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This guide will cover how to plan an online auction for your school.

The Ultimate Online Auction Planning Guide for Schools

Online auctions are flexible and engaging events your school can host to raise funds fast. If you’ve never hosted a fundraising auction or are just looking for guidance on how to plan your event, this guide is for you.

We’ll review all the information you need to know to confidently tackle an online auction as well as provide expert advice you can use to take your event to the next level. First, we will start by going through online auction considerations and then take you step-by-step through the process of planning an online auction for your school. Let’s dive in!

Download the free School Auction Planning Guide for a comprehensive planning resource.

Online Auctions for Schools: Key Considerations

What are the different types of auctions?

Auctions are when select items such as donated items, packages, and experiences are sold to auction participants to raise revenue. There are several possible formats for a school auction, such as:

  • Online auctions. An online auction is a charity auction format run fully or partially online. It is usually held over a longer period of time or used to supplement a live fundraising event.
  • Live auctions. These are in-person events where an auctioneer enthusiastically engages a live audience to bid on one auction item at a time. They are usually complete with entertainment, dinner, refreshments, and a cohesive theme.
  • Virtual live auctions. These are livestreamed auctions of the auctioneer or emcee promoting your auction items while bidders watch from the comfort of their homes. By adding components of a live auction, virtual live auctions offer a slightly more competitive and exciting atmosphere than just online auctions alone.
  • Silent auctions. These are asynchronous fundraising events where guests are encouraged to peruse auction items and bid on ones with compelling descriptions. Modern technology has made it possible for guests to use mobile bidding to streamline the bidding process.
  • Additional online fundraisers. Other fundraisers that are taken online fall into this category. These include online raffles, merchandise stores, crowdfunding pages, and text-to-give opportunities which are enabled via reliable fundraising software.

Depending on your school’s goals and target audience, you may opt to host one or a combination of these online fundraising events throughout the year. That said, for the purposes of this guide, we’ll be focusing on the online auction format due to its convenience and scalability.

Combine live and online auctions to maximize revenue. First, host an engaging live auction gala. Then, once the live event is over, host an online auction for the remaining items that were not bid on. This way, you’ll give every item the best chance at bringing in maximal funds.

What are the benefits of running an online auction?

Online auctions are a popular fundraising solution for schools and other charitable organizations because they:

  • Reduce costs. Online auctions don’t require a venue, entertainment, or decorations—their main cost is the software license. This means you don’t have to worry about breaking even with event costs once it’s over.
  • Require less planning time. For online auctions, you don’t have to book a caterer, auctioneer, or venue in advance, which gives you more time to procure quality items.
  • Offer extended reach. Because of the online format, this auction type lets you invite more people to participate without having to get a head count.
  • Are flexible. Many online auctions are hosted over a period of days which enables bidders to engage at a time and place that works best for them.
  • Item emphasis. Online auctions can allow your team to creatively spotlight items by organizing them into categories or adding a video description.
Use a comprehensive online auction homepage to centralize your event information and keep track of ticket orders. This way, interested parties can find out more information and sign up quickly

What are the drawbacks of online auctions?

Just like any other fundraising event, online auctions also have a few drawbacks your school should be mindful of before committing. These include:

  • Risk of disengagement. Compared to bustling upscale live auctions, online auctions tend to be more laid-back. Though the casual format can expand your reach, it also increases the chance that guests will get distracted and become disengaged.
  • Lower levels of competition. Online auctions are usually not framed as social events. For this reason, bidders may lose interest in items that they initially sought after. This means it can be harder to reach your revenue targets.
  • Reliance on technology. The right online auction technology can make or break your event. Slow internet connections or outdated browsers can lead guests to log off and quickly abandon their items.

Keep these risks in mind when planning your online event so you can proactively brainstorm solutions. For example, you could create a catalog of your online auction to promote your items ahead of time and give bidders a chance to prioritize their favorite items.

Enhance your online auction experience with engaging software that draws bidders back in. Use built-in features such as raffles and voting contests to hold guests’ attention and diversify your revenue sources.

What should schools look for in online auction software?

