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How to Run a Successful Online Auction For Your Next Fundraiser


We love a good auction fundraiser. As we move through the twenty-first century, we see more and more of our lives happening online. For many nonprofits, this can easily mean an increase in the pool of potential donors, as we can reach out into more of the world for contributions. With the right promotion, organizations can utilize online auctions to attract more attendees than ever before.

By following a few guidelines, and spending a few minutes researching silent auction ideas, your online auction fundraiser will be no different from a live auction. The best news is that you do not need a physical venue, you can host it over a longer period of time, and you can leave all of the items in storage. Let’s jump into the key steps on how to make them work for you.

Let’s go!

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What is an Online Auction Fundraiser?

At a traditional auction, there is an auctioneer who calls off the bids he sees or hears from an audience. You may think of someone speaking quickly into a microphone, standing near a set of interesting antiques or other expensive items. People may hold up small signs if it is a silent auction, or in a regular auction, they may shout the numbers out themselves. Using many movies as an example, these spaces are the scenes for heists where masked robbers aim to steal some precious crowned jewel!

In reality, the merchandise being sold probably will not be needing a private security team. In theory, a much-desired item can be sold to the highest bidder for much more than its actual value, which makes auctions a great place to raise funds. The elation of the event itself seems to embolden the audience with a classic spirit of competition. When they know that this money is going to charity, it creates a willingness to place higher bids. 

online-auction-fundraiser-what-isAnthony has never heard of online auction fundraisers, but he's excited to learn!

When we take the concept to the online marketplace, we have to change our approach substantially, but the idea and the process is generally the same. We may not have access to live displays, and the auctioneer will have to explain the items in detail. Add in quality photos, video, and a virtual event and you will be on your way. You will need an online service to host it, and if you are looking for silent auction ideas, you are in the right place! 


Why Online Auctions Are Great for Fundraising

First of all, an online charity auction is far easier to manage than a live auction. Sellers are presented with several advantages when using online bidding software to ensure the completion of tedious tasks. No time is wasted on little things, such as tracking bids, enforcing minimums, and managing bidder activity as most of this is done automatically via the software.

If the event were in-person, it is likely that you would need several individuals to create flow in these tasks. Instead of a large room filled with people, the auctioneer can host a virtual auction from their own home, allowing for the auction to happen anytime. This requires far less volunteers and less additional resources. 

In addition, you have access to a wider pool of bidders, as you are no longer restricted to the people who were able to physically come to the event. No matter where people are, as long as they have access to a device with a solid internet connection, they are able to attend, and possibly make bids. People are more likely to drift in and out of the auction at their leisure. 

Additionally, you save the time and costs associated with renting a venue. This makes it possible to host the auction for longer, opening your charity auction further to more bidders. You will not have to choose the physical location, organize any catering, worry about the liability risks, or wire any sound for microphones. That whole process could potentially take a few weeks and a lot of manpower to follow through with. By switching to the web, you reduce that work by at least 75%.  


How to Set Up an Online Auction

Now that you know why an online auction is an ideal option, you are likely wondering how to run a silent auction.

Determine the Details

First, consider forming a small team to help you with the planning. If you have someone who has done this before, do not hesitate to lean on that experience! With your team, form an outline for the important parts of the virtual auction. In these early stages, determine who will be the announcer and face of the event. Plan enough time to get everything mapped out and employ marketing strategies. Craft and design your message and begin communicating the details of the event well in advance. Do not leave this important aspect to the last minute.

Pro Tip: If you have never planned an event similar to an auction done before, reach out to other organizations in your sector or area to get a few insights. Most people are willing to help and impart their knowledge. 

Determine what auction items to include and make sure you have good pictures of everything. Determine what the rules and minimums for the auction will be based on the products and services you have available. Communicate these to the auctioneer (and/or ensure the minimums are properly set up in the software).

online-auction-fundraiser-how-to-set-upSam is setting up his first online auction!

This is also the time to choose a software to host the auction (more on this later!) Your software will help you keep track of bids, and host the video that allows people to see the auction. Make sure you choose one that has all the features you need, and ease of navigation.

Market the Event

To get a good turnout of participants for your auction, be sure to promote it efficiently. Create a page on your website that highlights the event, and make sure the page goes live a few weeks prior. You might like to include registration information and a countdown on the website, in order to help build anticipation and awareness. 

If you have a monthly newsletter, be sure to include some information a month in advance for the event. It is also a good idea to create an email campaign that is specifically designed to generate traction for attendance. Talk about the event on social media, and encourage that the posts be shared. 

Pro Tip: Regardless of the medium of communication (social media, email, or in-person) the message should be the same. The words may vary; however, the message intent (and of course event specifics!) should remain consistent.

Take some time to show your audience some sneak peaks of the items that will be available on your social media stories. This can help get the word out, and it can give people an idea of what to expect when they attend. If they like what they see, it can build the desire to see the other items. 

Host Your Auction!

Have the announcer explain any silent auction rules and the minimums, and go over them again periodically. It is best to have notes that can be easily retrieved to make sure you cover all of the important points. Stay in close communication with your supporters to ensure you answer any important questions they have. We recommend a FAQ section on your website that answers all of the questions and explains the rules in detail. Make sure the link on your website is eye-catching.

Do your best to keep the spirits high around the event, as great morale will create a much better turnout. Make sure the announcer knows how to keep the energy up, and remind people to bid throughout the event on social media. The pricing of each item should be constantly restated. If you can, create an event that runs over several days to increase the likelihood of meeting your goals. 

