6 Revenue-Boosting Ideas for Your Next Fundraising Event


February 26, 2020


6 Revenue-Boosting Ideas for Your Next Fundraising Event

Providing an experience for donors and funding for nonprofits, fundraising events have benefits for all. However, just because they’re tried-and-true, that doesn’t mean the event fundraising process can’t be improved. Nonprofits are always looking for ways to increase incoming donations, whether that’s by improving event attendance or bringing in more gifts through each event.

Charity auctions are a popular fundraising event for nonprofits as they have huge revenue potential and are extremely engaging for attendees. However, these events can also be challenging— and expensive— to plan! It’s essential that if a nonprofit is planning an auction, that they’re making efforts to maximize both donor engagement and ROI.

This makes charity auctions the perfect walkthrough example for our guide. We’re going to use six revenue-boosting twists to take your next fundraising event up a notch. This guide will explore:

  • What is a charity auction?
  • 6 Ideas to Boost this Fundraising Event
    • Social Fundraising
    • Ambassador Fundraising
    • Online Elements
    • Raffles
    • Software
    • Gamification

Follow along as we showcase proven best practices to boost final revenue totals. Remember, no matter what type of events your organization hosts, you can adapt these strategies to fit your plans. Let’s get started!

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What is a charity auction?

First, let’s break down the basics of a charity auction in order to better illustrate this walkthrough example. Auctions involve guests bidding on fun, unique, or luxurious items, and the highest bidder takes home the prize. There are three types of auctions: Live, Silent, and Online. 

  • Live auctions involve an auctioneer announcing items and accepting bids from the audience, whose members either state their bids aloud or raise a paddle. 
  • Silent auctions involve placing items around a venue and guests placing bids by writing them down on a piece of paper next to the item. Silent auctions are the most popular and versatile types of these events. 
  • Online auctions are hosted through online auction software that allows guests to bid from wherever they are, whenever they’re able to.

These events involve an extensive planning process, including item procurement 9-12 months in advance, pre-event guest ticketing and payment registration, and of course logistics like the venue/catering/timeline. Check out this OneCause guide to charity auction planning for a deeper dive into this complete process.


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6 Ideas to Boost this Fundraising Event

As you’ve seen, there are many moving parts to successfully hosting an auction. Let’s explore six twists to the classic charity auction to boost the event’s fundraising success.

As you read through these examples, think about how they can be adapted to fit the unique events you host for your own community.


1. Social Fundraising

Social fundraising draws on the power of your supporter’s social networks to raise donations for your cause. The most common examples are:

  • Peer-to-Peer: Create a P2P fundraising page associated with your event and allow supporters to create their own personal pages alongside it. Donors share their pages and solicit gifts from their networks.
  • Giving Days: Conduct a time-intensive, hyper-condensed online fundraising campaign, aiming to reach a specific goal within 24 hours. Think #GivingTuesday, but planned specifically to boost energy and awareness leading up to your major event. These campaigns thrive on social media where donors can help spread the word.
  • Challenge: Participants complete some sort of challenge (ex: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) and donate to your organization after doing so. They share a video of the challenge with their networks and challenge a few friends to continue the trend.

Begin social fundraising in advance of your event, which helps to raise awareness and build excitement. At the event, announce how much was raised before it even started!

Reminder: If you’re hosting any type of social fundraiser and allowing minors to participate, you might need permission from their parent or guardian. Consider adding a waiver to your website so guardians can give permission easily.


2. Ambassador Fundraising

Ambassador fundraising is the charity auction version of getting influencers involved. It leverages P2P fundraising in tasking ambassadors, your most loyal and involved supporters, to raise gifts in before, during, and after your auction.

There are three steps to successful ambassador fundraising:

  1. Select ambassadors. Look to your board members, volunteers, people with social media clout, your event planning committee, and any honored guests coming to your event like community leaders.
  2. Define your program. You need to outline how you will leverage ambassadors (ex: social media promotion), what your ambassadors’ goals will be (ex: sell the most tickets), and how you will onboard ambassadors.
  3. Motivate ambassadors. Use an ambassador leaderboard and incentives (such as special prizes or emceeing the event) to motivate supporters.

