guests to bid, but they’ll increase the number of bids you receive for each item. The more bids you receive, the higher the price of the items will rise— therefore raising more throughout the event.

A number of factors determine the success of your auction, but the most important is the guest experience.

With these tips, you can plan and host an auction that guests remember for all of the right reasons. It’ll be easy to join, full of intriguing items, and fun from beginning to end. Good luck!

About the Author

Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid, has spent 18 years in the nonprofit industry. In 2004 he founded the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Colorado where he still resides as board chair. Jeff learned early on that nonprofits desperately needed better and more affordable fundraising solutions. Leveraging his software background, he built most of the tools his charities used, and in 2011 he launched Handbid at his own fundraising event. The goal was to improve the guest experience, reduce administration and increase revenue. Handbid accomplished all of those goals, effectively doubling revenue in its debut. Nine years later, Handbid's suite of tools has delighted over a half-million guests, generated millions of bids, and helped thousands of charities raise well over $100 million.


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