Online Auction

Top Tips to Make Your Parent Organization’s Online Auction a Success

Most organizations have their tried-and-true fundraisers that they rely on every year as their bread and butter. When you can provide an event that will not only help cushion your bottom line, but also provide community building, some fun, healthy competition, and your families walk away with some pretty awesome items…it’s a win win! Here are some top tips that will ensure your online auction fundraiser is not only successful, but engaging and profitable (two things we all need right now).

Basket for an Online Auction

Create an Online Auction Communication Plan

A successful event depends on people knowing when it is taking place and how to access it! Make sure you make those details crystal clear. As your online auction items start rolling in, create suspense using your social media pages, newsletters, emails and more to showcase what will be up for auction. 

Give your community ample time to set the date and time in their calendar. And send reminders leading up to your fundraiser. Use tools to create digital flyers and QR codes to easily send your community to your auction and to highlight how to bid, what to bid on and what your plans are for the money you raise. 

Don’t forget your community outside of school families. Make sure to post the details of your auction on surrounding HOA sites or Facebook pages and don’t be afraid to ask the administration at the schools that feed into yours, or you feed into, to pass along the details. If you get the right items, more than just your school families will be interested in bidding! 

TIP: If you’re at an elementary school, make QR code stickers to stick on every student on their way home so parents can just scan and set up an account-making it as easy as possible for your community will make it impossible for them not to join.

Align Your Fundraising Expectations with Your Community

Make sure when you are sourcing your online auction items, you are curating an auction specifically for your community. Seek items that will be affordable and items your families will want to bid on. Get some hands to help you drop off winning items, collect checks (if you’re accepting them), be your online coordinator etc…you don’t want to burn out before the auction has begun!

Online Auction Bidding

Don't Plan Your Fundraiser Alone- Gather the Right Group

Make sure you have plenty of people to help check off everything on the to-do list!  Get some hands to help you drop off winning items, collect checks (if you’re accepting them), be your online coordinator etc…you don’t want to burn out before the auction has begun!  Plus, working with friends makes everything more fun!  And if you don’t already know everyone on your team, it’s a great way to meet more people in your community!

Ask for Donations Early

A lot of companies love donating to nonprofits. However, they need ample time and all proper paperwork in order for it to benefit them. Start inquiring about donations at least 3 to 4 months before your event. Amusement parks, museums, businesses, theaters, NFL, MLB, NHL, game shows and more are a good place to start. All donate fan swag, tickets, and items every year. Just make sure you give enough time in order for them to approve your request. Most requests are done online through their websites, so have your tax info ready.

Pricing Your Online Auction Items

Pricing online auction items can be tricky. The experts say to start your bidding price at 30-50% of the value (assuming it was donated). It’s definitely a good starting point. Just know your community will dictate what price items will go for. If you are having class projects donated, you can list them as “priceless”. Those items tend to go fast and will be a big draw to your auction. Don’t forget to add a “Starting Bid” and Minimum raise so that it is clear how much a person needs to increase to ‘beat out’ the person before. Starting lower is ok, because more action equals more fun.

You can also add a “Buy Now” price (a bit more than its value) to some of your items. This is a good feature if you are auctioning tickets to a party or have a lot of gift certificates. Just make sure not to use this on your priceless items that are sure to create a bidding war. (For example: front row spot in carpool line or front row tickets to the Spring Show). Let your community drive the price on those, and you’ll be sure to bring in more money than you imagined! 


Tip: Make sure you’re taking good quality pictures and posting them leading up to your event. Easy-to-read, detailed descriptions with any policies (exp. dates etc…) is a must and will, again, be a draw for your community to start bidding when its time.

Online Auction Items can Include Spa Days

Closing Your Online Auction

Closing is key and where you can see your profits double or more!  Make sure to plan this well.  Close your biggest money makers first (often the teacher/staff experiences, front row parking spot/pickup line spot, front row concert seats, etc).  Then, stagger the next items so the people that didn’t ‘win’ the big money items realize they now have money to spend on the other items.  Next, close your next hottest items (maybe gift certificates).  Stagger again for a third category.  This allows people to realize they have money.  

Keep the auction timeline brief, no need to have it open for more than 2 weeks.  The first and last day and a half is where you’ll see the majority of movement (or first and last hour if it’s a one day event).  

TIP: Make sure your closing day doesn’t conflict with another important event in your community (high school football game or dance (even if you are the elementary school), professional team game, etc.  

Corporate Sponsorships/Donations

Reach out to your local businesses for corporate sponsorships. In a “non COVID” era, one would thank local sponsors with their logo and a blurb in their auction programs or have signage at their live event. You can still offer this — just digitally. Offer local businesses, insurance companies, realtors (especially ones that service your school area), etc. the opportunity to be thanked or highlighted as your Fundraiser Sponsor. This can be done through your social media, weekly newsletters, and on your online auction platform. Sponsors can submit to you any graphic they’d like you to use when recognizing them.  It is a great way to bring in more money to your organization and a great way for them to get a tax write-off and their name out to the community they serve. Hit your local businesses for donated goods. Businesses like hair salons, spas, restaurants, tutoring centers, dance studios, for example. 
How to Start a Corporate Sponsorship Program

TIP: Get your committee together and make a day of heading out to these businesses. Print plenty of request letters and hit your strip malls soliciting for in kind donations or sponsorships.  Then, when you get a donation, immediately thank the business on social media. They’ll remember the quick turnaround.  End your spree with a late lunch at a spot you’d like to get a gift certificate from. It’s really hard saying no to someone face to face!

Sponsors for your Online Auction

Online Auction Platforms

There are a lot to choose from. You will want to choose the one that is most user friendly for your chair coordinator and which one will give you the most of what you need. All come with tutorials. A few will allow you to post a certain amount for free with the opportunity to upgrade with minimal fees. Setting up items and descriptions can be done in advance. Setting your auction to go live and close at designated times makes it easy for your coordinator to manage. Make sure to set your automatic notifications for when people are outbid. Send clear instructions so your community understands how to set up their settings for bidding per proxy on their behalf and up to whatever amount they’d prefer.

Having an in-person auction is sometimes the biggest event of the year. Even in this new tide of hosting fundraisers and events virtually, hosting an online auction can still be your biggest event. It might just look a little different- but can still have the same results. Happy Bidding!

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Here are some top tips that will ensure your online auction fundraiser is not only successful, but engaging and profitable (two things we all need right now).
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