Online Auctions for Nonprofits: Ideas for 2021 and Beyond

Auctions

Share this article

Now that we’re well into 2021 and approaching a post-COVID reality in many parts of the world, nonprofit professionals have pondered what fundraising events will look like with both in-person and virtual engagements. In fact, almost 70% of nonprofits are planning to incorporate online elements into fundraising events in some way, including auctions.

When equipped with both web-based and mobile bidding tools, online auctions for nonprofits are not only very possible but also extremely successful.

Taking this event (and others) virtual can bring many benefits, including:

  • Increased supporter reach, which is perfect for auctioning off those top prizes.
  • More data and reporting, which is important to determine event success and makes following up with supporters much easier.
  • An added level of attendee flexibility with multiple bidding options. 

You already know that virtual auction fundraisers are possible and fruitful, but the possibilities are almost endless. Need help deciding what type of online auction your nonprofit should host? You’ve come to the right place! We’ve compiled a list of various online auction ideas divided into the following categories:

Ready to dive in? Let’s begin.

Get ready to explore these online auction fundraising ideas.

Explore These Virtual Auction Event Ideas

Auctions are a classic fundraising event that can not only raise an impressive amount of money but also provide your supporters with a much needed night of fun. Plus, this type of event can be applied to all different types of missions, so there’s bound to be an idea that appeals to your cause and audience.

To plan an online fundraising auction, you’ll need to finalize a couple of logistics:

  • Auction items or experiences.
  • Auction website so that registrants can learn about event details and how to participate.
  • Online auction platform and versatile bidding tool. Qgiv’s bidding tool has both online and app-based bidding so that attendees can choose what’s most convenient for them.
  • Livestreaming tool if you have any entertainment or an emcee or auctioneer presenting the items.
  • Themed branding elements on your online platform and mobile bidding app.
  • A dedicated process to giving auction items to your virtual attendees, whether you’re using a delivery service or setting a pick up location.

Ready to host a virtual auction? Download the Qgiv Virtual Auction Planner to get started!

Here is a list of simple themed online auction items for nonprofits.

Simple Ideas for Themed Online Auctions for Nonprofits 

1. Decade-themed Auction

Whether you choose the Roaring 20’s or want to host an 80’s event, decade-themed fundraising auctions are some of the most fun occasions to both plan and attend. While a traditional in-person decade-themed auction would have decorations and similarly themed activities, it’s going to take some brainstorming to pivot this idea to virtual.

First, choose the decade you want to centralize your online auction around. Let’s say you choose the 60s. To incorporate this theme into your virtual auction:

  • Brand your online and mobile bidding page to the decade, like tie-dye and peace signs for your 60s theme.
  • Send attendees a package with some themed accessories that they can use on the big day. You might provide flower crowns, a tie-dye bandana, and fun 60s themed sunglasses. You might also provide food!
  • Livestream some 60s music and entertainment. Music can always add a fun touch to any decade-themed event!

2. A Memorabilia Auction

How about creating a virtual auction event themed around a type of collectible, like sports memorabilia or music memorabilia? This is the perfect auction idea for your supporters who are passionate about a certain activity or are big fans. 

For a fun mix of auction items, you can collect a mix of new items related to the collectible type and more unique memorabilia. 

And, with this event being online, you can bring in supporters and fans from all over instead of limiting it to those who are just in the area. This might even help you bring in more dollars and meet new prospects who’ve never heard of your mission!

BONUS – See this idea in action!

The Lake Wales History Museum recently hosted an online auction dedicated to vintage furniture. They auctioned off items like vintage tables, bookshelves, mirrors, and more, attracting fans of vintage pieces all over the country.

3. Beach-themed Auction

Who doesn’t love taking a relaxing beach vacation?

Consider hosting a virtual beach-themed auction! You can decorate your bidding page and app with seashells, beaches, and other similar branding. Then, gather auction items that are perfect for a beach vacation– they can range from fun beach towels to fancy beach chairs to a large Bluetooth speaker to a beach house getaway. 