Ambassadors help spread the word about your event, increasing attendance and gifts raised.


3. Online Marketing

We’ve already briefly mentioned how you can use social networks to amplify your event. Take your online marketing a step further by creating event-specific digital collateral to spread the word.

Create an event microsite to provide guests with the information they need to participate and engage their networks. For an auction, an easy way to go online is to create an online auction catalog to build excitement and collect pre-bids leading up to the event. For an online auction, you’d want to include information like:

  • Short introduction to your nonprofit.
  • Explainer on how you’re using the proceeds to benefit your cause.
  • Rules for bidding and instructions on using your mobile bidding software.
  • Event schedule.

Then, include information about the items:

  • Name and number of each item.
  • Specific, but brief, description of the item.
  • Market value, starting bid amount, and minimum raise amount.
  • High-quality photos where applicable.

Not only does going digital with your event marketing help spread the word, but it does so in a budget-friendly manner. You’re not spending large amounts of money creating physical catalogs and guests can scope out items of interest or even bid in advance.


4. Raffles

Raffles are a quick and easy addition to any fundraising event, including auctions. Simply sell raffle tickets throughout the event and draw a winner at the end of the night! Raffle an item that is:

  • Desirable by your guests. Check out this list of charity auction item ideas for inspiration.
  • Worthwhile to raffle instead of auction. Ensure you’re raffling an item that you’ll cover the price of, and raise additional revenue, by selling raffle tickets alone.
  • Not competing with your auction items. Remember, your raffle is supplementing your auction or main fundraising event. You don’t want to raffle something that’s going to draw all of the attention away from your main attraction!

Just as you should sell tickets in advance of the event, consider selling raffle tickets ahead of time as well. You’ll give guests a taste of what your event will entail ahead of time (like a sneak peek at an auction item) and build interest.

Reminder: Raffles are technically considered gambling by the IRS. Check the laws of your state to determine if you’re able to host a raffle at all or if there are specific guidelines around how to conduct your own in-person or online raffle.


5. Auction Software

Technology is a powerful force to increase efficiency and fundraising power for any event. We’re going to look specifically at auction software and how you can leverage it to grow your next event’s impact. Incorporating auction software allows you to:

  • Track item procurement.
  • Create an online auction website.
  • Enable guests to bid from their smartphones.
  • Prepare instantaneous scoreboards (something you’ll read about in the next section).
  • If a guest has pre-registered their payment information, process the transaction immediately after an item is won.
  • Send digital receipts automatically to winners.

Auction software allows you to manage the planning processes associated with hosting a live, silent, or online auction. It collects valuable data from the planning and hosting of your event under one umbrella for powerful insights! This data allows you to improve your event execution, boosting revenue with every event you host.


6. Gamification

There’s little worry about a boring event if you’re hosting a live auction, especially if your nonprofit hires a professional auctioneer who specializes in maintaining the atmosphere!

As mentioned in this silent auction planning guide by OneCause, using gamification elements is a powerful tool to add competition, fun and fundraising momentum to any event. Consider using the following:

  • Bid Scoreboard: Assign guests with numbers, so they can bid with their numerical identity rather than their names. Project a leaderboard of who is winning each item and by how much for some healthy competition.
  • Fundraising Thermometer: Project a fundraising thermometer displaying how much has been raised by the event in tickets, bids, and donations so far. Set a realistic stretch goal number and challenge guests to reach it by the end of the night!

Gamification encourages guests to raise more and enhances their attendee experience. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the top event trends for 2020!

Through this guide, we’ve explored 6 revenue-boosting twists to amplify your next fundraising event through the lens of a charity auction.

While these were all tailored to auctions, realize that you can apply them to a wide variety of fundraising events! For example, social fundraising is a great addition to Run/Walk/Ride events and raffles are a hit at PTO/PTA events. Consider incorporating any of the above twists and watch your events thrive.


About the Author

Joshua Meyer - Director of Marketing at OneCauseJoshua Meyer brings over 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as the Director of Marketing for OneCause. Currently, as a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Josh manages all of the firm’s marketing efforts. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.

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