Online auctions need reliable software to run smoothly. There are several vendors you can use to make the most of your event, but narrowing down options can be challenging. To simplify the process, we’ve listed the top features an online auction platform should have to make your school fundraiser a success. These include:

  • A user-friendly interface. You need to be confident that the vendor you go with makes your job as easy as possible. This means you can upload and edit items and guests, and facilitate an engaging bidding experience with confidence. If needed, reach out to your software’s support team to answer any questions upfront.
  • Flexible bidding capabilities. Make sure bidders can use their phone, desktop, or tablet to bid from anywhere. If you plan on running an online auction alongside a live event, be sure to choose software that supports extended bidding, pre-bidding, blind bidding, max bidding, or any other bid type that may apply to your format.
  • Fast and easy checkout with credit card processing choice. Don’t leave guests waiting to check out. Research each software’s payment processing and check-out capabilities to ensure your guest experience is as efficient as possible.
  • Available and knowledgeable support. Choose a software option with an experienced customer service team who can help you navigate a new platform. This is especially important if your team is new to online auction formats.
  • Marketing and promotional features. Email marketing segmentation, unique event sites, and custom SMS promotional texts. Go with a software vendor that provides customizable templates that you can add your own branding and messages to.
  • Robust reporting features. Software reporting features can help you keep track of your overall sales and most active items to better understand your auction’s performance. You can then rely on these reports to guide your future fundraising efforts.
  • Sponsorship packages. With the right software, you can customize appealing sponsorship packages to recognize corporate or community partners with the ability to acknowledge them on your homepage, in your catalog, and receipts.

Research cost-effective options and don’t be afraid to attend a few demos to fully understand what running an online auction would look like with each vendor. Collaborate as a team to decide which option will work best for you.

Many online auction platforms overcharge for features that you may or may not use. Look for one with flexible pricing options, configurable features, and communicative support to meet your school’s specific needs.
Click here to schedule a live demo of’s online auction software.

6 Steps to Run a Successful Online Auction for Your School

Now that you have a handle on the basics of online auctions, review this section for tips on how to run a fun and effective online auction for your school. Here’s a roadmap of where we’re headed:

Shows the steps to plan an online auction for your school as explained in the text below.
  1. Set online auction goals

    First things first, you’ll want to determine your online auction revenue goal. You can do this by looking into your audience’s historic giving levels and reviewing your previous revenue outcomes from similar online events. Remember to diversify your revenue through raffles or text-to-give options to increase your chances of raising more.

    Aside from raising revenue, your online auction can help you accomplish other important goals. Gather your team to decide which related, non-revenue goals you’d like to target. These could include:

    • Raising awareness for a new project or program
    • Cultivating school community
    • Welcoming new school families
    • Raising awareness for underfunded resources and programs
    • Reaching and engaging more school families than in previous events

    When ironing out your goals, it’s best to follow the Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) framework. For instance, you might aim to have your online auction raise $5,000 based on your previous online fundraising event outcomes. Other goals could include reaching a new record of 100+ guest signups.

  2. Recruit a planning committee

    Online auctions work best with team collaboration and support. Staff your committee with passionate and available volunteers who can make your event a success.

    Opt for adding more team members with manageable and defined roles rather than giving a few select volunteers the majority of the work. Here are a few volunteer role descriptions you can use to build a reliable team:

    • Auction Chair. This is your online auction’s event point-person. They are responsible for the oversight of all committee chairs and managers and act as the final decision-maker for all event-related choices.
    • Auction Co-Chair. The Co-Chair provides support to the Auction Chair and helps fill in gaps or finish up tasks. Usually, this person takes over the Auction Chair position the following year.
    • Item Procurement Lead. Your school auction’s item procurement lead is in charge of researching, identifying, and securing item sponsors. They usually have a reliable social network and should be comfortable with asking for donations.
    • Item Procurement Co-Lead. Similar to the Auction Co-Chair, this position is responsible for providing support in procuring auction items. They may help expand item donation networks and communicate with item donors.
    • Item Pick-Up Coordinator. This person is responsible for ensuring all items are accounted for and each winning bidder receives their item. If guests have pick-up-related questions, they are the go-to person.
    • Online Auction Software Lead. This position is responsible for managing all data entry, streamlining the online auction process, and troubleshooting during the event day. They may also lead a small team of technical support staff.

    When tackled collectively, managing your auction is much easier. Depending on your event format and size, you may add, remove, or adjust committee roles. For instance, an in-person gala event may designate a Decorations Manager while an online auction may have a smaller staff with more technically-focused roles.

  3. Procure appealing items

    The next stage in organizing your auction is to procure items that will get your target audience excited to bid. If you keep reliable records or have run auctions before, refer to a list of previous years’ top items to begin building this year’s auction item selection.