You might even consider partnering with a hotel or another hospitality or travel company for a big beach-themed vacation package!

Interested in learning how to attract, cultivate, and wow sponsors? Watch our webinar here!

4. Hollywood-themed Auction

Everyone loves a good excuse to dress up and go full glam!

With a Hollywood-themed online auction, you can ask attendees to wear their fanciest outfits and send them a multi-course meal that is delivered straight to their house.

To add another level of star-power to this auction event, consider using Cameo! From actors, to reality tv stars, to musicians, there are a number of celebrities who will film a shoutout for your auction. You can even get them to record themselves announcing certain auction prizes as a fun transition between event segments. 

5. Spy-themed Auction

Got any James Bond or Mission Impossible lovers? Host a virtual spy-themed auction!

For this type of event you don’t need “spy” themed auction items, just some good online branding and decoration. Consider having all of your guests dress up in tuxes or participate in a virtual poker game like in classic 007 fashion.

6. “Fan Favorite”-themed Auction

If you want to attract virtual attendees from all over the world, consider planning a “fan favorite” auction. This could revolve around any of the big multiverses, from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Game of Thrones. 

To host a “fan favorite”-themed auction, you’ll need to collect some cool, hard-to-find collectibles related to the theme. For instance, for a Harry Potter event you can auction the ingredients to make Butterbeer or find Hermione’s Time-Turner!

7. Pet-themed Auction

What’s the best part of an online auction? That you can attend it all from the comforts of your own home with your furry best friend by your side.

Consider hosting a pet-themed auction where people can not only show off their pet on camera but also find some cool items that they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. Auction off items like pet goodie baskets, doggie daycare gift certificates, grooming supplies, a fancy cat tree, and more!

For an added competitive level of fun, have each attendee send a cute photo of their pet. Then other attendees can vote on their favorites while you give out digital badges/prizes for the “Most Cute,” “Biggest Puppy Dog Eyes,” and more!

BONUS – See this idea in action!

The Mary S. Roberts pet adoption center hosted a Walk with the Animals Silent Auction. This event provided supporters the opportunity to not only bid on a fun prize but also support the animals in need. Participants can bid and participate in virtual activities, all with their furry friends by their sides.

8. Outdoors-themed Auction

Gather your outdoor-loving supporters and get them to attend an entire online auction event catered directly to their interests!

All you need to do for an outdoors-themed auction is procure outdoorsy-related items. Here are some great examples that are pretty easy to acquire:

  • Fishing equipment
  • Boating items like life jackets
  • Outdoor cooler
  • Camping equipment and sleeping bags
  • Outdoor camping cookware
  • Good hiking sneakers or boots
  • National Parks pass

9. Virtual Community Market Themed Auction

For a more collaborative online auction idea, you might want to throw a virtual community market. This type of auction involves participants donating a couple of items on their own to be auctioned off to other attendees.

You can either ask for a specific category of items or let your supporters donate all different types of in-kind items. Some things to ask for might include:

  • Book collections
  • Technology, like phones, laptops, tablets
  • Certificates to local businesses
  • Art pieces

You never know what treasures your community members have right at home!

10. Garden Party Auction

Garden party auctions are a popular event that can bring in a lot of funds and provide a good time for supporters. 

But how are you supposed to take this idea and make it an online event? For one thing, you might consider sending attendees a tea set and inviting them to a virtual tea party. Ask them to dress up in their best garden party clothes!

Collect items like gardening tools, coffee and tea set baskets, tea party dish sets, and other relevant prizes. Your auction attendees will love the opportunity to expand their gardening passion and support a good cause.

BONUS – See this idea in action!

The Hope Clinic for Women has hosted a virtual “Hats in the Garden Tea and Auction,” using 100% of donations to fund free pregnancy tests, first trimester ultrasounds, and general support for the expectant mothers in its programs. Participants can drink tea at home all while bidding on items to support an important cause.

