Dos and Don’ts of Charity Auctions

Dos and Don’ts of Charity AuctionsCharity auctions, run properly, are a tremendous fundraising opportunity with the right items and organization.  We consider auctions part of the evening’s entertainment … So make sure they are engaging and fun!  Auctions can make upwards of $1 million (this involved auctioning a Ferrari), but on average, you can expect to raise $10-20,000, a significant contribution to the cause.

If realtors emphasize “location, location, location,” we’d like to emphasize “merchandising, merchandising, merchandising.”  Here’s what we’ve learned over the years, from personally managing charity auctions ourselves (silent and live) and from shopping at many more.


Silent Auctions

#1 – If appropriate for your event, serve alcohol (‘nuf said).

#2 – It takes a village. Enlist the board, staff and members of your organization and event committee to collect donations. Set a goal for board members (at least one event sponsor and two auction items, for example). Encourage supporters to make requests of the proprietors of restaurants, hotels, clubs, spas, hair salons and retail stores they frequent or where they work.  Provide a deadline when donations need to be secured to give you time to create the presentation materials (see item #6).

#3 – Provide materials for volunteers to use. Sometimes people are overwhelmed about where to start … so they don’t.  Provide:

  • A template letter for requests, which briefly talks about your organization and the event, lists the types of donations you’re looking to receive and provides your 501(c)3 information.
  • A donation form, which requests a full description of the item, any limitations, such as blackout or expiration dates, etc.; retail value; who should be credited on the bid sheet for the donation; and contact information for questions (and, later, a thank you letter from the charity).

#4 – Auction items that do particularly well in our experience include experiential opportunities, travel and hotels (exotic locales as well as “staycation” spots), restaurants and consumables (wine and food). Also include items that are a value for activities in which people already engage.  For example, gift certificates to area spas and restaurants, tickets to local sporting events or concerts … even dry cleaning services.  What is a unique experience in your city that people would love to get the chance to do?  A private tour of a sports stadium prior to a game or entry into a private club?  A sunset boat ride, tee time at a local golf course or a river kayaking trip?  Consider lessons for tennis, dancing, painting or horseback riding.  How about a local caterer or restaurateur donating services to give a wine-tasting event or prepare a meal for four at the winning bidder’s home?  And donations from local artists.

Charity Auction Tips#5 – Organize donations into categories, so that people can shop items that interest them in one area. Popular categories include Travel & Entertainment, Restaurants, Lifestyle (spas, clothing, makeup, etc), Wine & Food, Memorabilia, Art and Sports.  Of course, your donations will also dictate your categories.  Provide signage so people can identify the groupings.

#6 – You need to “sell” your items much like retail stores merchandise their products.   Make the displays and descriptions appealing (You will need to re-write most of the copy provided to you … and be prepared to do some research).  Arrange them decoratively.  Bring floor and table-top easels.  Display photographs and other representational artwork in 8 x 10 acrylic frames.  Create gift baskets that combine like items, such as wine and chocolate or spa gift certificates with personal pampering products.

#7 – Make your silent auction akin to a shopping experience.  Invite a handful of local vendors who work charity events. We’ve had vendors with handsomely framed lithographs of the masters; estate jewelry; and more.  They make your auction more interesting, donate 20% of their sales to the organization and many of them will also provide a direct donation to your auction. Additionally, a reputable vendor will give 20% of sales that occur later, but resulted from initial contact at your event.

#8 – No matter how organized you think you are, have extra blank bid sheets that you can fill out by hand.  You may be missing one sheet … or someone will show up with a donation you didn’t expect. Also have additional sheets for popular items, where bidding goes to page 2.  Request their name, phone number (preferably cell so you can text the winner) and e-mail information.  You will need to track down bidders who have already left the event.  Make the barriers to placing a bid as low as possible, with the starting bid at a reasonable minimum and defined bidding increments.  Modest (though not incidental) increments encourage bidding wars.  Bid sheets should be on clipboards (or the budget clipboard of cardboard & paper clip) and pens should be plentiful.  Winners should not need to be present to claim their winnings.

#9 – It’s helpful to color code your item sheets by category with stick-on dots and to number items within the category for quick reference.  This makes check-out run much more expediently. Organize the gift certificates at the check-out (do not display them on the tables).

