Few events can match the fundraising and engagement power of a well-planned charity auction. However, the success of an auction is directly impacted by how effectively you’re able to market it, just like any other type of event you might host and promote.

Simply put, to maximize engagement and bids at your auction (and therefore generate a positive return on investment), you’ll need plenty of excited attendees. Pre-event marketing serves to spread the word about your auction, secure registrants, get supporters excited, and can even give you a headstart on fundraising.

Let’s explore best practices, tips, and tricks to help your team attract the right guests and get them eager to join your best auction yet.

What type of marketing approach should you use?

Multichannel marketing approaches are now the standard for promoting events. These involve using multiple digital outlets to maximize visibility, foster more engagement, and drive supporters towards completing your target action—in this case, registering for your auction.

Many nonprofits already rely on multichannel strategies to promote events and campaigns. The key to success, however, lies in choosing the right channels to focus on. You’ll need to clearly define who you’re looking to reach and where the best channels will be to reach them.

For most auctions, you’ll want to focus on segments of your donor base that fit into one or more of these segments:

  • Attends or has attended events
  • Gives above a certain average gift amount
  • Is an “Active” donor, i.e. has given within the past year or so
  • Lives near enough to attend (for in-person events)

The exact criteria you use will depend on the goals and nature of your auctions. For example, a classic in-person gala and auction will target your major and mid-level donors. A more casual silent auction or an extended virtual event with bidding portions will likely target broader groups of donors across all giving levels.

Which marketing channels should you use?

As you identify your audience, consider where you can best reach them to promote the auction. What events have they attended in the past? How did you promote those events, and were your promotions effective at boosting attendance? How old are these segments of donors? What channels do they most frequently use to engage with your organization?

Answering questions like these will show you where your target audience is most likely to see and respond to your promotions.

Remember that you don’t have to be present on all channels to successfully promote an auction. Spreading yourself too thinly might actually dilute your messaging or exhaust your resources while delivering poor results. For instance:

  • An auction and gala targeting older, wealthy donors likely shouldn’t be promoted heavily on Twitter and Instagram.
  • An online auction that’s all about quick, easy engagement for all levels of donors shouldn’t be promoted via expensive direct mail campaigns.

Instead, focus on a handful of core channels relevant to your target audience. As you host more events and track more results, you’ll be able to easily see which channels yield strong or poor engagement for each segment of your audience.

Foundational Marketing Channels for Auctions

Next, let’s review the most important channels to use when promoting an auction or any nonprofit event:

  • Email. A tried and true way to directly reach supporters, email should be a pillar of your event marketing strategy. Include direct links to your registration page or other event landing pages, and tailor your messaging to the specific audience segment you’re targeting based on their giving and engagement histories. Email providers or tools that integrate with your CRM should make it easy to segment donors into groups (like major donors, frequent event attendees, inactive donors you’d like to re-engage, etc.) so that you can draft more targeted messages.
  • Social media. For many types of events, social media is the perfect way to organically expand your visibility and attract broader audiences. Facebook and Instagram will be the best choices due to their more visual natures. Create engaging, highly-shareable posts like auction item teasers and photo contests to gin up excitement before the event. Consider hosting a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or even recruiting social media ambassadors to help raise pre-event revenue while spreading the word more efficiently. In your posts, make sure to link directly to your event landing page or provide crystal clear instructions for how to learn more and sign up if you can’t include a link.
  • Your website. Your website should be the central online home of your auction. Creating an event-specific landing page with an embedded registration form is best practice. On your landing page, use impactful images or videos of past events to catch the eye, and use simple layouts to ensure the most important information doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Lead with an exciting description of the auction, tease the items on offer, and connect the event back to your mission and the impact it will have. Then, consider what your supporters will want to know (location, food options, how to join virtually, etc.), and clearly offer that information as well.

Studying and Improving Your Marketing Strategy

Today, most marketing occurs online. This brings a significant benefit to organizations that know how to collect, track, and manage their data—the ability to continuously improve their strategies by learning about what does and doesn’t work.

After all, depending on the scope of your auction event, marketing may have represented a significant portion of the time and resources invested in hosting it. Ensuring that you have the ability and a plan to study your marketing performance will help you 1) determine if your strategies were successful, and 2) derive more value for future events by learning from the past.

To do so, you’ll need to plan ahead by determining the key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to measure your success. For each prong of your multichannel strategy, you might choose KPIs like:

  • Email: Open rates, clickthroughs, registrations attributable to email
  • Website: Registrations, pageviews, dwell time
  • Social media: Clickthroughs, shares, registrations attributable to social
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising campaign: total individual donations, average donation value, donors acquired, registrations attributable to peer-to-peer promotions

As you identify what you want to track for each part of your marketing strategy, ensure that you’re able to actively collect that information. For instance, to be able to attribute registrations to email, you’ll need to be able to correlate incoming registrations with clickthroughs from emails to your event landing page. 

With the infrastructure in place to accurately track your KPIs, you’ll even be able to course-correct in real-time if needed. Very poor engagement with your social media posts? That might be a sign to quickly pivot strategies or even shift focus to another channel. Low open rates on your emails? Take some time to revisit your segmentation strategy and rewrite your subject lines.

And once your event concludes, it’s time to dig into the data. Here are a few valuable questions you might ask or adapt to your unique event context:

  • How did your overall attendance numbers work out, and were they in line with expectations and goals? How might this result be related to the performance of your marketing strategies? 
  • Did the event reach its revenue or total bid goals? How might this be related to your marketing performance and audience segmentation strategies?
  • Which channels saw the greatest engagement and/or hit their KPI targets?
  • Which channels saw the least engagement and/or missed their KPI targets?
  • Did you receive any supporter feedback about the event’s marketing materials?

Correlate your findings with the specific strategies that you employed. Maybe you tried a new approach to drafting your emails and saw a significant increase in clickthroughs, for example. Compile your insights now while they’re top of mind, and save them for future reference when you begin planning your next auction.

Finding Auction Success

Charity auctions come in all shapes and sizes, but as with any event, they’ll only generate value for your organization if people actually know about them and show up to place bids! Marketing plays the critical role of spreading the word and enticing supporters to join on the big day.

Taking a deliberate multichannel approach tailored to the specific audience segments you’re hoping to engage is the best way to get started. From there, you’ll need to follow best practices for each channel and get creative to engage your readers and supporters. Backing it all up with the right data strategies will then ensure that you’ll be able to learn from your performance and even make improvements in real-time.

What other channels or strategies have you used to successfully promote events? How much forethought do you put into data collection and KPIs before your marketing campaign launches? Let us know!