11. Holiday-themed Auction

The holidays are the perfect time to host an online fundraising auction! Capitalize on this good philanthropic feeling with a holiday-themed auction.

Depending on when you throw the event, you should collect items that are related to the corresponding holiday. For instance, you can auction off:

  • Holiday gift baskets
  • Gift certificates for a Christmas event
  • Certificates for a romantic Valentines giveaway
  • A romantic Valentines day dinner for two

12. Buckaroo Ball (Western-themed)

How about a good old fashioned western-themed online auction? Classic Buckaroo Balls are decorated with cowboy designs with participants dressed up in flannel or denim.

For this type of event, you don’t necessarily need to auction off western-themed items. Having the appropriate decoration, online branding, music, and food will be enough. You can even send these items and meals right to your participants’ homes!

13. Get Outta Here Auction

With a year of social distancing and quarantining, we all need an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone.

For this type of online auction event, collect experiences that your supporters would love to bid on. This can range from:

  • A vacation trip package
  • Beach house rental getaway
  • Tickets to a sporting event
  • Picnic dinners
  • Wine or beer tours

Any excuse to leave the house is sure to attract a lot of supporters and raise much needed funds!

14. Art-themed Auction

Do you have any local artists in your area or artistic, passionate supporters in your donor base? Appeal to this audience with an art-themed auction! 

For this type of event, you’re going to have to find unique pieces to auction off. 

To make this process easier, consider turning to your community. Encourage them to auction off their own creations for a good cause! Plus, you’ll provide artists with some much needed recognition. Who knows, you might be auctioning off the next Picasso!

BONUS – See this idea in action!

Small Art, Big Ideas is a three-day online art auction featuring a selection of work from artists hosted by A&H Maitland. All of the items were generously donated by local artists who are all passionate about A&H’s mission. Explore their collection of art items here.

15. Wine & Dine Around The World

Who doesn’t love exotic food and drinks? Invite your supporters to a “Wine & Dine Around The World” online auction!

For this type of event, you can collect items like:

  • Foreign beers
  • Wine from different countries
  • Chocolates from all over the world

BONUS – See this idea in action!

The Lexington Housing Community Development Corporation (LHCDC) hosted its 3rd annual Pull A Cork auction event but instead of its regular in-person operations, it was pivoted to virtual. To circumvent drinking together, LHCDC provided wine for attendees by having them “drive up” and pull the cork from the safety of individual cars.

16. A Night On the Town

Now that in-person events and venues are beginning to open up, consider hosting a virtual auction and giving away “Night On the Town” activities. 

You can auction off experiences like:

  • Dinner and a movie
  • Concert tickets
  • Restaurant or bar gift card
  • Wine or liquor tastings

With this type of event, your winners can redeem the experience whenever they want!

See how Qgiv can make your next auction simpler for you and your supporters! Request a Demo

Explore these online auction ideas that are perfect for the whole family.

For the Whole Family Online Auction Ideas

17. Explore Your City Auctions

Throw an event that supports your local community while also providing a fun night for the whole family. 

For this online auction, reach out to businesses and restaurants for experiences to auction off in exchange for some good public recognition and marketing. 

Consider items that are perfect for the whole family. Auction items like gift certificates, items from popular local shops, plays from the local theater, or admission to water parks/amusement parks. 

18. Fairytale-themed Auction

Kids and parents alike will love a fairytale-themed online auction. For this type of event, encourage guests to dress up as their favorite fairytale character and invite them to all hang out on a video call for a fun virtual party!

For this type of event, you might auction items that are related to fairy tales, like a book of classic stories or a collection of costumes. You might even include some Disney tickets if you are near a theme park. 

19. Superhero Night

Capitalize on the popularity of Marvel and DC with a superhero-themed online auction! And, this type of event is perfect for the entire family.

