If you’ve ever hosted a charity auction before, you’re likely familiar with the complexities of the planning process. From figuring out logistics to marketing the event to your nonprofit’s supporters, a lot goes into pulling off a successful fundraiser. Often, the most involved step is choosing the right items to feature at your auction—i.e., prizes that appeal to your unique audience and generate a high return on investment (ROI).

Strategic auction item procurement takes time, but it can pay off majorly when it comes to boosting your event revenue totals. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to find and secure the best charity auction items, including:

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of choosing and securing auction items, let’s begin by looking at why finding the right prizes is so critical.

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Why are charity auction items important?

There are two main groups of individuals who participate in charity auctions. Some supporters attend with the primary goal of contributing to a nonprofit they’re passionate about and enjoy the added bonus of receiving prizes to take home. Meanwhile, other participants are focused on finding unique items at the best possible prices and are happy to support a good cause at the same time.

No matter what your auction participants’ primary goal is, the prizes you feature can make or break your event’s fundraising success. Here are just a few of the ways your items affect your auction’s outcome:

A list of three event outcomes that charity auction items can affect, which are discussed below.

  • Registration numbers. Especially for participants whose main goal is to take home unique prizes, featuring appealing auction items in your event marketing materials can encourage more people to sign up.
  • Revenue generation. The bulk of your auction’s fundraising revenue will come from winning bids on items. Procuring items that supporters find valuable will prompt them to place higher bids, boosting your fundraising totals.
  • Supporter engagement. Valuable, attractive auction items can also encourage competitive bidding among participants, giving them a more positive and memorable experience during the event.

Keep in mind that you’ll likely need to procure about 12-15 items for a live auction, while silent auctions often feature 100 items or more. Therefore, it’s critical to focus on item quality with live auctions and quantity and variety with silent auction items.

Top 10 Types of Charity Auction Items

To give you some ideas for what kinds of items to feature in your auction, we’ve compiled a list of our 10 favorite prize categories to consider. This list is based both on the popularity of each item among nonprofit supporters (although, of course, every organization’s donor base is unique and may have slightly different preferences) and its potential value.

A graphic list of the top ten types of charity auction items, which are discussed in the following sections.

1. Vacation Packages

Travel-related items are best-sellers in both live and silent auctions. They appeal to a broad audience and add a unique element to your event—not to mention that they often bring in the largest bids among all of your prizes!

When choosing vacation packages to sell at auction, make sure to consider:

  • The destination: Where in the world have your supporters likely not been but would want to go?
  • The experiences: What included activities would catch participants’ attention and set your offering apart?
  • The logistics: Are accommodations and airfare included in the package, or would the winning bidder have to figure out those details themselves?

Despite their popularity and revenue generation potential, vacation packages are often the most challenging type of auction item to procure. Fortunately, there are dedicated auction travel providers who are happy to help you find the perfect vacation for your auction, like Winspire.

Explore Travel-Based Charity Auction Items With Winspire

Winspire curates bucket-list vacation packages (known as “Experiences”) specifically for nonprofits to use in fundraising events such as auctions and raffles. Your organization can get started with Winspire in four simple steps:

A graphic list of the four steps to utilize Winspire’s charity auction items, which are discussed below.

  1. Choose your Winspire Experience(s). If you need help deciding what vacation package would best align with your audience’s interests, our Event Fundraising Specialists are just a phone call or email away.
  2. Promote them to your supporters. For each Experience you select, Winspire will provide high-quality photos to use in your emails, social media posts, auction catalog, and more.
  3. Offer them at your event. Since you only pay for what you sell, Winspire Experiences are 100% risk-free!
  4. Winners redeem their packages. After your auction, all you have to do is provide a voucher to each winning bidder, and Winspire will help them book their trip with no additional work required on your nonprofit’s end.

When you sell a Winspire Experience at your auction, every dollar you raise above the Nonprofit Cost (list price) goes directly to your organization’s mission. Through this model, Winspire has helped nonprofits across the United States and Canada raise more than $110 million for their causes!

2. Gift Baskets

Gift baskets are a silent auction staple! Your nonprofit will likely collect a variety of small items leading up to your event, which you can then bundle together in an attractive-looking basket to boost their combined value and catch supporters’ attention more effectively.

Create each of your gift baskets around a theme and give it a catchy title. For example, you could call one basket “The Ultimate Home Spa Experience” and fill it with facial masks, mani-pedi supplies, bath bombs, and scented lotions. To make your baskets even more valuable, pair them with experiences—for the spa basket example, you could include a gift certificate for a professional massage at a local practice.

3. Event Tickets

Tickets to professional sporting events, popular musicals, or the concert tour of the summer are often difficult to come by—which is why some fans may jump at the chance to buy them at your auction. Many event venues offer nonprofit discounts on tickets, so check their websites or contact them directly to see if you can snag good seats at a reduced cost.

Once you’ve secured some event tickets, auction them off in groups of two or four. To boost their value even more, include additional perks such as free merchandise, a voucher for concessions, or a photo opportunity with an athlete, actor, or artist after the event.

4. Signed Celebrity Memorabilia

In addition to seeing famous people in their element at events, some auction participants might be interested in owning an item that features their favorite celebrity’s signature. Choose stars to feature based on the demographic you’re trying to target with your auction. For example, an older audience would be more likely to bid on a guitar signed by one of the Beatles, while younger supporters might be more interested in one signed by Taylor Swift.

