How to Host a Successful Online Auction or Mobile Bidding Fundraiser

How to host an online auction for charities

The internet has made fundraising easier in many ways, but other aspects have become a little more complex. We're here to give you the breakdown on how to host a successful online fundraiser to make sure that your event makes lasting impressions and generates the revenue your organization needs.

Oftentimes people, especially those who are hosting an event on the web for the first time make the common mistake of just "winging it" when it comes to their fundraiser. They may have a rough idea of what they want to do. Maybe they're using an online auction software program and are relying on it to magically produce the income they need. In either case, you need to have a concrete plan in place beforehand to make sure you are getting the most out of your online fundraiser.

Steps to configure the How-to module:

Step 1: Start with an objective.

If you want to make sure you're maximizing your fundraiser's potential and not leaving money on the table, then it's imperative that you have a solid plan in place for every piece of your online fundraiser. As with live events, your donors or guests will inevitably have the same question on their mind, "Do I want to get involved?". The first step in your plan should be to clearly define the objective or purpose of your online fundraiser. How will their money be used, what programs are your funding, and how will their contribution help? All these questions should be answered and conveyed to your donors.

Does the online auction software you are using allow you to have custom pages on the website to tell the story of your nonprofit, school or religious organization? Can you customize the site to have the look and feel of your organization or your event?  Be sure to market your message and goals through your auction website, as well as through emails and text messages sent through the online auction software.

Step 2: Set a realistic financial goal.

Sure you'd like to make a few posts or maybe a funny video and have it go viral leading to a million-dollar fundraiser, but in reality that is very unlikely to happen, which is why you need to have a realistic financial goal. You may even want to consider making the goal public so you can showcase it when the auction is live. For example, a live-updated scoreboard or thermometer that says "$12,594.32 left to reach our goal!" is a great way to involve your supporters in your mission. This seemingly simple concept can help encourage bidders to increase their donations in order to help achieve a goal that is close. In addition, it helps donors to feel good about a total goal that is being reached through the generosity of many people working together.

Another strategy is to get a large donor to match the donations.  This motivates people to give to reach a set goal, which will then be matched to double the amount raised! This adds excitement to your fundraiser and increases donations substantially!  The donor may or may not want to be recognized but either way, market the match by sending out emails and text messages and publicize the match on the website. “A generous donor has offered to match donations if we meet our goal of $50,000.  Your donation is worth double currently. If we reach out goal of $50,000, our donor will donate $50,000 and we will raise $100,000.”

Step 3: Select the right online auction management software.

Once you've clearly defined the goals of your online fundraiser and have a realistic financial goal, the next step you need to focus on is the logistics of how you will be executing the actual fundraiser online. This typically involves online auction management software, which we offer at Murad Auctions.

It's important that the software you use has at least the following features:

  • Reliable and Fast Loading Customizable Website
  • Easy Registration Process
  • Simplified Bidding Process
  • Ability to Accept Credit Card Payments Online
  • Text and Email Capabilities
  • Robust Online Auction Item Management Features
  • Robust Online Bidder Management Features
Step 4: Promote your online auction.

Perhaps one of the most challenging steps, if you do not already have a large group of donors or individuals who have supported you in the past, is promoting your online auction for your charity. An easy place to start is your local community.  Ask your current supporters to publicize your auction via their social media. Create an event on Facebook and send it out to your current supporters. Ask your supporters to share the public auction link by emailing it to their friends and family as well.  If you have auction items procured from local companies as donations, ask them to help you spread the word via their audiences. They can email the public link for the auction out to their customers or publicize it in their place of business.

Here are some other ideas to help you promote your online charity fundraiser:

  • Sharing via your social media profiles like Instagram, Linked In, Twitter
  • Sending invitations to your email list
  • Promoting on your website
  • Displaying your event on Facebook Events
  • Adding your event to local social calendars like My Sweet Charity or RSVP Calendar.
  • Adding your event to local magazines and newspaper calendars and placing an ad in these publications.  Many times, these outlets will allow you to have an ad for free if you give them a sponsorship ad on your online auction site. D Magazine, Fort Worth Magazine, Paper City
  • Local radio stations will include your event and online auction on their event calendar and even mention it during their broadcasts
  • Adding your event to your city event calendar

During the Auction

Before you open the auction, give your supporters a chance to preview the auction and get pre-registered.  This way they are ready to bid as soon as the auction opens. This creates a sense of urgency and anticipation.

The fundraising website is accessible via mobile bidding on iPhones and Android phones, tablets or computers, so you want to send out the bidding link via text message as well as email.  Our mobile bidding software allows you to send out a custom bidding link directly from the software. You can also send out a public link through your CRM or other email platforms.

We recommend that you hold the online auction for 5 to 7 days. Holding an auction for longer than this risks people losing interest.

Also, a great strategy is to hold a few auction items back and not include them in the fundraiser on opening day.  On day two or three, add these items to the catalog and send out a new text or email explaining that new items have been added to the auction.  Include the auction link so your bidders need to simply click the link to view the items and bid. This gives you an excuse to contact your supporters again and keeps them interested. If any items do not sell, you can even discount the starting bids and hold a flash sale the week after the event.

Send messages out one day before the auction closes and 30 minutes before the close time to warn bidders and give them the exact close time.  Show a countdown timer on guest phones as well.  A quick tip:  Always give the time that the auction closes.  Do not say, “The auction closes in 30 minutes.” Say, “The auction closes at 10 pm.”.  You do not know when they will look at the text or how long it will take their carrier to deliver the text to their phone, so be reduce confusion by stating the exact time.

When the auction closes, send a message letting them know they won auction items and how and when to pick them up. In addition, send a message out the next day thanking your donors and bidders.  Include a link to donate as well! Make sure your messages are short and catchy!

Here are some samples of messages to send out.  The theme for this auction was Under the Big Top

Welcome to the SMES Under the Big Top Auction! Please click the link to preview the auction and get pre-registered. Tap here (include the auction link)

Step right up! Welcome to the SMES Under the Big Top Auction. Tap here to start bidding! (include the auction link)

Don't forget to bid on our amazing silent auction items before 10pm! Take a look and enjoy the greatest show on earth! (include the auction link)

It's almost 10pm! Don’t wait to lock in those final bids. Let’s get this show on the road! Tap here (include the auction link)

You won an item in the SMES Auction! Email Susan at to arrange a pickup time. Don’t make us send the Ringmaster to come find you!

Thank you for taking part in the SMES Under the Big Top Auction! If you would like to make a cash donation, click here (include the donation link)

The Circus left a few items behind! The remaining items will be heavily discounted for the next 24 hours only. (include the auction link)

Step 5: Follow through after the online auction

Don't just shut the auction down and call it a night! An auction ending is a great time to express gratitude and build long term relationships with your donors. Be sure to send an email at the end of the auction to everyone involved, including bidders and item donors, letting them know how much they contributed and how it will help your cause.

Make sure the winners are aware of the next steps they need to take in order to claim their prizes or auction items. Set up certain days for them to come by your office to pick up their items, so you and your staff can give them a personal tour of your facility.  This is a great way to gain new supporters, volunteers, and board members.

Lastly, be sure to solicit feedback and testimonials from happy customers that you can use to help promote future events.  There are many free online survey software platforms that you can use for this like Zoho or Survey Monkey

Check out Murad Auction's online auction software

Download and analyze all the wonderful reports available through our online auction software.  This and the survey results will help you improve your online or mobile bidding auction each year.  

Utilizing these methods will help you hold a successful online fundraiser and gain new supporters for your nonprofit, school or religious organization.