Encourage attendees and their kids to dress up as their favorite superhero. You might even host a quick superhero trivia contest to test your attendees on their superhero knowledge. The team that wins the trivia contest can win a special prize!

For an added level of excitement and friendly competition, consider putting your attendees on teams, like Team Marvel or Team DC. The team that raises the most money by the end of the night can gain special recognition or a social media shoutout.

Here are online auction for nonprofits based on an at-home activity.

At-home Activity Online Auctions for Nonprofits

20. Mystery Auction

Get your magnifying glasses out and invite your Sherlock Holmes lovers to a mystery online auction. The fun part about this event is that it also comes with an at-home activity!

For this type of mystery auction event, plan a list of “puzzles” with clues and riddles that attendees have to solve in order to find out what the item is. This can all happen online, with your website, auction page, and social media posts all giving out different clues.

Attendees can guess what the items are, with those guessing correctly getting first dibs on bidding.

21. Golf Tournament Online Auction

A golf tournament online auction can attract a wide range of supporters all looking for a relaxing time on the course. To host a golf tournament online, you’ll have to consider the format and how each attendee can participate while remaining virtual. Here’s what a virtual golf tournament might look like:

  • Determine a date range for the tournament where participants can golf independently. 
  • Partner with the venue to rent out courses during the time span.
  • Attendees sign up for a time slot and pay to go to the course.
  • Golfers play according to the rules and submit a scorecard to the event.
  • Virtually meet with participants at the end to tally up scores and announce a winner. This can take place via livestream or with a video conferencing platform.

To add an auction element, simply host all of the items on your online platform and provide the same date range for the golf tournament for bidding. You can auction off items like golf lessons or top notch gear. 

BONUS – See this idea in action!

The LJ Trading Company Golf Classic hosted its 36th Annual La Junta Trading Company Golf Classic Auction, except this time it was all online! Attendees went to an online golf charity banquet and were able to bid from the comforts of their own homes.

22. Movie Nights

For an online auction with a fun at-home activity, consider streaming a movie for all of your supporters to enjoy!

You can stream an entire series (Lord of the Rings marathon?) or focus on one exciting feature film. Before the movie starts, kick off the night with some bidding. 

23. Masquerade

Want to keep attendees entertained throughout the entire online auction event? Make it a masquerade!

Ask your attendees to dress up in their favorite masks or to make their own. To add another level of excitement to this event, consider a mask contest! Participants can vote for their favorite mask and outfit, with the winner getting a special online shoutout or another prize.

24. Chef Showdown

For a fun and delicious competitive night, host a chef showdown online auction.

This type of event allows for a lot of flexibility. For instance, you can send your participants a basket of mystery ingredients to turn into a meal. This way, chefs are encouraged to be as creative as possible! The most impressive dish wins the contest.

Or, you can ask chefs from restaurants to make a small meal. Then, send these meals to attendees’ homes and have them try an assortment of different dishes. Supporters will vote on their favorite dish and crown one of the chefs as the champion!

As your supporters are eating or watching the cooking, they can also bid on items. 

BONUS – See this idea in action!

Achievement Academy’s Board of Directors hosted a “Top Chef of Polk County” auction event, reaching 136% of their total fundraising goal. To ensure this event remained safe, they had participating chefs host a limited amount of attendees in their restaurants. Then, as attendees are enjoying their food, they can also participate in the online silent auction.

25. Spa Day Auction

Who wouldn’t love a relaxing at-home spa day?

For this online auction event, send participants a gift box with a DIY pampering kit so that they can relax as they bid. This box can include face masks, hair treatments, bath bombs and salts, or essential oils.

You can auction off spa related items as well! Experiences like massages or other grooming services are great ideas!

Final Thoughts

Planning a successful online auction event is simple when you have the right tools and resources at your disposal. To ensure you’re fully prepared, here are additional resources that you can explore:

Ready to host a virtual auction? Download the Qgiv Virtual Auction Planner to get started!

You might enjoy