10 Simple Steps to Host an Online Auction During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The entire world has been affected in some way by the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Millions of people are adjusting to a new normal of working from home, conference calls and social distancing. The vital services and resources nonprofits provide to vulnerable communities is even more in demand, but nonprofits of all sizes are looking at the very real possibility of rescheduling, postponing or cancelling signature fundraising events.


Donors are also facing an uncertain economic future and many are dealing with their own financial struggles. Nonprofits must raise revenue to operate, but how should they navigate a world that’s been completely changed in a matter of weeks? 


Creativity and flexibility will be key in the coming weeks and months. Nonprofits must embrace fundraising options that don’t conform to their traditional peer-to-peer or gala  events. Creating an auction that isn’t connected to a gala  event is a great way to pivot and use the resources you already have and recoup some of the revenue that might otherwise be lost.  


10 easy steps to move your auction online

Number 1 light blue   Choose a Cloud-Based Auction Management Platform.

Digital fundraising platforms like Panorama by FrontStream allow you to quickly plan, manage and process auctions. You will be able to spin up an auction website, post items online, offer mobile and remote bidding and process payments and direct donations through a highly secure, integrated payments processing platform.

Number 2         Register Your Staff Team and Set Up Your Event.

Utilize a platform with auction management that allows you to have multiple user accounts, so every member of your team can lend a hand and collaborate. Make sure it’s cloud-based so that you don’t run into logistical issues while out of the office and enable fundraisers and donors to participate from anywhere and any device .

Number 3   Inventory Your Items.

Double check that the items you already have are still valid. If you have a restaurant gift card, check to see if they’re open and offering takeout or delivery. If they’re temporarily closed, ask when they plan to reopen and include that in the item restrictions field.

If you’re hosting a school auction, check that all your items are not tied to events or services that are on hold or postponed. Don’t forget to consider the logistics of getting items to the winners. Focus on items that you can send electronically or via regular mail. If you have an item that is tangible and currently quarantined in your office, consider whether you can sell it now and clearly communicate a plan to get it to the winner in a few weeks or months.

Number 4_1   Think Outside The Gift Card.

Now may not be the optimal time to fill out forms to request items from larger chains or corporations. What do you have at your disposal that’s free? Can you auction something tied directly to your mission? Are there any businesses in your area that are thriving right now and might welcome more customers? Often businesses donate things to auctions because they hope to convert new customers. If you need some inspiration, check out our 101 ideas for auction items.

Number 5   Be Diligent and Thoughtful.

Look at the items you have and make a list of a few items you’d like to request that won’t take a lot of phone calls or research. Focus on quality over quantity. If you have a fabulous trip to an exotic locale, now may not be the best time to auction that off. Save it for an auction or event in the fall.

Number 6   Enter Your Auction Information And Create Your Packages.

Enter all your procured items and make a plan for any items you’d like to continue to recruit. One of the benefits of doing an online-only event is you can decide when your auction opens and closes. List bigger items first to get some momentum going and then add in smaller items as you secure them. Check out our e-book "10 Secrets to a Successful Auction" to learn more.

Number 7   Host your Auction on a Donor Destination Site like BiddingForGood.com.

When you are choosing your auction management solution, consider where the auction will be hosted. BiddingForGood by FrontStream is the industry’s top destination site for donors who want to give through auctions that are happening right now. And, if your auction is hosted on BiddingForGood, you can also open your auction to the entire bidding community of over 1 million donors. Once you publish your event, anyone that’s registered in the community can bid, including you!

Number 8   Create and Execute your Communication Plan.

Promote your auction to all your supporters and donors through email and social media directly from BiddingforGood. It’s great to target your usual guest list, but be sure to include participants from all your other fundraising events. Unlike a traditional black-tie event, there’s no minimum to participate in this auction. There’s no ticket to buy and anyone that wants to support you can bid.

In your email to supporters, ask them to share the link with their friends and family. Suggest they post the link on their social media profiles. And don’t forget to post about it on your own social media pages. Consider calling some of your major donors and let them know the auction is available online. It’s certainly a sensitive time to ask for donations, but many people may still want to support your event and cause. Check out this piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy for tips on how to talk to your donors 

Number 9   Say Thank You.

Don’t wait until your auction closes. Say thanks early and often. Get your acknowledgement letters out to anyone that donated an item and send tax receipts to anyone that wins an item. If you're using BiddingForGood and Panorama, winning bidders receive an email indicating the item purchased, the estimated value of the item, and the amount of purchase. These emails can be used as an receipt for tax records or you can still send your own standard tax letters.

Number 10_1   Stay Engaged.

Keep checking in with your supporters and members. You don’t have to go with the hard sell every time you check in. If you’re calling supporters, send a quick follow up email after with a link to your online auction. You can even add it to your email signature. 

If there are resources you can provide to your community, be sure to share those when you check in. If you’re still operating and providing services to your community, remind them that you’re open and here for support. 


Online auctions (and access to the BiddingForGood community) are included in a subscription for Panorama by FrontStream

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