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How to ask for auction items

This post originally appeared on GiveSmart, another Community Brands company.


It can feel awkward to ask for things. Everyone feels that way!  Hearing yes to an auction ask is a great feeling and the goal. But, hearing “no” is normal and ok. And, there is always someone else to ask to donate.

There are things you can do to get more auction items and higher quality auction packages.

Make the ask and plan to follow-up

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You won’t get any answer if you don’t first ask for the donation.

Craft your ask in a similar way that you would craft an annual appeal. Include a bit about your nonprofit’s story, mission impact, and testimonies. Of course, include the number of guests you expect at your in-person or hybrid event, and when the event will be so your donor has an idea of your deadline. Tell your prospective donors that you are planning to host your auction online and share your auction catalog with your entire constituent base, which means more impressions for donors.

And, be prepared to follow-up! Plan on sending personal emails from your staff or committee, as well as a phone call tree to follow-up on top wanted items. And, be accepting of a “no”. No is a complete answer. Always thank a business for consideration and ask when a better time to follow-up would be. Some donors may be able to donate more than once a year, and some only once. Consider their guidelines and make notes so you can keep your asks punctual and considerate of their resources.

Make a list of what auction items have performed well at past events

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Hopefully, you have a record of your past auction items. Take a look at how the sale price compares to fair market value, but also review the items that had the most bids or bidders.  

Gaining insights from these data points can inform what goes on your shortlist for desired items. For example, if a staycation got double the number of bids compared to any other auction package – try to put together another staycation.  

We looked at thousands of auctions to see what performs well. Take a look at our Ultimate Silent Auction Study to better inform your planning.  

See what items your organization can offer that are free(ish) and unique!

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You might be in a position to offer your own free(ish) items in your auction.  

Can you offer reserved, premier seating at an event like graduation or football games? Are there naming rights for rooms or smaller spaces available? 

There are likely groups or businesses you can partner with, who can give away things that don’t really cost them. 

Can you partner with a local movie theater to put messages up on the marquee. Would a researcher you work with be willing to do a virtual tour and Q&A? There are fun, high-impact items at your fingertips! Check out this blog for more ideas that don’t cost a dime

Collaborate on your process and workflow

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Use a Scrum board as you are planning out what to solicit. Take the time to put together a plan and designate tasks including things like reaching out to past donors, creating a list of potential businesses, setting up the donation acquisition page on your website, brainstorming with high-level volunteers, and more.  

Don’t forget to put together a shared spreadsheet with due dates and owners! 

Partner with your people

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Your event committee is likely going to be tasked with procuring auction items and setting up the plan. But, who else can support the effort? 

Do you have other committee members, high-level volunteers, or involved individual donors who could donate items or connect you to a highly sought-after item? For example, is there a connection who works higher up at a company with a skybox? Is there someone who could cash in credit card points for gift cards or goods? Someone who could donate a painting, or hand-made jewelry? The list goes on! 

Consider asking some key people to do a relationship map for potential asks. You’d be surprised what putting pen to paper can yield! 

Don’t forget the Thank Yous and stewardship!

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Make sure you provide businesses and donors with acknowledgment letters and any tax information they need for their accounting. But, take the thank you beyond that. Make it personal and rich with good storytelling. And, don’t stop with just a thank you. 

You wouldn’t like someone in your life who only asked you for things. Don’t be that entity to others!  

Send another thank you mid-year from a constituent. Add businesses to your mailing list so that they get newsletter updates. If you do a dine-to-donate night, pick a place that gave you a gift card or who you want to ask for a special experience – like a kitchen tour and cooking lesson. Invite donors to your other events. You do not know someone’s motivation, and the more you engage with donors of all types – monetary, in-kind, auction, or otherwise – the better off and more stable your organization will be. 

This post originally appeared on GiveSmart, another Community Brands company.


Our goal at MobileCause is to help nonprofit organizations create and manage successful digital fundraising campaigns, raise more money and retain donors longer. Request a free demo with one of our fundraising experts to learn, step by step, how MobileCause can simply help set up your campaigns while transforming your results.

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