Best Suggested Timeline for an Auction Event

Best Practices Event Timeline
(Based on a new event for your organization.
If you have an established event this timeline can be reduced)

This timeline is designed for an organization considering either an online auction or an event with a live, silent, or online auction component. Most processes will be the same. If your organization is hosting only an online auction you can disregard mention of an "event", however the solicitation of business and individuals as well as communication with the public will be the same. If you are choosing to host an online auction you still might consider securing sponsors by offering them ad space on the website.

Throughout this timeline we speak in general terms, as every organization is unique with varying abilities and strengths. We do encourage you to fully investigate all state and federal regulations regarding fundraising. Some helpful resources: IRS State Listings

9 months – 12 months out [Decide to Host an Auction]

Decide to host a fundraising auction or an event, which will include a charitable auction with the goal of raising money for an organization which is classified as 501©3, governmental, or religious organization.

Helpful Hint: If your organization is introducing a new special event it should be approved or at least discussed with the organization's board of directors (the governing body of the organization). Best practice is to ensure your board is very knowledge in organization happenings both as organization leaders and involved community members who can help spread the word about the event.

  • Determine your committee chair. This is going to be an important decision. If you are an organization with staff members then you will want both a lead staff person and a volunteer board member who can encourage the other committee members to follow up on tasks, is not afraid to ask for donations, and will encourage others to do the same. If you are a 100% volunteer organization then you most likely have already have found your chair, probably the person reading this sentence
  • Once a chair has been chosen, convene volunteer committee (board members and/or community volunteers, along with key staff members) The committee should set all meeting dates going forward (monthly would be most effective)
  • Secure location, date and time if hosting a live/silent auction at an event. Clearly discuss cost per person and closely review event location contract for any additional or added fees. Make sure to shop these prices to make sure they are reasonable for your area.

Helpful Hint: In determining your date view local community calendars or Chamber of Commerce Calendars to ensure your date does not conflict with another community event that would attract a similar audience.

  • Secure online bidding services if choosing to host the auction online. This can be a very important decision for the organization and may allow the auction to start in advance of the special event. Many organizations choose both a live/silent and online auction to maximize their audience and revenue. As well, organizations may choose to host the online auction for a week or two in advance of the special event.
  • Create initial marketing materials for event, including the following:
    • Solicitation letter for businesses and individuals to donate items for auction
    • Response Card (form which businesses can send back either with their donated item, monetary donation, or indicating their commitment to an auction item donation}
    • Brochure used in solicitation of sponsors
  • Ensure that the organization has the capabilities to receipt all donors both monetary and in kind (donated items).

Note of Caution: There are specific requirements for receipt letters, you might consider visiting the website to find the exact requirements. IRS Receipt Letter Details or visit Charity Auctions to find out more information. Non cash donations of more than $5,000 have special reporting requirements for both the charity and the donor. For more information please visit the website, Items donated valued at more than $5,000

  • Secure major sponsor to be included in all marketing materials
  • Secure major auction items so that they can be included in marketing materials
  • Create event email list

Note of Caution: It is recommended that any major sponsors and/or donors for large auction items sign a Sponsor Contract. This will ensure that they commit to the payment, spell out clearly what they will receive for their sponsorship, and set a date when payment must be received by the organization. It is suggested that all donations and sponsorship payments are received PRIOR to the event and not collected afterward.

Helpful Hint: By compiling an email list early you can continue to add to it throughout the planning process. Plan to send emails out to current donors, friends of the organization, staff and volunteer friends, and anyone who has attended a previous event held by your organization (even if it was years ago). Plan to send at least four emails (Save the Date, Announcing Sponsor and Big Auction Items, an Email announcing all auction items, and a last call for tickets).

9–12 Months Out At A Glance:

  • Date and time determined, location secured
  • Volunteer committee formed with active volunteer chair
  • Receipt Letter is created for event
  • Online Auction services secured
  • Early marketing materials, including letter to businesses for auction items, response card for business to send with their commitment or with item, and event brochure
  • Lead auction item and sponsors are approached and ideally confirmed through signed contract
  • Email list complied

This is going to be a busy time for the event planning committee and staff. You want to ensure you start off on a great footing with potential donors. Take time to creating marketing materials in advance of meeting with donors. Especially if this is an inaugural event. Donors will be unsure of its success rate and will need to know that there are dedicated volunteers behind this event, and that careful thought and planning is going in to the event. This can be demonstrated through a strong event committee and professional solicitation materials.

6 months – 9 months out [It's All About the Committee]

  • Committee members should brainstorm a list of business and individuals to solicit for auction item donations and sponsorships.
  • Send initial solicitation letter to businesses and individuals
  • Committee members should each have a list of sponsors that they are responsible for following up with at least two weeks after the initial solicitation materials and letters have been sent.
  • Continued follow up by committee members, attempting at least 2–3 times to contact prospects in response to the solicitation mailing.
  • Save The Date Email out to email list

Helpful Hint: Many organizations choose to mail hard copies of the Save The Dates. This is the choice of the organization, they can often be very costly and not provide a high return. Especially compared to the cost of an email!

