This article explores 7 best practices for soliciting auction items for nonprofit events.

7 Best Practices for Soliciting Auction Items Successfully

So you’ve decided to host an auction. An exciting event like this for your school or nonprofit is a time-tested way to engage your guests and bring in fundraising revenue. And as you’re also probably realizing, auctions involve a lot of planning. One of the most complex planning aspects is the item solicitation.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven best practices that any nonprofit or school auction can use to simplify the process of item solicitation.

1. Create donation rules and guidelines

Before you begin soliciting auction items, you’ll want to consider setting some ground rules. Brainstorm with your fellow event planners to think through possibilities regarding accepting donations, the rules around the bidding process during the event, and how you’ll accept payment.

For example, rules for donating items may look like:

  • Donors should only donate items above a minimum value, such as $20.
  • Donors should provide accurate fair market values for each item.
  • Donors should disclose any flaws or damages to the items ahead of time.

When you clearly define what is expected of your donations, this gives helpful parameters to well-meaning donors to ensure that you solicit quality items. No one wants a silent auction where everyone’s bidding on Uncle Pete’s attic treasures. These guidelines will help you avoid potentially awkward conversations with your donors.

2. Motivate your team to solicit donations

Now that you have outlined some rules, it’s time to motivate the fundraising committee or event planning team to start finding donations. This comes easier to some people than others, as some are natural-born extroverts.

To help your team out, encourage and model clear and frequent communication about the solicitation process. Share with your team the rules and expectations for great auction items. You may even create a wish list of things you’d love to include. Even if they don’t get those exact items, it helps them imagine other possibilities to pursue.

Scheduling periodic check-ins with the team throughout the solicitation process will help you stay on top of progress and successes. Staying in close communication will also help foster team spirit. Try different forms of communication, like texts, phone calls, coffee meet-ups, etc.

In addition to your fundraising committee, you can branch out by engaging your board members, volunteers, and even students to get involved in the auction solicitation process. By expanding your reach, you may learn of local businesses you weren’t aware of that would be able to provide great auction items. Plus, students are always a great resource on the latest trends and fashion that your more mature committee members may lose sight of.

3. Start with existing connections

Encourage your fundraising committee or event planning team to start with their existing connections. They should think of their neighbors, extended family, stores they frequent, and adjacent communities. For example, if one of your committee members is active in the running community, they may reach out to someone they know at a local athletic supply store and request a donation.

Starting with the people they already know may not be a slam dunk getting auction items from each person they contact. But this will help get the team more comfortable with the auction solicitation process, and they’ll gain the courage and practice to expand their search.

4. Connect with local businesses

Local businesses will be especially interested in donating items for your auction because participating gives them excellent exposure. Many small businesses struggle with marketing and getting in front of new customers, so this is a real win-win situation.

Donating items is a form of corporate sponsorship called an in-kind donation, benefitting both the fundraisers and the sponsoring business. In addition to increasing awareness of their business to new customers, participating in an event as a sponsor allows the business to showcase its company values.

So don’t forget to visit local businesses and tell them about the easy promotion they could get by donating an item to your auction. Plus, they’ll help support a good cause!

5. Emphasize the impact of donations

While participating is great for boosting the business’s exposure and reputation, make sure that you lead these conversations by sharing about the cause you’re supporting and the benefits that the people your organization serves will receive.

For example, you could share how much your fundraiser generated last year and the direct impact you were able to provide because of it.

Provide details on where the funds raised from the auction will go, exactly who will benefit, and how this item will fuel your school or nonprofit’s impact on the community.

6. Aim for a range of items—but don’t be picky

Ideally, you want to offer a variety of items at your silent auction to appeal to the widest audience. However, organizations don’t always have enough time or resources to get everything on their dream list of auction items.

So instead of looking for specific items, create a few categories of different items and try to find a few that fit into each category. Here are some helpful auction categories you might consider:

  • Experiential Travel Packages
  • Arts & Leisure Items
  • Fine Food & Beverages
  • Family-Friendly Activities

If you can’t fill each category, don’t worry. Any item you can solicit will make your auction more robust.

7. Thank and invite every donor

Finally, the most important rule of donor communication: thank your donors, and thank them often!

Outline a donor appreciation strategy ahead of time so you can focus your energy on the auction. Plan to send multiple personal thank you communications to each donor, and don’t forget to invite them to attend the auction.

This will help them learn more about your organization by experiencing it first-hand and will likely lead to their continued participation at future events.

Now, go get some auction items!

Every auction is a unique opportunity for your organization to make new connections and build relationships in your community. With these tips, we hope you’ll be able to solicit the best auction items so your event far exceeds what you were able to raise last year.