When procuring these items, double-check that they’re legitimate and take the provider’s estimate of its value with a grain of salt, as it’s common for people who own celebrity memorabilia to overvalue it.

5. Artwork and Antiques

Unique items such as art pieces and handmade furniture are often popular among auction participants since they can be difficult to find in other places. This is also a great opportunity to highlight a skilled artisan in your community or reflect on local history if the item is an antique.

Artwork and antiques are also difficult to value in many cases. Compare the provider’s estimate with prices on similar items from sites like Etsy and eBay, and consult experts in the field if necessary to come up with an accurate price and starting bid amount for each item.

6. Certificates for Services

Another way to spotlight the individuals and organizations that keep your community running is by featuring gift certificates for their services. These could range from childcare at a local daycare center to auto repairs and detailing by a mechanic to a year’s worth of dry cleaning at a specific business in town.

These types of auction items are a win-win-win. Your supporters will appreciate having their daily tasks taken care of, and the businesses who contribute their services will gain customers and publicity. Plus, you’ll raise funds for your mission while developing relationships with those businesses that could lead to long-term, mutually beneficial community partnerships.

7. Family-Friendly Activities

If a number of your supporters have young children or grandchildren, including some family-friendly experiences in your auction is essential, since they’d probably appreciate the ability to include kids in the activities they win. Some possibilities for these experiences include:

  • Tickets to a local amusement park, zoo, aquarium, or kid-friendly museum.
  • Birthday party packages that include a custom cake from a local bakery, activities, and a visit from a performer dressed as a character from the child’s favorite show or movie.
  • “Profession-for-a-day” activities where kids get to experience being a firefighter, chef, or school principal for the day.

Not only do these types of items help engage supporters with children, but they also allow your nonprofit to reach the next generation as the kids experience the activities their parents or grandparents won for them through your event.

8. Fine Food and Beverages

Some supporters may really want to participate in your auction, but they aren’t looking to add more physical items to their lives. Consumable goods like food and beverages are the perfect way to reach these participants—and the better quality they are, the higher the bids will be.

Especially for live auctions where all of your items need to be high-value, consider pairing a food or drink item with an experience. For example, you could auction off some bottles of wine along with a wine tasting at the vineyard where they were made, or combine a sampler of high-end herbs and spices with a cooking class where the winner can learn how best to use them.

9. Popular Technology

Younger supporters in particular will appreciate the opportunity to win the latest gadgets in your auction. Encourage supporters to place multiple bids by placing larger items like smartphones and gaming consoles next to smaller accessories that winners could use along with them, such as Bluetooth headphones or additional controllers.

In participants’ eyes, a key benefit of buying technology-related items at auction is the ability to get them at a lower price than they would in stores. To accommodate this preference while still ensuring a positive ROI, get in touch with your corporate sponsors to see if you can get these items for free or at a significant discount.

10. High-End Goods

Supporters will also look for high-end goods at a reduced price at an auction, whether they want designer purses or good-quality kitchen appliances. Although these goods often appeal to specific supporter preferences, there is likely someone among your supporter base looking for these types of items. Or, someone might see one and decide to get it as a gift for a friend or family member while supporting your organization.

3 Pro Tips for Procuring Charity Auction Items

Now that you know which charity auction items to procure, it’s time to develop a strategy to get started. There are plenty of procurement resources available online, so do your research before diving in.

Get our eBook: An Introduction to Procuring Quality Charity Auction Items. Download for Free.

Here are our top three tips for charity auction item procurement:

A checklist of three tips to procure charity auction items, which are detailed below.

  1. Create an auction item wish list. To kick off your process, get your entire team of event staff and volunteers together for a brainstorming session. Provide lunch or coffee for everyone, designate a note-taker, and ask everyone to throw out their best ideas for auction items. Once you have a solid list, narrow down your must-have items as well as those that would be nice to have if you can secure them.
  2. Divide up sourcing responsibilities. For each item you brainstorm, designate a certain individual to procure them. Play to people’s strengths and leverage their connections when making these decisions. For instance, if one of your staff members is excellent at finding and negotiating discounts, give them the job of contacting event venues about securing tickets. Or, if a volunteer works for a local business that could donate a service, ask them to talk to their boss about providing that item.
  3. Remember the 80/20 rule. This is the principle that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. When it comes to auctions, expect that 80% of your item-related revenue will come from 20% of your prizes—the most valuable 20%. Your team only has so much time and energy to put toward procurement, so focus primarily on securing the items on your wishlist that would make up that top 20%.

The last thing to keep in mind is that it’s never too early to start procuring auction items! As soon as your event is on your organization’s calendar, schedule your wish list brainstorming session. And if you have items left over from a past auction or raffle, or you receive a one-off in-kind donation that could make a good prize, see if it’s possible to save it for your next event.

Charity Auction Items: The Bottom Line

Procuring charity auction items can seem daunting at first, especially if your nonprofit has never hosted this type of event before. But once you go through the process a few times, you’ll figure out what is going well and how you could hone your strategy to secure even better prizes with less time and effort required. And if you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to experts like the Event Fundraising Specialists at Winspire.

For more information on nonprofit auction items, check out these resources:

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