#10 – The auction should be staffed at all times to answer questions, encourage friendly bidding competitions, engage bidders (Do you have gifts you need to buy in the near future?) and, sometimes, to prevent theft. (Sadly, it happens.)  Throughout the evening, take the mic and create excitement, remind people the auction will be closing at [designated time].  Although you need to be conscious of when people may want to leave the event, schedule your closing as late as possible to maximize bidding opportunity.  Much like a birthday party, once the presents are opened, people leave the party.  Have the emcee announce that items will be distributed one-half hour after the auction’s closing to give you time to organize the check-out.

#11 – When the auction ends, have plenty of volunteers ready to collect bid sheets quickly (no cheating!), to help process payments and deliver items to the winners promptly. Organize the winning bid sheets by the same category in which they were displayed to make it easier to find.  Additionally, you can make a “winners” board with a chalk or dry-erase board.  Create a check-out line with at least two representatives to process credit card payments and one to handle cash/checks and hand out gift certificates.  If possible, set up a Square payment system for your charity. If that’s not possible, make sure you have a phone line available to your check-out station to process credit card payments.  If you are utilizing an old-fashioned, carbon copy imprinter, your credit card processing company may offer a slightly lower rate if you write their phone/address on the receipt (and it gives you recourse for any problems that come up later).  Stamp the bid sheet PAID and hand it off to designated “runners” who will track down the item and hand it off to the winner.


Live Auctions

If you have one or two extraordinary items (private jet travel, full vacation experience at a high-end destination, dinner with a local celebrity, etc.), you may want to consider holding a live auction.  Announce that the silent auction is closing soon, then have someone from your organization (who isn’t shy) take the mic and oversee the bidding.  Have volunteers help you identify who is bidding in the audience and escort them to the payment table.

We have also been at a few events where a professional auctioneer oversees a larger effort.  Project Angel Food in Los Angeles does this really well.  The auctioneer sells “opportunities,” such as “$2,500 will buy special Thanksgiving meals for X number of clients” … and so on. Frequently, they sell more than one across a variety of categories and donation levels.

Opportunity Drawings

Formerly known as a raffle (until the IRS regulated the age-old tradition), it’s another fun way to enliven the evening and we consider it icing on the auction cake.  But make sure you follow state and federal guidelines. If you’re willing to negotiate the red tape, here are a few ideas …

Have the item(s) merchandised at the check-in table.  Ask people to “make a donation” for tickets (rolls of dividable carnival tickets will do) as they check-in, then have volunteers walking around to offer them throughout the evening.

One gimmick that works extremely well is to suggestion a donation of $1 per ticket or “your height in tickets” for $20.  Have them put one foot on the end of the ticket roll and literally break off the length of tickets at the top of their head. (We always give shorter guests a few bonus inches).  It’s a great ice breaker.

While regulations chance drawings vary by state, you can review the federal guidelines regarding tax-exempt organizations and gaming at:

With the above tips, your silent auction should be a huge success and make a significant contribution to your organization’s mission.  Good luck!

Implementing Transparency and Donor Privacy

transparency-donor-privacyFor a nonprofit, transparency is critical for trust, support, loyalty, and long-term sustainability. This means financial accountability, openness about mission and planes, and a holistic view of the organization.

Transparency also means that a donor’s rights are clearly informed. An organization’s internal work is directly related to the support it externally receives; therefore, non-profits  should give priority to this crucial segment of information to communicate with prospective and existing donors and supporters.

Nonprofit organizations can implement the following Privacy and Donor Policy:

  • Fundraising will be truthful and accurately described.
  • Donations will be spent in accordance with the donor’s intent.
  • Donors will receive prompt, forthright answers to questions.
  • Donors have the right to be informed of the organization’s mission and purpose.
  • Fundraising will respect the dignity and privacy of those who benefit from the organization’s activities.
  • Donors will receive appropriate acknowledgment and recognition for their gift.
  • The organization will respect the donor’s requests to remain anonymous.
  • Upon request, donors are entitled to promptly receive the organization’s most recent stewardship report and proof of 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status.
  • Donors will have the opportunity to have their names deleted from mailing and fundraising solicitations. Their opt out request will be honored promptly.
  • The organization will respect donors’ privacy by not sharing, selling, or renting names and personal information.
  • Donors can expect that all relationships with individuals representing the organization will be professional in nature and that they will be treated with respect, compassion and dignity.

