How to Run an Auction for Your Performing Arts Nonprofit

Auctions are an opportunity for your performing arts nonprofit to raise funds and build connections in your community. Whether you’re running a virtual, in-person, or hybrid auction, the right preparation will lead to a professional event that showcases what your nonprofit has to offer your community while also earning your organization vital funds. 

Auctions have several moving parts and can be a little overwhelming the first time your nonprofit runs one. However, with the right research, investment, and preparation, your performing arts nonprofit can host a memorable event and set your organization up to run future auctions. 

To help your performing arts nonprofit smoothly run your in-person, hybrid, or online silent auction, this guide will cover how to: 

Make sure to schedule up to several months of planning time for your auction. Then, carefully document your planning process and take note of setbacks, discoveries, and opportunities your team encounters. Doing so will allow your team to review their efforts and create an action plan that targets specific areas of improvement for your next auction. 

Assemble a team.

Before you can get started planning and running your auction, you’ll need a team to oversee each aspect of your event. Handbid’s silent auction guide outlines the core roles of most nonprofit auction teams:

  • Auction chair. Your auction chair is your project leader and will provide overall direction and leadership for your auction team. 
  • Procurement team. Your auction needs items, and your procurement team is in charge of reaching out to businesses, your nonprofit’s connections, and other leads to obtain them. 
  • Logistics team. In-person auctions require a venue, catering, and event setup, and your logistics team ensures all of these pieces come together. For hybrid and virtual auctions, your logistics team is still vital, handling guest registrations, livestreaming, and shipping auction items to the correct winners. 
  • Marketing team. Auctions need guests, and your marketing team gets the word out to your supporters by creating and distributing marketing materials that promote your event. 
  • Volunteers. Volunteers handle the jobs and responsibilities that need to be done but don’t require intensive training. These tasks will vary from nonprofit to nonprofit, but often consist of checking in guests, decorating your event space, and guiding guests around your auction. 

Your event team’s size will depend on the scale of your event and your performing arts nonprofit’s overall size. Some nonprofits may be able to create a dedicated team for each role, while others might only have one person in most of the positions. No matter your size, make sure to check in with each team regularly so you can monitor their progress and provide the support they need to fulfill their responsibilities. 

Reach out to local businesses. 

Item procurement is a fundamental part of any charitable auction. Your procurement team should include individuals with business connections or experience making donation requests. However, whether your team has years of experience or are procuring items for the first time, the following strategies can help improve your chances of securing corporate support:

  • Research businesses before reaching out. It might sound obvious, but your procurement team should be familiar with each business’s services, giving history, and philanthropic values before approaching them. 
  • Reach out to medium and low priority sponsors first. Your procurement team will get better at making your pitch to sponsors the more experience they have. Sort your potential sponsors by priority and have your team hold their first meetings with medium and low priority sponsors, allowing them to refine their presentation in lower stress situations. 
  • Present multiple support options. Businesses can support your auction in multiple ways, such as donating items, making a monetary contribution, or helping market your event. If a business isn’t able to donate an item but still wants to be a sponsor, work with them to find a way they can help out and be honored at your event. 

Also, make sure that your pitch for support emphasizes what the business has to gain by agreeing to a sponsorship rather than just what they can do for your nonprofit. 360MatchPro’s guide to corporate philanthropy explains businesses who sponsor nonprofits can see increases in employee engagement, their reputation in their community, and their overall work environment. In your pitch, make sure to discuss these benefits and provide specifics for how your nonprofit will help the business obtain them. 

Invest in necessary software.

While theoretically your performing arts nonprofit can run an in-person auction without software support, the right tech tools can dramatically improve your ability to stay organized, promote your event, and analyze your results. Plus, auction software is a requirement for nonprofits interested in running hybrid and virtual auctions. 

Nonprofit software has come a long way, and there are a variety of solutions available for nearly every part of your event. Here are a few tech tools you should consider for running your auction:

  • Auction software. Auction software provides core features for nonprofit auctions such as item catalogues, bidding remotely, and communication tools that allow you to provide updates throughout your auction. Look for an auction software that has mobile capabilities as the majority of donors have smartphones. 
  • A CRM. Your CRM is the heart of your nonprofit’s tech stack and should keep track of all incoming data. Auctions generate a lot of donor data, such as event attendance and donations made, which can be leveraged for future fundraising campaigns. 
  • Text-to-give tools. Text-to-give is one of the fastest ways to donate and pairs well with live events. Use your software solution to create a text-to-give number and display it clearly at your event’s venue or on your event’s website. Then, make a call for supporters to give on their phones and read off your text-to-give number. Seeing people around them pull out their phones to give will encourage supporters who are on the fence to give as well. 

