How to Host an Online Auction: 10 Simple Steps

Over the last year we've learned that creativity and flexibility are  essential for success. We've also learned that digital fundraising is more important than ever. The services and resources nonprofits provide to vulnerable communities are in high demand and nonprofits of all sizes are looking for ways to engage their audiences online and attract new supporters.   Creating an online auction can help you achieve both of these goals.

Many fundraising auctions  have traditionally been held in person- at golf tournaments or galas- but don't let that limit you! Online auctions can be  fun, easy, and effective- as long as you follow the right plan. Whether you've already started planning an auction that you want to make virtual, you're creating a brand new digital auction or you're adding a virtual auction to an existing event, these 10 steps will help  you get up and running.    


10 easy steps to move your auction online


Circles 1  Choose a Cloud-Based Auction Management Platform.

Digital fundraising platforms like Panorama by FrontStream allow you to plan, manage and process in-person, virtual and hybrid events with ease. Using Panorama, you can set up an auction website, post items online, offer mobile  bidding and process payments and direct donations through a highly secure, integrated payments processing platform. When choosing your platform, look for an integrated platform that allows you to create unlimited auctions, peer-to-peer events, campaigns, and more. 


Circles 2    Register Your Staff and Set Up Your Event.

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

Circles 3   Inventory Your Items.

If you're moving an auction that you've already started planning online or you had to postpone the event,  double check that the items you have procured are still valid. If you have a restaurant gift card, check to make sure they’re open and offering pickup or delivery. If they’re temporarily closed, ask when they plan to reopen and include that in the item restrictions field. If an item is expired, don't be afraid to reach out to the donor and ask  if they'd extend the expiration date so you can still use it.

If you're planning an online auction without an in-person event,  consider the logistics of getting items to the winners. Focus on items that you can send electronically or via regular mail. If you have tangible items that need to be picked up, communicate that in the item description during your event. Post-event, schedule pick-up hours at your office and   offer curb-side pickup.

Circles 4   Think Outside The Gift Card.

Requesting gift cards is easy and they sell well, but don't be afraid to get creative. 

Consider resources you currently have at your disposal that are free or low cost.  Do you have any board members that could provide a behind-the-scenes tour of their place of business? For example, if your organization funds research, would one of your researchers be willing to show someone around the lab and talk about the latest  research?

National chains normally have instructions for requesting donations on their website but you can also call the closest location and ask what they might be able to contribute. Instead of a gift card they might be able to donate  a private shopping  party, dinner in a private room, or a chef's table experience.

Don't forget about local businesses- are there any restaurants or shops in your area that are thriving and might welcome more customers? Remember, businesses often donate items to auctions because they hope to convert new customers.  In addition to requesting an actual item, you can request coupons to include in a raffle or drawing.

If you need some more inspiration, check out our 101 ideas for auction items e-Guide.

Circles 5   Be Intentional and Look for Experiences.

If you're short on time to procure items, look at your wish list of items and prioritize the ones that won’t take a lot of phone calls or research. Focus on quality over quantity.  People love buying things, but don't forget that experiences can be  even better. Things that the average person can't access- like a locker room tour for a local sports team or a chance to watch a live local news broadcast- will create more excitement and might spark a bidding war! 

Circles 6   Enter Your Auction Information And Create Your Packages.

Once you've got some items confirmed, enter all your procured items into your auction software and make a plan for any items you think are missing.  It's fine to sell items individually, but it's even better to create packages. Instead of an individual set of tickets to a local performance, add in dinner, drinks and transportation so it can be a true date night. If you end up with a lot of similar items- like restaurant gift cards - package them together  and create a fun theme like "A Taste of (Your City)" or "Eating Local".


Circles 7 Host your Auction on a Donor Destination Site like

When you are choosing your auction management solution, consider how the online 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 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. This can help bring in new donors and more attention to your cause.

Circles 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 of your  events. Unlike a traditional black-tie gala, there’s no minimum purchase to participate in an online auction, so invite everyone to participate!

In your emails 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 organization's social media pages. Consider calling some of your major donors and let them know the auction is available online.  Don't forget about your board of directors and corporate partners. Suggest they share the event with co-workers and employees!

Circles 9 Say Thank You.

Don’t wait until your event is over. Say thanks early and often. Get your acknowledgement letters out to anyone that donated an item as items are procured. This saves you time post-event and shows the donor how appreciate you are.

Make sure bidders get tax receipts for their purchase. 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. Bidders can use these emails  for tax records or you can send your own standard thank you letters post-event.

Circles 10   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 or updates on your mission work that you can provide, be sure to share those when you check in. And don't forget to ask how they're doing! Building personal relationships with supporters goes a long way.

Now that you have the 10 steps to ensure the success of your online auction, get started with Panorama by FrontStream or schedule a consultation  with FrontStream  to learn more about how we can help.

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And be sure to check out the resources below for more information on online auctions, case studies, and charitable giving data.


Additional Resources

On-Demand Demo: Panorama Online Auctions
Case Study: Successful Fundraising During COVID-19 with a Hybrid Event
Case Study: 13 Steps to Host a Virtual Gala
Infographic: State of Charitable Giving and Donor Engagement Report


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