By Karrie Wozniak, Chief Marketing Officer at OneCause

Holding a special event is a great way for your organization to generate fundraising proceeds and build awareness for your cause. Including an auction as part of this event can take this experience to the next level!

When planning a fundraising auction, one of your nonprofit’s top priorities is to procure items for guests to bid on. So, where do you start? An easy first step is to look towards local businesses.

Local businesses are great resources to leverage for auction items that connect with your donor’s community. In addition, the less money you spend on bringing in great items, the greater the return on investment for your auction. And that equals more money to power your mission. 

Below are 4 strategies to assist your organization in building a connection with local businesses:

  1. Ask active supporters where they like to shop, eat, and play.
  2. Connect your cause with local business owners.
  3. Provide auction donation guidelines to interested businesses.
  4. Make the ask!

1. Ask active supporters where they like to shop, eat, and play.

Before reaching out to local businesses, your nonprofit needs to discover which businesses your supporters frequent. Targeting the most popular local businesses will help focus your efforts on including local products your supporters are more likely to bid on.

Reaching out to your supporters is a quick and easy way to discover this information. Tailor your outreach to your most active board and committee members, donors, ambassadors, or champions. Leveraging the opinions of your supporters allows for your auction to:

  • Grow an existing relationship: Your supporters know these businesses. Use their relationship to connect your mission with these local organizations.
  • Impact your community: Your cause serves your local community, so consider the gathering of local items as a way to highlight your community’s importance to your organization.
  • Secure items your supporters want: Giving your supporters a voice in your auction allows for better auction items and creates a more desirable bidding experience.

Letting your supporters have input allows you to solicit the most impactful auction items from local businesses, while demonstrating to your donors their value to your cause!

2. Connect your cause with local business owners.

Once equipped with the suggestions from your supporters, it is now time to connect with these local business owners. To cultivate a relationship with these businesses, you should consider engaging them in your mission. A business is more likely to work with your nonprofit once they can understand the importance and value your cause brings to the community.

One way your nonprofit can connect to these business owners is by inviting them to your events. These events allow you to educate businesses about your cause, promote networking opportunities, and encourage business owners to get involved with your mission.

Events can create the space needed to cultivate business connections and make asking for auction items easier. Remember to use these events to demonstrate the impact your organization has on the community and encourage local business owners to get involved.

These connection events could include:

  • Lunch and Learns
  • Friendraisers
  • Community Appreciation Event
  • Hybrid Facility Tour

Just like other effective fundraising strategies, personalizing events help cultivate a deeper and more connected relationship with local business owners. These deeper connections help increase the businesses’ affinity to give and support your cause.

3. Provide auction donation guidelines to interested businesses.

Now that businesses are expressing interest in donating, it is important to have set guidelines and processes to collect the necessary information needed for your auction items. Consider developing a donation form.

A donation form provides your team with an efficient way to stay organized and be transparent with local businesses on the information you need for a donation. Your form should include:

  • Business Contact Information
  • Donation item information:
  • Auction Process Details

With a lot of information to collect, give your local businesses some time to process your request and collect the necessary details. Sending the form a couple months prior to your auction allows for your request to not be rushed!

This information will allow you to better organize all the donations you receive for your auction. In addition, you create a formal process for businesses to show that their donation is meaningful to your event.

4. Make the ask!

With established local connections, your organization can now start your outreach efforts to procure auction items from these businesses. To start this process, consider addressing these businesses with donation request letters.

Donation request letters are essential for building your auction. The letters are the first introduction to businesses that you’re having an event, need auction items, and what recognition and visibility is included for auction donors. So, it can be imperative to make this ask count!

We have outlined a structure that you can follow when crafting your donation request letter:

  • Address the decision maker: The first step in writing a donation request letter is ensuring that it gets to the right person. Do your due diligence up front to make sure your request reaches a person with decision making power.
  • Acknowledge your donor relationship: To begin your letter, take time to introduce yourself and acknowledge the relationship your organization has with the business you are addressing.
  • Tell your story: Use your mission, impact, and history as the hook that connects your reader to your nonprofit and makes them feel compelled to give.
  • Provide a call to action: Don’t assume that they know what you are asking for. Take the time to detail your donation request and what items you are looking for as donations.
  • Explain the benefits: Include the impact that your reader can make and how it will benefit them to donate to your auction event!
  • Say thank you and extend an invite: It is important to acknowledge your potential donor’s time and consideration. Saying thank you and inviting them to your event is an easy way to show you appreciate them!

These quick steps will help aid in the development of your auction solicitation letter and will surely have donations rolling in in no time!

Planning an auction takes time and thoughtful preparation. Leaning into your local community and businesses helps ease one of the main auction planning steps–item procurement.

Developing meaningful relationships with these businesses prior to solicitation will help them connect with your cause and be more willing to donate when you make the ask. Using the strategies outlined here, you will have great success at your next auction!

Author Bio: Karrie Wozniak

Karrie has spent more than a decade bringing innovative technology and fundraising strategies to the nonprofit industry. As one of the first executives at OneCause, Karrie combines her 20 years of experience in marketing with her passion for helping nonprofits expand their reach, leading industry research, marketing strategy, and fundraising consulting initiatives. She is also an active speaker on donor and fundraising trends, and has been featured on, Philanthropy Journal, and Nonprofit Hub. Your nonprofit’s board is the motor that keeps your organization’s administrative operations going. When everyone is on the same page, your board functions like a well-oiled machine, efficiently driving your nonprofit toward its goals. However, when your board experiences disharmony or confusion, it can throw a wrench in your efforts, leading to major roadblocks in your planning process.