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11 Awesome Ideas for Charity Auction Items

Gavel sitting on wooden table

This is a guest post from OneCause.

One of the most exciting parts of planning a charity auction is the charity auction items themselves! But you’d be surprised how easy it can be to overlook procuring a strong range of items when you’re busy handling all the other aspects of the event.

Planning great fundraising events, including auctions, attracts a wide range of audiences, which is essential to raising money for your cause. 

With so much at stake, you have to put some serious thought into auction item procurement! Remember, without offering up appealing items for auction, you likely won’t be able to raise nearly as much as you could otherwise.

Today you’ll discover some charity auction item ideas that will make your next fundraising event a success. But first, let’s get into planning a great charity auction.

Getting started: Types of charity auctions items

Charity auctions are a fundraising event in which guests bid to win auction items, services, and packages. 

Charity auction items are usually donated to the charity by businesses, community members, or sponsors. The highest bidder receives the item, and the charity receives the proceeds. So, everyone ends up happy!

There are three types of auctions that your organization may choose:

1. Live auction

Live auctions are lively, high-energy events that are often part of a gala. A live auction should not only give your guests a chance to bid on items, but it should also provide some entertainment!

A classic live auction involves an auctioneer and will see guests raising paddles or shouting their bids in a crowd. However, many organizations now opt to use mobile bidding tools to make the process easier for everyone. 

2. Silent auction

In a silent auction, you display the charity auction items on tables for guests to view. Guests can then write their bids down on bid sheets or use an app on their phones. 

Due to the anonymity, silent auctions can be adapted to all types of audiences and result in guests bidding at a higher price point than in live auctions. They can easily be added to a larger event without disrupting the night. 

3. Virtual auction

Virtual or online auctions have become more popular than ever, and it is easy to see why. 

These types of auctions provide flexibility for both you and your guests, who can participate in the auction from the comfort of their home. 

Virtual auctions can save your organization on overhead costs, as you only need a dedicated website and an item catalog. 

For better organization, we recommend that you use auction software to manage and automate the process, such as a nonprofit CRM.

Each of these charity auction options is adaptable, and you can even combine them to create a hybrid event!

How many items are in a successful auction?

Determining the right number of charity auction items to include will be one of the most challenging parts of planning your auction.

Including too few items results in many of your eager guests leaving empty-handed and money left on the table. 

At the same time, you should avoid overwhelming your guests with a huge range of items or too many items in one price range. 

As a rule of thumb, most auctions succeed with 7-12 items. However, there are a number of factors that may influence this number, including:

  • Your organization’s fundraising goals.
  • The number of items donated.
  • Size of the audience.
  • Size of the venue.
  • Length of time dedicated to the auction.

How many high-value auction items do you need?

It’s best to have one or two showstopper items in your auction.

 You then want to have a series of mid-range items and lower-range items. This ensures that all of your guests can participate and that every item gets enough attention.

When choosing items, remember that the goal isn’t to simply find attractive items for your guests. You want to also encourage friendly bidding wars among your participants to drive revenue for your charity auction.

How to procure charity auction items

Now let’s talk about the star of the auction: the auction items!

Procuring the right charity auction items will help you raise money for your cause, which is your ultimate goal, right?

To start, you can’t procure items for your charity auction if you don’t know who your guests and donors will be.

Review your donor database to get an idea of what kind of items may interest them. There are two main factors about your donors to consider:

  • Their hobbies and interests.
  • Their general income level.

These two factors will determine the items that you will want to gather. You don’t have to have exact items in mind, just a solid idea of the types of items.

Once you have a good idea of the items your donors want, you can put together a list. You should then put together a procurement team to solicit these items. 

When you complete the list of items, and your team is ready to work their magic, it’s time for the real work to begin!

Who do you ask for auction items?

When it comes to finding charity auction items, it’s all about who you know. Hopefully, your team has some connections and can consult their network to find potential donors.

These connections can include:

  • Friends.
  • Family.
  • Coworkers.
  • Other personal or professional connections.