Close the Event

Once it is time to close your online auction fundraiser, thank your audience for coming and let them know how much money was raised for your cause. Go over the pickup or shipping process with them, and create a space for your highest bidders to have their questions answered. Go over the winners a couple of times, just so everyone has a chance to hear their name.

If you have local buyers, choose a good pick-up location for them, and make the information available on your website as well. Make sure you get the contact information of your highest bidders in case there are any issues. 

Showcase your winners publicly on your social media pages, as long as they consent to it. This can bring an extra layer of excitement to the process, and it can serve as extra marketing; encouraging people to join in next time you have an event. 


Best Practices for a Successful Online Auction

Anytime you have an event for your nonprofit, consider following this series of helpful tips.


An online auction can only succeed if people know about it! Market the event with enough time to spare beforehand, and do so in as many methods as you can. Flyers, online marketing campaigns, and as we mentioned, email marketing campaigns. 

Quality Over Quantity

Focus on less items for the early stages of your virtual auction, capping it off around 15 or 20. You do not want to overwhelm buyers with too many options at the outset, and you also want to generate a steady incline of bids. With too many special items, the bids are too spaced out, and there is no competition for them. 

online-auction-fundraiser-best-practicesRyan has the basics down, now he's ready for some best practices!

High Quality Photos

Use professional-looking photos taken in the right light as it really does make a difference. The photos should flatter each item. Consider staging large items like art or furniture. Take a look at any online furniture/ art retailer for ideas on how to stage these items in the best way possible.

Set Your Starting Bids Carefully

While your auction attendees may love to get a new desk or a mulching service (or any other number of creative products and services you make available to the public in your auction) for $1, that does not help your organization! Ensure you set a minimum that is low enough that it encourages the bids to get started but is not so low that it moves from a fundraiser to a giveaway.

Pro Tip: Find out the actual market value of your items with an online search. You want to aim for 35% of the market value for your starting bids to leave room for the bidders to increase the total price. 

Do not forget about your receipts! Your online software should make one for you, but be sure you gather and organize this data at the end of your auction. A silent auction receipt should have all of the buyer’s info, along with all of the details about the item, including the agreed-upon price. It should also have some other important bits, like your logo, and other important information from your nonprofit. 

Additionally, make full use of your online services. Most online auction platforms will allow bidders to set an amount for their max bid, and the system does the work for them, bidding against the others until the maximum is exceeded. There are also options to set a "buy now" price, which would stop the bidding and grant the item to whoever pays that amount. 

Choose the right auctioneer, and make sure they know how to build suspense and excitement with bidders. A charismatic and fun emcee can inspire people to get animated and bid higher. Make sure your announcer knows to remind people that they can leave a donation of any size regardless of whether or not they plan to make bids, and make it easy for donors to make them. 


Online Auction Options to Consider


For an all-in-one payment processing option, Qgiv has you covered for all kinds of fundraising. It collects your bidder’s information like a pro, and it presents a unique bidding experience for guests. It has a few different avenues for income, such as the option for raffle tickets and fund-a-need items, allowing you to expand the reach of your auction to greater heights. There are high remarks about their customer service, and lots of educational tools. 

Bidding Owl

A highly affordable option, BiddingOwl offers tons of extra features for free. Customers report great levels of ease within the setup processes, including speedy access to customer support. There are also resources built-in to help you gather more fundraising tips. Having full customization without a subscription makes it an attractive option for beginners to the auction world. 


Especially compatible with mobile bidding, GiveSmart is extremely easy to navigate. There is a convenient self-checkout option for your highest bidders, which can also act as a funnel for important shipping or pickup info. There are leaderboards for the highest bidders, and your supporters have the option to donate auction items, joining in on the fun with their own contributions. 


Also a great option for mobile bidding, HandBid has a lot of fundraising tools for nonprofits. It creates a website for your auction, allowing bidders to access it from any device. It has unique leaderboards and consumer engagement tools, mitigating the struggle of keeping your audience plugged-in to the events. 


The management software presented by Auctria is easy to navigate and fully inclusive. It is compatible with both Android and iOS, making it an easy-to-access option. The dashboard Auctria provides creates a service which is fully streamlined, from procurement to receipt to information storing. You can try it for free, but to access all the features, it is best suited for nonprofits who will likely continue to have auctions. The tiered membership is yearly, and there are two priced packages. 


Final Thoughts

There you have it! You do not necessarily need to rent out a huge room and wheel in expensive antiques to have a successful auction. With the support of your dedicated community and your top-notch organizational skills, your online auction fundraiser can be a smash hit for your organization. You might even decide to make it a yearly event! 

You should now have everything you need to choose the best silent auction software and create your event. The options we listed are not a conclusive list. There are numerous other platforms that could serve your organization’s purpose. Whether you use HandBid, ClickBid or Qgiv, your goals are important, and your community knows that. Thank them with an online auction! 

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💡How do I create an online auction?

First, choose and acquire your items. Next, make sure you have lots of high quality pictures of them. Then, choose your software, upload all your information, and market your event. When it’s time to host, remind people to bid, and run your event! Find out more. 

🔑 How do I host a virtual auction?

With the help of a virtual auction software, you can host a video of an auctioneer who will explain the items in detail. Ideally, your auction will last a few days, and bidders will come and go over time. Find out more. 

📝 What is an online auction?

An online auction is just like a real silent auction. Highly sought after items are made available for public bidding. With a hosting service, you can create a virtual room for an auctioneer, and buyers will compete for the highest bid. Find out more.