Live auctions are an effective tool for fundraising, engaging nonprofit supporters in your event.

Live Auction – Nonprofit Catalog

A live auction has the potential to raise significant funds for your organization. When your auction is held live, you give donors the chance to be recognized publicly for their giving, increasing the desire to give big. Additionally, a talented auctioneer can use the time-limited nature of a live auction to your organization’s advantage to yield the highest return on investment possible. By planning your live auction strategically, you can use it to build the momentum of your event and maximize giving.

What is a Live Auction?

A live auction is the sale of items or experiences that guests at your in-person fundraising event can bid on. An auctioneer or fundraising host will sell the items to your guests live, who will bid until the highest bid is made and the auction item is won.

You can plan a live auction for hybrid or in-person audiences. There will just be a couple of key differences in how you plan your event. For virtual audiences, we recommend having an online auction.

Making Your Live Auction Strategic

Before your event, you’ll secure your live auction items by making strategic asks. Contrary to popular belief, having more items or experiences to sell doesn’t mean you’ll make more money. Focus instead on the value of the package. People’s attention is limited, so we suggest having no more than 12 packages. Many organizations have successful live auctions with only 5-6 packages. The more desirable the package, the higher price it’ll sell for.

Pro tip: Each live auction package will take about 5 minutes to sell. Be sure you have a strategy behind how long your live auction will be so that your guests stay engaged and donors keep giving.

Auction packages like alcohol collections, travel experiences, dining, and entertainment often sell well.

What to Solicit for Your Live Auction

Auction packages that sell well for one audience won’t necessarily do so for another. Know your audience and know who’ll show up live and in the room for your fundraising event. Who are they, what are their interests, and what do they value?

Generally, top-selling packages include:

  • Alcohol or wine collections
  • Staycations and travel packages
  • Unique experiences
  • Dining and entertainment

Avoid items that are subjective like:

Remember, focus on making your live auction packages desirable for donors and empower yourself to get creative! You might even consider combining related experiences into one package to create incentive. For example, you could pair tickets to a local show with an upscale dining experience to give donors the feeling that they’re getting something extra special.

Choosing an Auctioneer for Your Live Auction

Not all auctioneers are a fit for nonprofit fundraising events. You’ll want to hire a professional auctioneer with a Benefit Auction Specialist (BAS) certification. Auctioneers with BAS training will understand how to sell your live auction packages using your mission language rather than relying solely on the items to sell themselves. Additionally, while some auctioneers have the skills to emcee your event, we strongly suggest you hire a separate professional for each.

A Benefit Auction Specialist will help you advance your fundraising in the following ways:

  • By using pre-commits and sequencing to get the highest return on investment
  • By creating momentum from donors in the room to dictate their pace rather than relying on a clocked approach
  • By speaking to your mission in fun and creative ways

Live Auction Description Formats

While your Benefit Auctioneer will help you sell your live auction packages to your audience, you still have to write auction descriptions for the whole experience to be effective.

You’ll need to write separate descriptions for the following:

  • Print program: Your print program should include a full description of each auction item with the most complete information and fine print.
  • Script: This description should include fewer details to be more appropriate for spoken word.
  • PowerPoint: This description should include photographs and just a few of the most compelling details formatted in bullet points.

Writing Your Live Auction Package Descriptions

The more details you know about each of your live auction packages, the more equipped you’ll be to write engaging and informative descriptions that stand out in your promotional materials.

Follow these best practices when writing your live auction descriptions:

  • Give the auction package a clear and detailed title, such as “5 Night Getaway in Maui for 2”, instead of “A Trip to Hawaii.” The title sets donors up to know what they’re bidding on.
  • Be clear about the number of people who can participate, both in your title and in your description, especially if the auction package includes travel.
  • Use numerals throughout the package description for easy scanning (i.e. say “2,” not “two”).
  • Specify unique details that make the package feel luxe (i.e. “Enjoy your stay at the 5-star, award-winning hotel that was recently voted as having ‘Best Views’ by Travel Oregon”).
  • Include expiration dates and restrictions so donors are fully understand what they’re buying.

You’re now ready for your live auction! With some strategic planning and coaching and the help of a Benefit Auctioneer, you can have a successful live auction that helps carry your mission forward.

Additional Resources

Nonprofit Basics –  Learn more about nonprofit management essentials by exploring other expert resources.

Top 7 Ways to Keep Your Audience Engaged During the Live Auction – Get creative ideas for how to make your live auction a compelling experience for your guests.

Live Auctions: How To Raise More With Consignment Packages – Learn all about consignment packages and how they can benefit you in your live auction.