Explore ideas for item categories to incorporate while planning your auction.

4 Item Categories to Include in Nonprofit Live Auctions

As a nonprofit professional, you already know that auctions are one of the most engaging events your organization can host. Live auctions in particular tend to create an exciting, competitive atmosphere as bidding wars ensue among your passionate supporters, helping to boost fundraising revenue.

The key to a successful live auction is procuring the right items. To keep your event to a reasonable length, it’s best to stick to 10-20 total prizes. These items need to be highly desirable and valuable to maximize your auction’s fundraising potential.

In this guide, we’ll discuss four categories of auction items that tend to sell well at live auctions, including:

  1. Experiential Travel Packages
  2. Arts and Leisure Items
  3. Fine Food and Beverages
  4. Family-Friendly Activities

No matter what combination of these item types you choose to include in your auction, make sure your list is finalized well in advance of the event. That way, you can design an auction catalog to showcase the prizes and share it with event participants before bidding starts. Let’s dive in!

1. Experiential Travel Packages

According to Winspire’s guide to the best live auction items, vacation packages tend to be best-sellers at auction. They offer unique experiences and appeal to a wide range of supporters, resulting in some of your live auction’s largest bids.

Here are a few ideas for travel packages you could include in your live auction:

  • Airline tickets and accommodations for a domestic destination of the winning bidder’s choice.
  • Sightseeing tours of popular international destinations such as Paris, London, or Tokyo.
  • Stays at luxury beach resorts that include lessons in water sports like surfing and sailing.
  • Ski chalet stays with mountain passes and equipment rentals.
  • Trips to New York City to attend a traditional holiday event, like the Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.

Vacation packages are often one of the most difficult types of auction items to procure. Fortunately, there are providers your nonprofit can partner with to find experiential travel packages that will interest your supporters. Start your research early to find a partner that offers the high-value items you’re looking for.

2. Arts and Leisure Items

In addition to travel, many of your supporters likely look forward to other forms of leisure. Whether they enjoy watching sports, engaging with the arts, or simply relaxing outside of work, there are countless possibilities for live auction items you could use to appeal to participants’ interests.

The arts and leisure items you offer could be experiences or tangible goods, but either way, you’ll maximize your fundraising revenue by procuring them for free or at a reduced cost. When sending donation request letters to potential auction prize providers, be specific about what items you’d like them to contribute, such as:

  • Tickets to a major sporting event such as the Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, or Olympics
  • Packages of signed memorabilia from a specific sports team, such as jerseys, balls, and baseball cards
  • Behind-the-scenes tours of film or TV sets
  • One-of-a-kind paintings and sculptures made by local artists
  • Front-row seats at a popular concert or Broadway show
  • All-inclusive spa packages with vouchers for massages, facials, mani-pedis, and other treatments

Remember that your live auction will only feature a handful of items, so do your best to make each item as unique and impactful as possible. A great way to do this is by bundling items to increase their value. For example, combining concert tickets with a signed vinyl record and a photo opportunity with the artist after the show will bring in higher bids than if you were to sell the tickets on their own.

3. Fine Food and Beverages

Fundraisers that include food tend to be popular across the board, so consider adding food and beverages to your live auction item list. To increase bid amounts, make sure these items are high-quality and consider incorporating experiences into each prize. For example, you could offer:

  • A four-course dinner at a high-end restaurant paired with tickets to a show afterwards
  • Private cooking lessons with a professional chef
  • A brewery or vineyard tour with a beer or wine tasting session and a sampler to take home
  • A year’s supply of coffee from a local coffee shop
  • A meal prepared at the winner’s home by a celebrity chef or the winner of a cooking show

Many high-value food and beverage items can be procured by partnering with for-profit businesses. As Double the Donation’s guide to corporate sponsorships explains, the most effective partnerships are mutually beneficial. In return for the free or discounted live auction items that the business contributes, your nonprofit will provide publicity by featuring your sponsor’s logo in your auction catalog and marketing materials. Recognizing the business in this way also serves as a way to thank them, and your genuine gratitude can lead to a long-lasting relationship.

4. Family-Friendly Activities

One of the advantages of auction fundraising events is their broad appeal. Make sure you understand your supporter base and consider all relevant donor segments as you procure items for your live auction.

If you notice that you have a number of supporters with young children or grandchildren, try catering to that segment by auctioning off family-friendly activities such as:

  • A birthday party package that includes a custom cake from a local bakery and a visit from a performer dressed as an animated character
  • A behind-the-scenes tour of a nearby zoo or aquarium
  • After-hours access at an arcade, amusement park, or children’s museum
  • Lunch and storytime with a popular children’s book author

Family-friendly live auction items are just as popular with the kids who experience them as with the adults who bid on them. So, these activities can help you introduce your organization and its mission to the next generation.

Once your nonprofit has secured items from each of the four categories above, start including them in your event marketing materials. Communicating to supporters what prizes you’re offering at your live auction helps ensure they come excited and prepared to bid in support of your organization’s mission. Happy fundraising!