Online Auctions for Nonprofit Organizations: Four Easy Steps

Online Auctions for Nonprofit Organizations: Four Easy Steps

Online Auctions are Outnumbering + Outperforming Silent Auctions

Orange is the new black. Online auctions are the new and improved silent auctions. Use this knowledge to your advantage! Online auctions outperform silent auctions in myriad ways. Let’s take a look at why online auctions can be so much more effective. Then we’ll outline steps you should take when planning and running an online auction for your charity.


Silent Vs. Online Auctions: Expanded Reach

Expanded Reach

Q: Who can participate in your in-person silent auction

A: ONLY the people in the room. 

Q: Who can participate in an online auction? 

A: EVERYONE and anyone who has the desire and means! Online auctions can and do go global. Literally. If you market them well, the possibilities are very nearly endless. Isn’t it exciting when you think of it like that?!


The more visible marketing isn’t just a bonus for you; it’s a bonus for the individuals and companies who generously donated services and/or products to your online charity auction. More eyeballs on their logos and products often means more business for them, so they’re more likely to donate the next time you ask.

Less Expensive to Produce

Not just in terms of money itself, but online auctions are considerably less labor-intensive than silent auctions. Ever physically set up a silent auction? Regardless of how many items you have, it’s no small task, is it? On the other hand, online auctions only require you to arrange some tangible items and take some pretty pictures. The only time in-person silent auctions might be easier is at the end of the night, when people can grab their winnings and head out the door. Online auctions do require a little more work when they’re over. More on that later.

Longer Time for Shoppers to Browse

Silent auctions are one night. Online auctions can be as long as you want them to be – although we don’t recommend you keep them up for longer than 7-10 days.

Now that you’re thinking all about online auctions and the benefits they afford you, let’s get into the nitty gritty planning steps! The VERY first thing you’ll do is procure some amazing packages. Looking for ideas and/or inspiration? Check out our Silent Auction Basket article. 

Once the irresistible packages start rolling in, it’s time to start thinking about software.

1. Setup

It all begins and ends with software, friends. You can’t run an online auction without it. You’re not eBay. But embrace your mobile bidding software, because it will take a lot of pain points out of the entire process. You have a lot of options when it comes to software companies AND the services they offer. Naturally, they come with different price points as well. Is your online auction a stand-alone event, or are you planning a simultaneous virtual gala?  Are you running an online silent auction only? There are a number of different mobile bidding software packages (that naturally come with different price points). Pick one based on your unique needs. Need recommendations? The always-reliable SchoolAuction.net is great if you are planning on combining your online auction with a virtual event. They have a nifty feature where you can easily switch from online bidding to live, in-person bidding. Our friends at Event Savvy can also help with setup and execution of your online auction platform. The always-reliable Greater Giving is another fabulous partner we’ve been working with for years, who can help guide you and simplify the process. 

2. Get the Word Out

We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: The number one barrier between you and a successful online auction is people not knowing about it. So plan a robust marketing campaign before you go live with your online auction. Plaster it all over your website and your social media platforms. Use email drip campaigns. Put it on the front page of your newsletter. Write a news release and send it to local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Go for the good ol’ grassroots approach and tell all your friends, then tell them to tell all their friends. Even in a digital world, grassroots campaigns are powerful.

3. Management

Three MORE cheers for software – it’s going to essentially run the online auction for you! It’s doing the tedious tasks without complaint. If your online auction platform includes a virtual gala, you can have your Dynamic Duo (auctioneer and emcee) drum up excitement for it from the stage. Encourage your chat cheerleaders to extoll the virtues of their favorite online auction items and ask other viewers what their favorite items are. People have pretty strong opinions about this and are always eager to share them! You can also throw down the proverbial gauntlet, by letting others know they will NOT be outbid. We delight in this because competition begets bigger bids! Say those three words three times fast. Fun fact: Benefit Auctioneer Specialists practice their auction chants with tongue-twisters. Betty Botter, anyone? Irish wristwatch. But enough digression. One more step to go, to complete the online auction process.   

4. Housekeeping + Followup

The online auction is over. Now what? Will you send people notifications that they won? Will you post the winners publicly? Will you arrange a time when people can pick up their prizes? Will you ship the ones that aren’t local? Remember, a great thing about an online auction is the expanded reach! But that expanded reach may come with more responsibility to get items out to those who aren’t local. We still think this is a good problem to have, don’t you?

A successful online auction is within your reach! If you’ve been in charge of running silent auctions before, but have yet to make the leap to online auctions, perhaps it’s time? You might be so thrilled with how much easier and lucrative they are, you’ll want to do one every quarter! Request a consultation to get started planning yours today. We’d love to help!