    Next, brainstorm new items by reviewing your audience and considering which items would spark their interest the most. You can review the following criteria to hone in on your guest’s preferences:

    • Demographics. Determine the average age and income of your target audience to guide your auction item offerings. If you have a combination of demographics, consider adding items that will appeal to each member.
    • Interests. How do your school families like to spend their free time? Are they interested in athletics, the arts, or outdoor activities? For instance, if there are a few avid golfers in your audience, you might offer golf lessons and clubs as a quality auction item.
    • Popular local spots. Are there a few well-known restaurants or quality shops in your area? Find out which local spots your audience is interested in and request donations from them, such as a restaurant certificate or baking class from a favorite local bakery.

    When requesting donations, be sure to highlight the impact of each donation and the mutual benefit for item sponsors. For example, if your school is raising money for your afterschool program, you might mention how the auction funds raised will enable your school to look after x amount of kids for parents who work late hours.

    Then make sure your item donors know that their business will be highlighted in your auction materials which can increase their brand awareness.

    Click here to check out our list of 30+ school auction items that appeal to school audiences.
  4. Promote your event on multiple channels

    Once you have finalized most of your auction items, it’s time to promote your event. This step is crucial for maximizing attendance and engagement. That’s why it’s best to plan a multi-channel promotional approach that utilizes several channels, including:

    • Event page. Create a one-stop-shop event page for guests to learn important school auction information, such as the dates and times and how to register online. Then, you can link to this resource throughout your other event promotions.
    • School newsletter. If your school regularly sends out a newsletter, be sure to feature your upcoming online auction in multiple editions. You can even run an early-bird special to incentivize guests to sign up early.
    • Email. Use email streams to build anticipation as your online auction draws near. For instance, you could feature an auction item catalog in addition to event reminders. You can use software with built-in email customizable templates to get started.
    • Social media. Target your school community’s most popular social media platforms to spread the word. You can even use them to recognize item sponsors with appealing photographs and catchy captions.
    • SMS. Allow guests to opt-in to receive SMS message reminders as your event date comes closer. This way, they won’t forget to log in and cast their bids during busy school schedules.

    Remember to choose an event date that works best for everyone. Running any sort of online event when your community is also focused on different events or key moments in the school calendar (e.g. graduation, spring break) will decrease your participation rates. That’s why it’s important to view your school calendar comprehensively and aim for a time when everyone can easily log in and support your school.

  5. Go live

    The event day is here! You’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s and now it’s time to go live with your online auction. Here are some key event day considerations you can review to ensure everyone stays engaged and you can maximize your auction revenue:

    • Use mobile and desktop-friendly bidding. In an online auction, guests will bid from wherever they feel most comfortable. Ensure your online bids load well on all screen types and encourage guests to keep participating with outbid notifications.
    • Accessible and descriptive item descriptions. Make sure your item photos and descriptions can be easily found on your auction page. Place your most appealing items on the first page and consider using a menu to categorize long item lists.
    • Use gamification features. Leverage software that incorporates countdown features and voting contests to gamify your event and inspire greater participation. These elements tend to foster increased involvement from online guests.

    Have your tech team ready to monitor questions and quickly address any concerns. Be sure to include real-time updates as well to let bidders know when opening bids will start and close.

  6. Follow-up

    Hopefully, your online auction was a successful and memorable time for your school community! To leave a lasting impression and capitalize on your efforts, it’s important to conduct a sufficient follow-up strategy. This includes managing the following items to neatly tie up your event:

    • Auction item pick up. Make sure guests have access to auction item pickup directions. This may include picking up items at a central location by a defined date. Use defined auction rules to stipulate the next actions for unclaimed items.
    • Sponsor recognition. Take time to recognize item donors with personalized notes at the end of your auction. This way, you’ll foster a positive relationship with them that could open the door to future sponsorship opportunities.
    • Volunteer and support staff recognition. Remember to thank all the hard-working people who made your online auction possible! Recognize your event staff and any other volunteers who helped plan and execute the event.

    Gather your fundraising results, guest data, and marketing strategies into one place for you to refer to for coming years. That way, you’ll have a reliable jumping-off point for future school fundraising events.

Online Auctions for School Groups: Conclusion and Additional Resources

Running an online auction for your school requires careful planning to engage your community and tap into fundraising results. Use the tips outlined in this guide to choose a format that works best for you and begin planning an unbeatable auction. You’ve got this!

Interested in learning more about school auctions? Expand your knowledge with these resources:

Click here to choose an online auction plan that works for your school.

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