Holiday online auctions boost year-end giving for nonprofitsWith Giving Tuesday behind us, it’s time to close 2016 strong. You know the impact of December giving is huge. In fact, reports 31 percent of all annual donations occur this month!

Today we’ll look at one simple but commonly overlooked strategy for supercharging year-end revenue: running an online auction.

Note: While this post focuses on using online auctions over the holiday season (when gift shopping and philanthropy collide!), these best practices can be applied to jumpstart giving at any time of year.

1. Capitalize on holiday shopping trends

‘Tis the season for buying gifts, and online shopping is making the biggest gains with consumers.

According to software company Adobe, last week’s Black Friday reached historic highs for online purchases, raking in $3.3 billion—more than a 21 percent growth over 2015. What’s more, mobile devices alone hauled in a record-breaking $1.2 billion.

As people forego the traffic and crowds, tap into the trend. Give supporters the chance to shop and support your cause with the click of the mouse.

Popular online auction items like spa trips, gift cards, electronic gadgets and luxury vacation stays all make great gifts…or special treats for shoppers themselves!

2. Appeal to supporters around the globe

AAA reports nearly 1 in 3 (over 100 million) Americans travel over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, while nonprofits are seeing a surge in remote and out-of-state supporters.

Being able to engage donors regardless of their physical location is a huge benefit of online auctions. Since anyone can follow your link and access the auction, this is one “guest list” that isn’t limited to who’s in the area and available at a certain date or time.

Online auction travel packages on a mobile phone3. Excite and surprise donors

Imagine a typical New Year’s party. What’s the highlight of the night? The final 10 seconds before midnight!

People love the anticipation of counting down as the ball drops.

If you’ve ever used online auction giant eBay, you’ll probably agree the real excitement or action occurs in the last 15 minutes. As bidding end times approach, donors will be excited to watch and see if they won—and hopefully engage in good-natured bidding wars that add to your bottom line.

4. They’re simple to set up

Lofty year-end fundraising goals, plus fewer business days, makes December an extremely busy time of the year for charities.

Fortunately, online auctions don’t take much extra effort to host. Unlike silent auctions, galas or sports tournaments, there’s no venue to rent, catering to hire or tickets to sell, lowering the cost in both time and resources. Plus you don’t need to procure as many items.

Online auction software makes the whole process of selling, winning and claiming items easy for all involved.

5. Can include fund-a-need and honorary gifts

Humanitarian aid and child sponsorship organization World Vision offers a Christmas gift catalog every year. The catalog offers not physical gifts but the chance to donate to a specific need in someone’s honor. Here’s a sampling of gifts that provide clean water.

Fund-a-need gifts are excellent year-end auction packages

Your online auction can contain similar fund-a-need items for “sale”: building repairs, new medical equipment, beds for patients, meals for the needy. Consider letting donors know you will send a greeting card to the person in whose honor the donation is made.

To maximize the impact of every donation, you might offer donors the option to send e-cards, or reserve printed and mailed cards for gifts of a certain amount.

6. Promote your organization

A holiday online auction is the perfect place to promote and brand your organization. Most online auction software allows you to feature a logo and a description of the cause, so donors will know their gifts are making a difference for your cause.

Winspire’s hotel-stays-only online auctions prominently feature your organization’s logo and any pertinent information you’d like to include (click to view sample auction):

Sample online auction Winspire Preferred.png

Try creating a graphic that combines your logo with festive decorations: think snowflakes, sparkle, ribbons and wrapped gifts. This sets your holiday auction apart from other fundraising efforts year-round.

7. A good reason to engage social media

Engage social media for year-end fundraising effortsWe’ve recently explored the huge implications of social media on fundraising event promotion. For example consulting company Bain reports consumers who engage with brands on social media spend up to 40 percent more than people who don’t! So these informal but lasting connections are well worth the investment.

Year-end is likely the busiest time of year for social networks. People wish each other happy holidays on Twitter, view party invitations on Facebook, post lavish recipes on Pinterest, post jolly pet and Christmas tree pictures on Instagram… you get the idea.

Online auctions are the perfect ‘excuse’ to up your social media presence over the holidays.

All you need to do is highlight a few of your best items in the weeks leading up to the end of the auction. For example, see how this San Diego nonprofit promoted Winspire’s Ultimate Hamilton Experience

Winspire's Ultimate Hamilton Experience auction travel packageYou can also create exciting tweets like:

Winspire's Kentucky Derby Auction Travel Package

Be sure to include a link to the auction in every post.

Social media is a wonderful opportunity to publicly thank item donors, underwriters and sponsors as well. For a detailed guide on promoting auction items via Facebook and Twitter, see:


The more you can engage social networks with your online auction, the better results you’ll see from social media in 2017 and beyond.

8. Promote overall year-end giving efforts

The warm and fuzzy feelings of the holidays (and perhaps an end-of-year scramble for tax-deductible gifts) make December the most philanthropic time of the year.

Hosting an online auction should be just one part of your comprehensive fundraising strategy. The excitement and momentum from an online auction works best when held alongside year-end giving campaigns, brochures, envelopes, fund-a-need catalogs and email newsletters – not in replacement of these important efforts.

If you offer exclusive, premium and surprising items in the online auction this year, supporters will be happy to hold off on buying big-ticket gifts next year until seeing what you have to offer.

9. Let donors give the gift of travel with a free Winspire auction

One of the top sellers in silent and live charity auctions is travel (including deluxe lodging, transportation and bucket list Experiences), and increasingly online auctions are seeing the same success. Why?

People are looking for meaningful gifts with the “WOW!” factor.

Meaningful gifts with "wow" factorThis time of year, people will be looking for big-ticket gifts. In terms of the “wow” factor, travel is right up there with a bow-wrapped car. Donors will love the idea of announcing an amazing Disney World getaway to the kids on Christmas morning, or planning a romantic 5-night stay in the Bahamas with their sweetheart.

Helping to fund your cause will be the cherry on top of a truly unique and memorable gift.

They’re planning next year’s travel.

The upcoming new year means people are looking at their calendars, blocking out vacation days and planning upcoming trips for reunions, weddings, business and more.

Travel sites like Lonely Planet have already begun compiling must-see travel lists for 2017, including new and perennially popular destinations like Havana, Los Angeles, Bermuda, and more

Try an online vacation auction

As a Winspire News subscriber, I wanted you to be the first to know of a new opportunity that could make a sizable impact on your revenue.

In addition to our Signature Experiences, we recently began offering Preferred luxury hotel stays. These incredible boutique properties can be reserved and used in any auction with no upfront cost.

Take a look at this sample auction:

Sample online vacation packages - end-of-year online auction items for nonprofits

Click to view the entire sample online auction site