Once your team has exhausted their own connections, you can solicit businesses or retailers to see if they can donate items or services to complete your list. 

Most of the time, a local business will only ask for a feature in your event advertising in exchange for a donation. That’s a pretty fair trade!

Make sure that you are tracking your donations as they come in and create a master list at the end. This will not only make the planning go more smoothly, but you will also have records to look back on for your next charity auction event.

Once you procure your charity auction items, your next challenge will be to price those items. 

How to price charity auction items

Let’s be honest. Pricing your charity auction items is probably the least glamorous part of the process. But the right price will determine whether your charity auction succeeds.

To price your charity auction items, you first want to determine the fair market value (FMV) for the items. FMVis the selling price that a buyer and seller can agree upon.

Fair market value can be easy to determine, or can require some research. For example, the FMV of a $100 gift card to a local restaurant would be the amount on the gift card. However, the FMV of a signed baseball will be harder to assess. 

To figure out the fair market value for such items, you can:

  • Consult the donor of the item.
  • Look through sites like eBay.
  • Check out how other auctions have priced similar items.

Knowing the fair market value of an item will help you determine the starting bid and calculate the bid increments. 

The starting bid of an item will depend on factors such as:

  • Your audience demographic.
  • Your audience’s loyalty to your mission.
  • Popularity of the item.
  • Uniqueness of the item.
  • Emotion behind an item. 

As a rule of thumb, the starting bid should be at 30% to 50% of the item’s FMV. The general recommendation is to increase bids by 10%-15% of the item. 

If you have quality items, this pricing technique should make your auction a success and bring in the most revenue for your charity.

Let’s take a look at some of the most successful charity auction items.

What charity auction items sell best?

Hopefully, you now have all of the information that you need to plan your next charity auction! But in case you’re still not sure of what charity item auctions that you should be seeking from donors, we’ve compiled a list to help you out.

As the center of your event, your charity auction items should be creative, adventurous, and appeal to a wide range of audiences.

Some classic charity auction items that sell well include:

  • Gift baskets.
  • Gift cards.
  • Memorabilia.
  • Vintage wine.
  • Custom artwork.
  • Event tickets.

Let’s dive deeper into what items sell best at a charity auction. Here’s a closer look at some of the best charity auction ideas that we’ve seen and how they can positively impact your fundraising event!

1. Travel packages

Travel packages are undoubtedly a very popular charity auction item. A travel package can range from family-friendly vacations to couples’ retreats. Travel packages make excellent main attractions for charity auctions and can generate a lot of interest.

To maximize the impact of your travel package, promote it as much as you can. This means taking to social media, sending emails, and more. With good prospect research, you will be able to choose and invite certain donors who can offer higher bids.

2. Event tickets

Event tickets are a surefire way to raise money for your cause and can cover a wide range of events, such as:

  • Concerts.
  • Sporting events.
  • Plays and musicals.
  • Music festivals.

If you want to do more to motivate your fundraisers and bidders, communicate regularly with your auction participants and make sure they know this prize is available. 

Be on the lookout for local events coming up that will be popular among your bidders and secure tickets early before they sell out! This will make the appeal even greater when you include tickets to unique or sold-out events.

3. Technology

Everyone always wants the newest gadget, so you can’t go wrong with technology as charity auction items! Airpods are hot right now, but there are a lot of other devices that will attract bids, such as:

  • Smartwatches.
  • Smartphones.
  • Fitness trackers.
  • TVs.
  • Tablets.

Streaming subscriptions are also a great charity auction item. Popular subscriptions that you can include are:

  • Netflix subscription for a year.
  • Amazon Prime.
  • HBO.
  • Hulu.
  • Kindle Unlimited.

Be sure to stay on top of trends during your procurement process to gauge what’s popular both generally and with your target demographics, and then get your auction participants excited to bid!

4. Spas and retreats

Great for silent auctions, a spa package is the perfect charity auction item for those who need some relaxing time to themselves. You can choose between a couple of options with this item:

  • Offer an all-expenses-paid package at a local spa.
  • Offer an at-home package with bath products, face masks, candles, and more, which the winner can use to pamper themselves.

