Maximising your online auction

Dr Steve Francis, FrontStream, MFINZ

Are you an online auction fan? Do you enjoy the privacy and action of eBay, Trademe, or Grays Online? Online auctions have been a commercial internet success for more than a decade and they've been booming in the US for nearly as long.

Traditionally, fundraisers host large one-off annual Gala Balls, which can be the social highlight of the fundraising year. These events generally offer live and silent auctions, which can be a lucrative way to raise money from the guests in the room. Now, with highly intuitive online auction software designed with fundraisers in mind, raising money at events can reach an audience beyond your glamorous gala event.

Using the right tools to raise funds for your cause can make a big difference to your fundraising total. We know this from experience, as FrontStream's Bidding For Good is the biggest online fundraising auction platform in the world, and has been for over ten years.

Auctions and Gala Balls are a lot of fun and it's a chance to meet a different type of donor: a buyer! We have learned a lot over the years and are happy to share our knowledge to help those of you who are thinking about hosting an online auction campaign.

Here are our top tips for making sure you nail your fundraising auction:

  1. Give yourself enough time
    Build your auction procurement team and aim to get started at least three months in advance. Collating an attractive, diverse, individual, and high-value catalogue can take at least that long.
  2. Set a dollar goal
    Set a financial goal for your auction. Use the following formula: the value of goods should equal two times what you hope to raise in your auction. Remember, many items will sell for face value - gift cards for one - but most will normally sell for less than their retail value.
  3. Brainstorm all the possible items you can easily get donated
    If your organisation has run an auction in the past, review what worked and what didn't. What sold best? What raised the most money? What got the most bids or generated the most buzz, even if it wasn't the highest dollar value item? Include unique items - items with special appeal to your community or to potential new supporters, (anecdotally we've been told that users of BiddingForGood enjoy the unique items that they find in auctions).
  4. Track everything from start to finish
    It's so important to know where you stand on your efforts, all the time. This will ensure you are on target and on time, no last minute panic to find enough items to reach your goal.
  5. Thank everyone, then thank them again
    Obviously it's very important to thank everyone who donates goods and services, or agrees to be a sponsor. But make sure you thank them when they take your call, answer your email, or give you some of their time for a one-to-one meeting. Then thank them again when you acknowledge receipt of an item if applicable.

These top five online auction tips make up a pathway to success for fundraisers. It's an exciting time of change and evolution in fundraising, digital platforms can make it easier to reach more people, raise more money, and still have a good time in the process. If you'd like more resources on running  an online auction, or would like to trial Bidding for Good, email us at or visit

Dr Steve Francis has been working with charities for more than 20 years and is the Managing Director of FrontStream Asia Pacific. FrontStream works with many New Zealand charities, as well as some of the largest companies around the globe, providing expertise in online and digital fundraising, and corporate philanthropy.

Maximising your online auction



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