Software can quickly get expensive, so make sure to review your options thoroughly before making an investment. Ask software providers about their price model, scalability, and technical support. While some providers might be hands-off after making a sale, others will have 24/7 support or even fundraising coaches that can help take your auction to the next level. 

Market your auction.

Even the most well-run auctions will only succeed if they have guests attending them. Your marketing team will be responsible for spreading the word about your upcoming auction, creating marketing materials, and networking with your nonprofit’s connections to help promote your event. 

Most nonprofits find greater marketing success by promoting their event across multiple channels. Doing so establishes multiple touch points with supporters and helps build brand recognition, increasing the chances supporters will research and engage with your nonprofit. Make sure your performing arts nonprofit has a consistent brand identity, so your posts can be easily recognized and get your mission across to supporters quickly. 

Thankfully, auctions are often easier to market than other nonprofit fundraisers. Take pictures of your high-value items and use them in your marketing materials to show supporters what they stand to gain if they attend your auction. Plus, when your team makes these marketing appeals on social media, you can tag the business that provided the item and prompt them to share the post as well, increasing your potential audience. 

Tie your nonprofit to your event.

Auctions are exciting events, and guests can get so caught up in bidding on items that sometimes the charitable aspect of your auction can get forgotten. To make a lasting impression, you’ll need to tie the purpose of your auction closely to each aspect of your event. 

Before your auction, choose a specific goal or project the auction will fund. Doing so will help your marketing team emphasize why your auction matters to guests from their very first outreach messages. Then, at your event, host activities, create displays, and give speeches that reinforce what the proceeds of your auction are going to. 

By reinforcing the purpose of your auction throughout the event, guests may be moved to give more to help your nonprofit reach your fundraising goals. Plus, after your events, guests will likely discuss your auction with friends and family. Intertwining your auction with your nonprofit’s mission increases the odds that guests will spread the word about your performing arts nonprofit’s projects and not just the items they won. 

Follow up with guests and sponsors afterwards.

Your event isn’t over until you follow up with your guests and sponsors. Remember, your auction isn’t just a fundraiser—it’s also an opportunity to help build connections with your supporters and local businesses to create long standing supporters. 

An effective follow-up can help strengthen the connection your auction established and lead to repeat guests and sponsors at your next auction. To make sure your nonprofit makes a strong, lasting impression on your guests and sponsors, include the following elements in your follow-up messages:

  • A sincere thank you. For most supporters, thank-you letters, cards, and phone calls feel more personal than a thank you email. While your nonprofit should still send automatic thank you messages over email, going the extra mile to show your appreciation, especially for sponsors and notable donors, will let your supporters know you sincerely appreciate their contributions. 
  • An impact statement. Let donors and sponsors know what their contributions accomplished by sharing an impact statement. Provide the total amount raised or share something your nonprofit was able to do with the auction’s proceeds. For example, a performing arts nonprofit like yours might renovate a theater or purchase the necessary equipment to put on a new show. 
  • A personalized address. Personalize your follow-up messages by addressing each guest and sponsor by name and including relevant details about their contributions to your auction. For example, if a sponsor’s donated item was sold for a particularly high amount, share it with them. 

Think of your follow-up process as an investment in your nonprofit’s future. Guests and sponsors who had a positive experience are likely to return for upcoming fundraisers, especially if they receive an invitation in your follow-up messages.

Auctions are complex fundraisers, but your performing arts nonprofit can host an engaging, lucrative event with the right team, preparation, and resource investment. Survey your staff to see who has experience or business connections that might be helpful for your auction, then use that information to assemble a team and start planning your event. 

Author: Jeff Porter

Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid, has spent 18 years in the non-profit industry. In 2004 he founded the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Colorado where he still resides as board chair. Jeff learned early on that non-profits desperately needed better and more affordable fundraising solutions.  Leveraging his software background, he built most of the tools his charities used, and in 2011 he launched Handbid at his own fundraising event.  The goal was to improve the guest experience, reduce administration and increase revenue.  Handbid accomplished all of those goals, effectively doubling revenue in its debut. Nine years later, Handbid’s suite of tools has delighted over a half-million guests, generated millions of bids, and helped thousands of charities raise well over $100 million.

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