5 Ways Online Auctions Can Enhance a Fundraising Event

One of the most important parts of hosting a successful fundraising auction is securing auction items early and putting them in front of your audience before the event – as often as possible.

One way to do this is to put together a printed auction catalog. Busy event committees, understandably, may forgo this option because it is costly and requires too much lead time before the event in order to include your best auction items – which oftentimes aren’t secured until several weeks before the auction.

Online auction platforms, on the other hand, provide a quick, easy and inexpensive way to promote auction items online as you procure them. In some cases, it also makes sense to allow bidding on certain items before, during and even after the event.

How you choose to use an online catalog will depend on your goals, target audience and auction items:

  1. Auction item preview: You don’t have to open up the bidding on items before your event; simply posting your auction items in an online catalog where they can be easily viewed has plenty of advantages. You may want to open up bidding on just a few exclusive pre-event items to build excitement.
  2. Online-only auction: This option is great if you want to reach people outside of the local area. Hosting an online-only auction allows those who don’t live nearby to participate.
  3. Combination online/live/silent auction: You can also choose to open up online bidding on items before the live and/or silent auction, then take the highest bid on each item and use it as the starting bid at the live/silent portion of the event. If you do it this way make sure you have clear directions for people who can’t make it to the event but want to bid online. You can also set up a post-event online auction to sell leftover items, continue communicating with donors and raising more money after the event is over.

Online auctions are best suited to supplement – not replace – your live and silent auction event because nothing trumps bidders being at the event where the excitement and personal interaction will almost always yield higher bids.

Here are five ways that hosting an online auction can supplement your live/silent auction and help your fundraising event be a huge success:

1. Online auctions promote your event by offering guests a sneak peek.

An online catalog of auction items can be accessed from anywhere at any time, making it easy for invited guests (and others!) to preview items before your event. This is an effective way to build momentum, increase excitement and encourage more participation during the auction.

Create a simple URL to use in your promotional materials, invitations and email newsletters that links directly to your online catalog. Encourage guests to peruse the selection of items and take note of the items they’re most interested in.

How Many Auction Items Should I Put in my Fundraising Event?

Read: How Many Auction Items Should I Put in my Fundraising Event?Offering too many auction items can overwhelm your audience and hurt your chance for fundraising success. Learn how to use the size of your guest list and venue to determine how many items to offer your guests. Read More →

2. Online auctions narrow down the number of auction items.

When an attendee steps into a live and silent auction, he or she can get overwhelmed by the number of items. Giving donors the opportunity to view an online catalog before the event gives them time to browse and decide which items they want to bid on either online or at the event.

Furthermore, if you have too many items for your silent auction and you want to reduce the clutter, you can sell these excess items online before or after the event.

3. Online auctions allow patrons who can’t attend your event to participate.

One of the biggest upsides to hosting an online auction is that anyone with an Internet connection can bid. This allows you to reach donors from across the globe that wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend the event. Select a group of items you wouldn’t mind removing from the live or silent auction and put them in an “online only” bidding section.

You can also give supporters the chance to bid on big-ticket items by allowing them to purchase items at a “buy-it-now” price. If you use consignment items like those offered by Winspire, you can pre-sell packages online and then continue selling those same packages multiple times at your event!

4. Online auctions encourage more women to bid.  

Some nonprofits have noticed that women are more likely to bid online than at a live or silent auction. By hosting a pre-event online auction, you are encouraging more women to participate; those who become attached to a particular item might also bid at the event, too.

5. Online auctions give time for interest in your items to grow.

Promoting items early can also allow interest to grow and donors may become more determined to win by the time the event starts. When setting up the online catalog, keep these tips in mind:

  • Create compelling descriptions to encourage bids. Paint pictures with words.
  • For more valuable items, use more than one picture. e.g. for a luxury stay use a picture of the building exterior, the master suite and one of the pool or some other activity.
  • Write essential details in bullets. This will make important information easier to find.
  • Design your catalog so that it’s easy to navigate and simple to place bids
  • If you’re doing a combination online/live event, make it clear that the online portion is a pre-event auction and those who place the highest bid will have to continue bidding at the event.


Raffle and games are another way to freshen up your fundraising event. Click below to download a printable, shareable PDF with nearly two dozen exciting raffles & games ideas.