In today’s world, where the majority of transactions take place online or even through social media, it is imperative to remind donors why your non-profit is collecting the information it may need. Here are some additional guidelines that your organization may implement for donor privacy:

  1.  Informing the donor that their information is confidential, and that your organization does not sell to or share donor information with anyone, including partners and affiliates.
  2. Informing the donor that your organization uses the information to accept and process gifts, and providing the donor with the option to receive updates such as mailings and newsletters.
  3. Informing the donor of the type of information that is gathered: name, address, credit card or payment method information, to properly process gift transactions, and that it is protected through a trusted solution for online security.

Informing donors of their rights ensures them that their monetary gifts are utilized with respect and gratitude. This also empowers donors in feeling that their giving is in their control, and provides them with autonomy regarding the personal information they may share. Philanthropy merits loyalty and dedication, and this is where non-profits are to uphold their end by honoring donor’s rights with integrity and compassion.


5 Tips for Asking for Different Types of Donations

Fundraising Advice - How To Ask for DonationsWhen someone goes to build a new house, they generally have to look to several different vendors to provide them with the materials they need. All of the bathroom fixtures come from a completely different place than the windows, as do the carpet, ceiling fans, appliances, and everything else that makes a house a home.

Asking for different types of donations is similar to the process of building that house. You can’t receive all of your donations online, just like you wouldn’t expect your sink manufacturer to supply the materials to construct a functioning fireplace.

Instead, it’s wise to take a multichannel approach to fundraising, one that appeals to different demographics of supporters and helps your nonprofit raise as much money as possible.

Let’s take a look at the tips you need before you start construction on your fundraising house.

1. Do your research.

Unless you want a lopsided house with faulty wiring, you’ll want to bring a blueprint along to the construction site.

You’ll also need to do some research on your donors before you start asking them for donations.

Prospect research, specifically.

Prospect research essentially allows your nonprofit to have a look into your donors’ and prospects’ past giving history. It also helps you discover those tendencies that make them more likely to donate to organizations like yours.

Prospect research can uncover:

  • Past giving to your organization.
  • Past giving to other nonprofits.
  • Political contributions.
  • Real estate and stock ownership.
  • Basic data like names, addresses, and marital status.
  • And more!

With prospect research at your fingertips, your organization is in a much better position to start asking for donations from different types of donors.

No two prospects are alike, and your nonprofit should do what it can to tailor your donation appeals to your various donors. Prospect research is a good first step in the right direction.

2. Go online and go mobile.

If you thought that all of your donors would write a check, seal an envelope, and mail their contributions to your organization, think again.

These days, more and more nonprofit supporters are making their donations online and on mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets.

Is your organization part of that digital conversation?

Tips for Soliciting Donations - Fundraising AdvicePart of asking for different types of donations means that you should be reaching out to your more technologically-savvy donors. You can:

  • Provide your donors with an online donation page.
  • Make sure that your website and donation form are mobile responsive and are therefore able to be viewed on all types of devices.
  • Try using text-to-give technology to encourage donors to give during events and on the go.
  • And more!

The options are nearly limitless when it comes to online- and mobile-giving technology.

The only problem that comes with online and mobile giving is that it has the potential to isolate donors. Someone who gives through a screen doesn’t get the same experience that someone who donates in person or over the phone would get.

Part of creating a positive online donation experience is connecting with your donors on a personal level and making the donation experience about them.

Learn how your nonprofit can connect and empathize with your online donors with this helpful and insightful article.

3. Transform your advocates into donors.

Take a moment to think about your organization’s biggest supporters. Outside of your actual staff, your key champions are likely advocates and volunteers.

Can you imagine if your pool of advocates were transformed into donors?

While some of your supporters may be perfectly content giving their time to your organization, many others will be excited to help you further your mission with their donations.

You might have a major gift donor in your advocate pool. Or you could possibly find a volunteer who will help you coordinate your upcoming phonathon or fundraising event.

Whatever the case, it’s wise to take a look at your group of advocates and volunteers to see who would be willing to become a donor. Volunteers are valuable to all types of nonprofit work; their commitment is evidenced every time they go to work for an organization. Use this dedication to your advantage when asking for donations!

4. Say thank you.

One of the most important components of donor stewardship and retention is being grateful.

When you make a donation appeal to an individual who has given to your organization in the past, make sure that you reference and acknowledge their previous gifts.

This is crucial to your nonprofit’s fundraising process regardless of how you’re asking for donations.

Donors who aren’t properly thanked for their previous contributions are unlikely to donate again. Your nonprofit can’t afford to miss out on donations that might have been made if you had just said, “Thank you!”

Make sure that all of your donation appeals are genuine sincere, and don’t forget to say thank you!

