How to Obtain In-Kind Donations for Auctions and What Auction Items Work


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A good auction requires auction items that motivate event attendees to bid for them. There are companies that can provide items for your auction, but those services can be costly, and you may not get the best return on that investment. Being able to obtain your own auction items and auction them off with less money spent provides a greater potential return for your organization. However, there must be some effort invested in obtaining in-kind donations on your part.

First, you need to know what motivates your community and what companies provide items that motivate them. Your research doesn’t end there! You must then research how far in advance to make donation requests.

To make the most of your auction, here are some tips to obtaining the in-kind gifts that offer the best experience for your event attendees.

Assess whether auction supply companies are right for you

While a company that provides auction items to nonprofits may be a viable solution for some, there are some drawbacks with going this route. First, these companies tend to specialize in material things only and don’t push experiences. For donors who are looking to acquire more experiences rather than more stuff, this type of supplier limits their participation.

Going this route also carries the expectation that the cost of any items sold during the auction are covered by the nonprofit. For instance, if an item sells for less than the value, the nonprofit pays the difference out of its event earnings. This can quickly eat into the nonprofit’s event revenue.

If the professional auction supply company isn’t for your nonprofit, the burden of getting supplies for your auction falls to your organization. Here are our tips to acquire in-kind donations your attendees will really want.

Focus on fun activities

One often-overlooked avenue for securing better in-kind donations for auctions is to work with local companies that offer experiences over material goods. Many donors would prefer to buy an outing or dinner out than physical objects. For a unique auction experience, build experience baskets. Seek donations from businesses like movie theaters or bowling alleys for local date night baskets. Pair the free tickets with donated gift cards for restaurants to give couples a great night out. If your donors would appreciate a night away, try to get a weekend stay donated from local hotels or bed and breakfasts.

If your city has major or minor league athletics, museums, zoos, aquariums, or other places of interest, try to acquire tickets to these attractions. You’ll be helping your donors make memories that they won’t soon forget! Allowing your donors to experience something new by taking a break from their everyday lives will make a favorable impression on them. Your organization can greatly benefit from this approach to your in-kind auction donations.

Many chain stores and restaurants have online donation request forms. Be sure to put requests in well ahead of time. Most corporations need at least a month to process requests. Local restaurants and businesses typically require less notice but have limited resources to help. Contact local businesses early for a better chance of having your request honored.

Acquire consumable in-kind donations if possible

Having some physical merchandise your donors can bid on is a good thing. Many retailers are happy to give an item or two for an auction basket, but you must be careful those items are what your donors will want to buy. Offering camping supplies in a major city, for instance, may not get any attention from your event attendees. Large items may be unappealing because people don’t have the space. Items with a specific color scheme or theme may clash with most people’s décor.

However, consumable items like food baskets, a collection of craft beer, or a few nice bottles of wine appeal to many more people. A unique consumable basket idea that isn’t food-based is a lotto ticket basket. I’ve seen donors clamor for an auction basket of scratch-off lottery tickets. These baskets offer the exciting opportunity to win back the bid price and even turn a profit if the tickets are winners.

Consumable goods work because they have value without having to become a permanent fixture in someone’s home.

Don’t forget big ticket auction items

High value auction items are likely going to be the hardest to come by. You may have to ask a well-connected contact or board member for help with this. However, if done right, these auction items can be huge moneymakers for your nonprofit.

Auction items like jewelry, an expensive vacation package, or tickets to a major event (Olympics, Super Bowl, or a much-anticipated musical performance) can quickly become the highlight of your auction.


Your auction is your opportunity to give donors what they don’t have. The key to obtaining in-kind donations that donors will pay top dollar for at auction is to build packages based on unique, memorable experiences, offer high-quality consumable items, and offer high-value items that will speak to your donor base.

You know your community. Tailor your auction items to what you know donors will want. When it comes to obtaining worthwhile donations, reach out early using corporate donation websites to request support. Contact your local supporters by phone and arrange a meeting to discuss your request and explain the benefits of donating auction items. Asking well ahead of your event gives you the best chance of success when it comes to acquiring items. Need to submit your request in writing? Use these tips to write the best in-kind donation appeal letter possible!

If your nonprofit has the resources to hire an auction supply company, they may be able to supply unique merchandise your donors will love. However, these companies rarely offer activity packages or consumables. If your donors don’t want more stuff, this approach can fall flat and cost your nonprofit money! Instead, use your insight, past experiences, and current connections to find auction items your donors will love.

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