Spa packages perform well as a silent auction item because it’s flexible. A spa day-themed item can easily stand on its own or be packaged into a larger collection of luxury items as needed.

5. Backstage passes

Go a step beyond event tickets and offer backstage passes to the winning bidder!

Adding a behind-the-scenes element to an event experience enhances the value of the auction item. You’ll feel the excitement build as participants bid for the chance to see their favorite performers up close and maybe even meet them!

Partner with a consignment package provider to make sure the cost stays within your event’s budget. With consignment providers, your organization pays a set price if the item sells. Anything above that, you get to keep.

6. Hot air balloon ride

If you want to run a successful fundraising campaign through your auction, offer an exciting once-in-a-lifetime experience like a hot air balloon ride! You can even bundle it with a vacation package. 

These rides can be expensive, so reach out to local venues and ask if they’ll donate a ride to your cause.

Hot air balloon rides are a unique auction item that is sure to draw in adventure-seekers, and maybe even those who want to overcome their fear of heights for an impressive view!

7. Free lessons

Offer up lessons as an enticing charity auction item! They can include anything from golf lessons to time with a vocal coach. 

Great for any age range, participants will be able to bid on lessons that they’ve been wanting to take but haven’t had the time or opportunity to pursue.

Reach out to local instructors and see if anyone would be willing to donate an hour-long lesson in support of your cause. This charity auction item can also be packaged with related items, and it can be easily adapted to any audience or demographic of supporters.

8. Staycation

Another perfect charity auction idea that can stand on its own is the classic staycation. 

Some of your bidders may not have time to take a long trip, but they could definitely manage a relaxing few days at home. You can offer a variety of weekend plans that won’t require traveling, such as:

  • A fancy local hotel stay.
  • Private wine or beer tasting
  • A meal at an upscale restaurant.
  • Tickets to a local event.
  • Luxury bath products.
  • Snacks and drinks.
  • Movies or books.

There are many angles you can take when it comes to a staycation package, and being creative will make it appeal more to your participants. 

You could even segment your attendee list and arrange a few different packages based on what each grouping would be interested in. Try out these items for yourself!

9. Fine dining experience

Let your auction winner enjoy a great meal for two at a popular fine dining restaurant. 

Fine dining experiences are reliable charity auction items because restaurants are usually willing to donate meals to good causes. This generates publicity for them and cultivates strong relationships within the greater community.

A fine dining package can work great as a live auction event. While it may not be the biggest-ticket item that gets people to come, it will definitely help you bring in extra revenue!

10. Museum membership

For those who are interested in getting a taste of culture, offering a museum membership is a great auction idea that can provide long-term value. Reach out to local museums and ask if they would be willing to donate an annual membership.

Museums are typically nonprofits as well, so they would probably be willing to donate a membership and even create a partnership. 

Try bundling a museum membership into a larger package or let it stand on its own. Either way, this item is a reliable choice for all types of auction events.

11. Sign-up parties

Getting started with auctions can be a challenge, and sometimes you need to rely on the generosity of local donors, businesses, and professionals.

Sign-up parties are essentially pre-planned, themed parties and experiences that guests can pay to join. Each party has its own sign-up, a price per person, and a set number of spots. 

Include options like a wine party, golf outing, or chef tasting, which can be sponsored by local businesses or supporters. 

Guests at your auction can purchase a spot on a first-come, first-served basis, whether this is an online standalone event or an event held before the live auction to engage donors before the doors open.

The takeaway: How to choose the right charity auction items

Some of the best charity auction items are a direct result of creativity and reaching out to the right donors. But choosing the right items is also about doing your research and determining what items will appeal to certain participants. 

Think about your audience and who you want to target, and this will help bring in the revenue you need to benefit your cause.

Now that you have some ideas of awesome charity auction items, start bringing your procurement team together and get your auction event off the ground!

Check out this blog post to learn how CRM software can help nonprofits develop effective marketing strategies.

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