5. Don’t overlook corporate donations.

So far, this article has focused mainly on asking for donations from individuals. But there’s an important demographic of donors that we can’t leave out of the equation.

Companies like to exercise their corporate philanthropy in many different ways, and your nonprofit can be the recipient of that goodwill if you just ask for it!

Fundraising Advice - Transform Your Advocates Into DonorsOkay, so that may be simplifying the process a little, but you get the idea.

Companies who want to give back to their communities do so with the help of:

  • Corporate grants.
  • Matching gift programs.
  • Dollars for doers programs.
  • Product- and service-based donations.

Do some research on the types of corporate donations that local companies might offer. You might find that your organization is a perfect fit for a corporate grant and end up scoring a long-term partnership with that business.


These five tips are not the sole answers to asking for different types of donations. There is a plethora of fundraising strategies and tactics out there that can help nonprofits of all shapes and sizes success when it comes to raising money. These five are a good starting point for any organization that wants to start generating more revenue and asking for donations from different sources.

3 Proven Practices for Major Gift Solicitation

Nonprofit Advice -3 Proven Practices for Major Gift SolicitationMajor gifts are the largest donations a nonprofit receives, excluding the occasional massive planned gift. They are, therefore, incredibly significant. Their acquisition should be approached with serious drive.

Major gifts won’t simply fall into your organization’s lap. Major gift programs require careful cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. Solicitation, or the act of actually asking for the gift, is greatly affected by not only what occurs in the moment but all the work leading up to that. You can’t solicit gifts without cultivating the prospect first.

This article aims to highlight some necessary steps nonprofits should take prior to and during the ask. Once you’ve used prospect research to highlight your top candidates for major giving, you can implement these strategies to make the most of your time and resources.

Read on to learn about three popular practices for organizations actively seeking major gifts.

1. Cultivate in a variety of ways over an extended period of time.

The process leading up to physically acquiring a major gift is an extensive one. You’ll almost never meet a donor, make a request, and secure a major gift in one session. Instead, you’ll slowly build your relationship up with that donor over time, making the official ask once you have a solid understanding of what size and sort of donation is best suited to your prospect.

Throughout this cultivation period, it helps to diversify how you spend your time developing a rapport with the donor.

Popular choices for long-term cultivation include:

  • Hosting events suited to major gift donors: For example, you can organize galas, auctions, golf tournaments, etc.
  • Offering volunteering opportunities: This doesn’t mean you should put your major gift officers to work, but volunteering is a great way to get to know your organization on the ground-level. If a prospect is curious about the direct impact of their funds, they should look no further.
  • Catering informational luncheons: It never hurts to get a group of donors in one room together to address potential concerns and showcase the service your nonprofit provides.
  • Inviting prospects to in-person meetings: When it comes to major gift cultivation and solicitation, you can’t overstress the significance of face-to-face time. Make those meetings a priority.

Those four choices cover some of the basics, but the list doesn’t stop there. In addition to these strategies, seek out opportunities for additional interactions that are relevant to your organization’s specific processes and activities.

2. Hire a major gifts officer.

Your major gift team is going to need a leader. Whether you allocate the time of someone in your office to the role or you hire a brand new employee, appoint someone to take charge of the program.

You’ll need to present an impressive, unified front as you send your fundraisers out to promote and secure major gifts. That cohesion should start at the top of your program with your major gift officer.

Major gift officers organize, coordinate, and head up everything related to major giving for nonprofits and other organizations that need to raise funds.

Responsibilities include:

  • Managing prospect files.
  • Developing a prospect base.
  • Handling major gift proposals.
  • And much, much more!

If your organization is new or smaller and doesn’t have the financial flexibility to hire a major gift officer, don’t let that hold you back from seeking major gifts. Major gift acquisition can help you reach a point where you can hire someone to fill the position.

In the meantime, strategize with your team about how the major gift responsibilities should be allocated across current staff. Even if you can’t hire a major gift officer, that shouldn’t stop you from appointing someone to lead the program.

Major gifts should be a team effort, but every team needs its captain.

3. Paint a complete picture of what a major gift can accomplish.

From a practical standpoint, people will want to know what their money is going toward and predicted to accomplish. You don’t donate a gift as large as a major gift and walk away without asking questions and expecting results.

Have a direct and straightforward conversation with your prospects where you outline how their funds will be spent. Even if you can’t guarantee specifics, you surely can give donors a good idea of what will occur.

