how to choose the right fundraiser auction

Choosing the Right Fundraising Auction

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Many of our clients and fellow fundraising hosts often ask which kind of auction is best for their fundraiser. This is a great question – there are many kinds of fundraising auctions out there, and choosing the right fundraising format can greatly boost your proceeds and enhance the experience for your donors.In order to help make your decision a bit easier, we’ve put together a quick guide on each type of fundraising auction, with suggestions on when to use each.

Silent Auctions

Silent auctions are one of the most popular fundraising formats out there, and consist of donors silently bidding on the items that are available as part of the fundraiser. Donors submit their bids, either on a bid sheet, or on their mobile device for an online silent auction, with the highest bidder for each item being named the winner at the end of the fundraising event.Especially when using mobile or online silent auctions, this fundraising format can be extremely effective at reaching a large group of donors over an extended period of time, in order to bring in many bids and donations.


  • Attract bidders that may not be at your fundraising event
  • Run the auction for an extended period of time (longer than your physical event)
  • Bidding wars drive up bid frequency
  • Less distracting
  • More privacy
  • Great for large number of donors


  • Less exciting
  • Does not feel “live”
  • Cannot always tell who has bid before / after you

When to Use:

Silent auctions are best used when your committee has collected a large variety of items that may be in the lower- to mid-tier price range. Because of the variety of items you may have available, your silent auction will attract donors of all budgets and tastes. Silent auctions are also great when you are expecting a high attendance at your fundraising event, as they allow all of your guests to easily participate in bidding for your items.

Live Auctions

Also very popular, live auctions put emphasis on high-ticket items, excitement, and live calls-to-action in order to generate high bids and proceeds for fundraising events. The most popular format for live auctions includes an auctioneer, who presents each item, one at a time. Guests receive paddles or simply raise their hands as the auctioneer prompts bids for higher amounts. When bidding comes to an end, the highest bidder wins the item.


  • Very exciting
  • Live calls-to-action coming from the auctioneer, encouraging additional higher bids
  • Generates competition and bidding wars
  • Exclusive feeling


  • Less privacy – everyone will know the amount you have bid (or have not bid)
  • Must hire a talented auctioneer for best results
  • Can be distracting at the fundraising event
  • Bidders must be present to participate
  • Not great for a large audience

When to Use:

Live auctions are best used when you and your committee have collected a few high-value items. These can be anything from vacations or expensive art pieces, to even big ticket items like a new car! When planning a live auction, it is always good to have a feel for your audience, as you will want to ensure that your guests have the budget to bid on some of these high-value items. Live auctions are also great with a smaller audience, as they help create an intimate feeling among your guests, especially when coupled with some once-in-a-lifetime items.

Fund a Need

In a Fund a Need campaign, donors submit their donation towards a cause, organization, idea, or service. Unlike silent auctions, there is no winner or highest bidder – donations are taken in aggregate, and there is an unlimited number of donations accepted. Because all donations above the minimum threshold are accepted for a Fund a Need campaign, the price of an “item” does not increase as bids are accepted.Fund a Need campaigns can be used to support a single cause (i.e., receiving donations to support an organization), or can be used to support multiple initiatives within an organization. Examples here may include raising money to sponsor a treatment for several patients or donating gifts to those in need. A major part of Fund a Need programs (in addition to online bidding) is the text to give functionality, which allows your donors to donate by simply texting a phone number with their donation amount.


  • Additional revenue stream to accept direct donations
  • Allows for specific calls-to-actions (e.g., sponsor a patient)
  • Online donations & text to give
  • Elicits an emotional connection for how the donation will be used
  • Everyone who participates is a winner


  • Does not feel “live”
  • No tangible item is won
  • There are no price competitions or bidding wars

When to Use:

Fund a Need campaigns are perfect for when you are trying to maximize the number of people who donate, instead of trying to maximize the donation from a single item. They are also a perfect way to give your guests transparency into where their donation funds will go. When creating your Fund a Need campaign, clearly explain the power of each dollar donated through your various Fund a Need levels, by describing the impact of their donation. This will help connect your cause with your donors, and will lead to increased engagement!

Can I use more than one (or all three) of these auction formats at my fundraising event? One of the benefits of a fundraising auction is its flexibility. Based on your event, you can feature multiple auction formats to help raise additional funds for your cause or organization.

In fact, we recommend using multiple, or even all three of the fundraising auction formats above, depending on the type of fundraiser you are holding. For example, many fundraising committees do an amazing job collecting tons of great auction items that may be classified as mid-tier items. At the same time, there may be five to ten high-value items, such as vacation packages or one-of-a-kind experiences. This common situation is the perfect time to utilize both a silent auction and a live auction. In doing so, you may actually increase the proceeds beyond what you would have collected, had you stuck to only one type of auction.To implement a strategy using both fundraising auction formats, we recommend including the many, varied, mid-tier items in the silent auction, while reserving the marquis items for your live auction.Your silent auction can run throughout the night while enticing your guests to stick around for the full event by communicating that the “main event”– your live auction – will take place toward the end of the fundraising event. Finally, based on your organization and the cause you are supporting, there is also room to include a Fund a Need program along with your silent auction and live auction. The key here will be to clearly call out the different causes that this auction will be supporting. The most successful Fund a Need programs are able to emotionally connect with their donors.Now that you’ve learned a bit about some of the most popular types of fundraising auctions, we hope that you will be able to make a well-informed decision on which is best for your next fundraiser!

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