Soliciting Item Donations for Auctions: 5 Best Practices

This is a guest post from our friends OneCause.

Running a charity auction involves tracking many moving parts. But, one of the most important elements of your event is the items you procure. Without a solid list of auction items, you’ll have a harder time hitting your fundraising goals.

That’s why it’s important to engage your donor base to procure the best possible items for your auction. We’ve outlined best practices to create your powerhouse procurement plan:

  1. Leverage your donor data
  2. Put together a procurement team
  3. Leverage your network
  4. Track your procurement process
  5. Use the data to inform future auctions

Not sure how to ask for a donation? Let’s walk through the top strategies so you’ll be ready to start procuring. Let’s get started!

1. Leverage your donor data

One of the essential parts of soliciting item donations is getting to know your audience. By leveraging your donor database (or your auction software if you’ve already used it for an auction), you can gain valuable insights on your supporters.

First, study the data about individuals on your guest list to determine the most appealing auction items. Try these strategies to make the most of your donor data:

  • Determine supporters’ interests. Consider items that people will find valuable, meaningful, or interesting. Look at the hobbies and interests of supporters in your donor database to get an idea of what they like.
  • Consider supporters’ capacity. Keep your supporters’ capacity in mind to ensure your auction has items that can be bid on at every level.
  • Create a list of potential items. Not sure where to get started? Check out the list of charity auction item ideas by OneCause.

Next, think about unique and exclusive items that can be tailored to your audience:

  • Is there a popular restaurant that can offer a chef demonstration? 
  • Is there a prime parking spot at a local venue that can be purchased for a year?
  • Are there local productions and attractions that are hot?
  • What sports or entertainment activities are popular in your audience?

Highly sought-after experiences tend to be popular at auctions, so think about big-ticket items like travel packages and concerts.

By leveraging the information stored in your database or auction software, you’ll be able to better target which items to solicit and drive more revenue for your auction.

2. Put together a procurement team

After you’ve compiled a list of ideas for items, it’s time to begin procuring. Organizing and planning your procurement process will help you maximize the time and effort of your team to get the best results.

TIP: Put together a team whose only task is soliciting auction items.

Here are the “must-dos” as you put together your procurement team:

  • Select dedicated and passionate staff members, volunteers, or a combination of both.
  • Choose team members that have experience soliciting auction donations or donations in general. 
  • Look for team members with large social networks and business connections they can draw on.
  • Choose team members that are at ease talking to others— no wallflowers! Asking for gifts can be nerve-wracking, so choose people that are confident.

According to the OneCause guide to silent auction planning, timing is important. Item procurement should start early (as early as 9-12 months out), so assemble your team far in advance and ensure they have enough time to acquire and organize the items.

Once your team is in place and your timeline created, you’re ready to start procuring auction items!

3. Leverage your networks

It’s time to leverage everyone’s networks. Your team will be performing a lot of outreach, and sometimes making the ask may be uncomfortable.

Here are key strategies to make it easier for your procurement team:

  • Use a solicitation letter template. Follow a template for your written outreach, whether it’s done through email, direct mail, or other channels. This ensures the important information for your donors is included in your letter. Here are a few donation templates.
  • Leverage your closer networks. Ask coworkers, friends, family, and other close connections to donate items to your auction.
  • Open your networks into the community. Look to local businesses and retailers to see if they will donate products or services. This can help you procure stand-out items and experiences in sports, entertainment, and others. Be sure to feature these donors in your event advertising and invite them to the event.

When writing your procurement letters, be sure to provide information about your organization, event date, location and approximate number of attendees, and how the items will be used at the event. If you are new to auction procurement, use a solicitation letter template to get started.

4. Track your procurement process

Maximizing the use of the resources available to you during your auction procurement process is a must. One of these resources is auction software.

Auction software allows you to track each stage of the procurement process and streamline many of the manual steps that take so much time. 

Each donated item record should include:

  • Item name and number
  • Item description
  • Donor information
  • Starting bid and minimum raise
  • Item retail value
  • Item winner information

Your auction software will help you stay on top of the items as they come in. You’ll know the status of each item, its description, and other data that will keep you organized and ready for the auction!

Tracking your auction item procurement doesn’t have to become a mess. Keeping it in one place that everyone can access 24/7/365 will set up your procurement team (and your event) up for success.

5. Use the data to inform future auctions

Your auction software doesn’t just track your procurement process. It’s also a great resource to help host future events. 

Charity auction software automates many tasks, making planning your auction much easier. Instead of spending time transferring data or moving data between platforms, everything—including your procurement status—lives in one place.

Be sure to use your auction data to gain insights:

  • Target top-performing items. Look at your past auction data to determine how each auction item performed and what sold. This will give you a good idea of what kind of items to procure for your next auction.
  • Track the event performance. Evaluate performance indicators, such as event turnout, % to fundraising goal (and whether it was met), top bidders, and year-over-year revenue performance by auction area. This information will help you build on your successes and continue to grow auction revenue.
  • Identify major donors you want to retain. Use your data to identify individuals who were very active and high bidders. Follow up with these individuals after the event, thank them for their support, and offer other ways for them to get involved. Try to connect them to your cause beyond the auction end date!

There are many ways to retain donors and get them to respond to your organization’s outreach. Ensure that you focus on the data available within your software so you can track your performance and stay on top of planning your next event.


Running an auction can be a huge undertaking. If you leverage resources your organization can benefit from and make the investment in software that will help you stay organized, you’ll be ready. Procure the items you need to reach your fundraising goal using these strategies, and you’ll end up with happy guests, a prepared team, and a successful event.

Author: Zach Shefska

I oversee the Fundraising Report Card, a division of MarketSmart. The Report Card is a free tool that empowers fundraisers to make data-driven fundraising decisions. It’s pretty neat.

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