Specificity is your friend. Explain:

  • How much money is needed.
  • What exactly the funds will contribute to.
  • What the hoped result of the donation is.

You can partly explain this in your cultivation meetings, but you’ll also want to make sure you emphasize the key details during your official solicitation.

You’ll have already built up a rapport with your prospect throughout cultivation and part of that relationship building is designed to foster trust when it comes to you stating how the money will be used.

Dealing with sizable sums of money is going to inherently come with complications; there’s going to be a lot at stake. Be transparent about the entire process to put your interested prospects’ minds at ease.


These three practices should get you started, but you’ll want to do some more research before you jump right in. Acquiring major gifts is a comprehensive process that needs proper preparation. You’re on the right track, so stay on it!

How to Get Started With K-12 Fundraising

The children need erasers! And air conditioning! And teachers! The children can’t just sit there and be expected to discover how multiplication and division work.

School Fundraising IdeasFundraising for K-12 schools isn’t calculus. While fundraising, in general, may require some serious thinking, raising money for schools is simple math, and something that your school can and should do in order to have the funds to offer the best opportunities.

What is K-12 fundraising?

Educational institutions need to raise money for various expenses, such as student clubs, community projects, facility updates, and more.

K-12 schools receive local, state, and federal funds, but they tend to need more money in order to operate at full capacity. As nonprofits, raising money through charitable donations from parents, alumni, and community members is a great way for schools to accrue more revenue.

Why do schools fundraise?

For the same reason you go to work. They need money to pay the bills. Schools have to cover the cost of teacher salaries, field trips, educational resources, and more.

There are plenty of other common initiatives that schools fundraise for, such as:

  • Sports teams
  • Transportation costs
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Core classes
  • Educational programs
  • Facility renovations

K-12 schools can even emulate colleges and fundraise on behalf of charities. Many K-12 schools have clubs that support local or national causes. These clubs run fundraisers on behalf of their respective nonprofits.

Causes that student clubs and schools might support include:

  • Natural disaster aid
  • Military veterans
  • Homeless shelters

Using a school to fundraise is a great way for nonprofits to make their needs known to entire communities at a time.

How do K-12 schools fundraise?

Fundraising begins and ends with your people, who fall into two groups:

  • Fundraisers – Teachers, administrators, and students are your go-to people for organizing and executing fundraisers. Parents and community members can also help.
  • Donors – Parents are the most common donors, but school staff and members of the community can also give. Just don’t ask your students to fork over their lunch money.

Crafting fundraising events requires knowing your people. What fundraisers do the students want to run? Would parents be more giving if you ran events geared towards them, such as wine tastings? How much time and energy does your school’s staff want to dedicate to fundraising?

Asking for donations is the usual nonprofit method of raising money. If your school is going to request gifts, then it helps to use prospect research to learn important facts about parents that can help to make fundraising appeals more personal and more effective.

However, schools have the luxury of being able to get creative with fundraising. There is a plethora of events that schools can run in order to raise funds for big events like prom, homecoming, and student trips.

Test out one of these three fun, creative fundraising ideas to help your K-12 school get started:

  1. Penny war – Kids might not get naturally excited about fundraising. To encourage more enthusiasm, you can try an interesting, competitive fundraiser. Penny wars challenge students to bring in loose change. You can get tricky with the rules, but the goal is to make it a fun competition that helps your school raise money from spare change that might have otherwise been left lying around.
  2. Bake sale – While parents can obviously get involved by donating, you can build some goodwill by encouraging parents to help out and feel like they’re doing more for the cause. Bake sales are a chance for parents to work with their kids to cook delicious treats. Parents can also help to organize and promote bake sales, as well as oversee the sales. A big perk of getting parents involved as participants, rather than just donors, is that they might tell their friends that they’re part of a bake sale, which could mean that new people come and support your school.
  3. School sleepover – Parents love their kids, but they could always use a night off. Many parents will gladly pay for their kids to sleep at the school. This benefits the kids, too, as they receive a night full of games and snacks with their buddies. Make sure that your school has teachers and administrators willing to help out, as the burden of playing ‘babysitter’ often falls upon them.

The secret weapon of K-12 fundraising is the ability to host events that involve students, parents, and larger communities. Schools can have plenty of fun while raising funds, and there is an endless variety of fundraising events from which they can choose.

Once you’ve selected and hosted some fundraisers, learn how to make the grade with your events by testing their performance using success metrics!

Students in grades K-12 need great resources in order to learn. Don’t wait for the future. Kids are the future, and they need great schools now.


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