4 good practices when selecting items for nonprofit auctions

Picking the right items will secure bidder interest.
Date Published
04/14/2015

An auction can be a fun and rewarding nonprofit fundraising strategy. Whether it is done online or as a live event, it’s important to have the right items up for bid. Too many unpopular options left on the auction block is not only wasteful but can make the organization look unsuccessful. When it comes time to create an auction item list, it is beneficial to keep these practices in mind:

  1. Keep track of what sells
    Experience can be the best teacher. 501 Auctions and Bidding for Good are mobile and online auction sites, respectively, that keep track of their past customer data. In going over their numbers, 501 Auctions found in 2013, autographed memorabilia was the most profitable category of items, and Bidding for Good found travel and dining experiences were the most popular. An organization can learn from these statistics, but it should also track its own numbers to get information on its primary audience. Nonprofit fundraising software comes complete with programs that allow institutions to run auctions and analyze the results for future events. A nonprofit can develop good item selection practices by learning from its previous auctions. 
  2. Know your audience
    Data can tell a nonprofit who it is selling to. The NonProfit Times explained how different audiences respond to items, including how the gender of the participant may affect his or her spending. By studying the results of cMarket, an online auction platform for nonprofits, The Nonprofit Times found women are more likely to bid on dining experiences, while men are more likely to want sports memorabilia and tickets. Woman bid more often, but men spend more money. Gender is just one possible influence. The location, culture, age and economic status of an audience will affect its members’ preferences. Looking at the makeup of the targeted bidding group will help an auctioneer select which items are most likely to be successful and bring in the most donation money.
  3. Experiences and uniqueness are hot commodities
    Auctions can be an excuse for a person to purchase an item they would normally deny themselves. Using the justification that it’s for a good cause allows bidders to put money toward extravagances. It’s important nonprofit auctions have items that meet the expectation of doing something special. This is another reason items like romantic dinners for two or vacation getaways are in high demand.

    Kathy Kingston, author of “Record-Breaking Fundraising Auctions,” suggests using creativity when selecting auction items. Her article for the Greater Giving Blog recalls instances when charities made money by auctioning off the right to name a dairy cow or giving kids the chance to be principal of their school for a day. One-of-a-kind items and experiences will usually lead to higher bids. 

  4. Reach out to the local community
    When hosting a live event, contact local merchants and institutions for donated items. Kingston recalls when local theaters offered walk-on roles as nonprofit auction items, which became the biggest sellers. Local sports franchises have a long history of donating signed memorabilia to good causes. Hometown businesses, local favorite restaurants and craftsman, can come complete with a reputation of quality that the audience would be familiar with. By using local resources, a nonprofit organization can acquire items that meet the demand of its auction attendees. 

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