  • Continue to secure sponsors and donated auction items
  • Design community marketing materials: Posters, brochures, etc.
  • Try and find a media sponsor, either a local radio or TV station. In return for free or greatly reduced advertising you will list them as a Media Sponsor and give them the same benefits of a corporate sponsor. Often times this is a win–win and costs the organization very little for heavy advertising.

Helpful Hint: Send the receipt letters out for items received as they come in. You do not and should not wait until after the event to send receipt letters out to the generous businesses that have donated. As well, receipt sponsors and cash their checks as they come in, do not wait until after the event. After the event send a second thank you letter telling the business how well the event did and total amounts raised. Remind them how grateful you are. Try to thank a donor at least 7 times before you ask them to give again. Be sure to remind committee members who may have collected items or checks to be sure and drop them off at the organization headquarters to ensure for appropriate receipting and collection.

  • Committee members report back to the committee on their individual lists at each meeting.

6–9 Months at A Glance:

  • A list of business and individuals to be contacted for donated auction items has been created
  • Solicitation letter and response card have been sent out
  • Committee members are following up to solicitation letters sent one to two weeks following the day the letter was sent
  • Save the Date Email is emailed out to list serve
  • Community marketing materials have been created
  • Media Sponsor secured

By this time the committee members should be actively soliciting businesses and committed to excellent follow up through phone calls, email, and face to face visits. During this period it is important that either the committee chair of designated staff people keep up consistent communication with committee members to encourage their follow up. Businesses owners and individuals are most likely to give when someone they know asks them. Committee members should be reaching out to those on the list of donors that they have a relationship with of some sort.

2 month – 3 months out : [Time to Make it Public]

  • Marketing materials go public (Posters, brochures), radio, billboard, etc.
  • Committee chair, board chair, and staff members are talking about the event, it should be included in all newsletters, organization's website, Facebook Page, etc.
  • The committee and organization are in full publicity mode for the evnet/auction.
  • Wrap up all auction items and sponsors
  • Committee members should have contacted all business and individuals on their lists at least twice in following up to the solicitation letter sent
  • Order any items needed for the event (printed napkins, take away items, etc.)

Note of Caution: An organization should not list an organization as a sponsor or include an auction item in their public marketing of the event unless they have the auction item in hand or they have a filled out contract or solicitation form including a signature listing the item the business or individual has committed to and the date that the item will be received by the organization.

Helpful Hint: This is the time that the committee should review the items received and determine if an item(s) needs to be purchased. Often times committee want to jump to this conclusion that the organization should buy a big ticket auction item, but try to exhaust all resources and contacts before this happens. If all of the items are donated that is even more profit for the organization.

1 Month: [It's All About the Details]

  • Create Bidding Sheets
  • Create program or lists of auction items (this should include the listing of the fair market value of each item and a note indicating that the participant's charitable contribution is any amount paid over the Fair Market Value of the item. The fair market value should be provided by the individual who donated the item)
  • Secure decorations
  • Volunteer job descriptions for all volunteers helping with the auction
  • Event survey for participants to fill out at event

By this time all auction items should be secured and committee members begin work on the details of the event. The main focus during this period continues to be to publicize the auction. You can have the best auction items in the world, but if people don't know about the auction or come to the event with the auction the organization will not raise the money.

2 weeks out: [The Calm Before the Storm]

Helpful Hint: If you are having a dinner auction don't forget to employ the help of your contact at the special event location. They are super helpful and plan events for a living. Don't hesitate to ask them questions or for advise. Chances are they have done something like this before.
  • Final event details with event location
  • If appropriate, online bidding auction can go live
  • Event/Auction volunteers are secured and volunteer job descriptions have been sent out to volunteers

1 week out [Final Numbers]

  • Total head count will be due to special event location (if you are hosting an event)

Helpful Hint: If you are hosting only an online auction, consider conducting a short survey at the end of the participant's experience to find out what they thought of the auction and if they would plan on participating next year. Also, don't be afraid to ask if they have any suggestions or if there were any auction items they would have liked to see offered.

  • Make sure to get the email and mailing address of EVERYONE that attend the event or participates in the online auction.

Helpful Hint: Events are both FUND raising and FRIEND raising opportunities. Even if you don't make as much money as you had intended you should be happy knowing that you have lots of new names and emails to add to your database! Remember, those most likely to give are those who have some sort of connection to your organization and attending an event constitutes as a connection!

1 week after [Thank, Thank and then Thank again]

  • Thank you email to everyone reporting success
  • Thank you letter with photos if possible to everyone reporting success
  • Committee wrap up lunch (ideas for next year, what didn't work, share survey results etc).
  • All receipt letters sent out if they have not already.

Helpful Hint: When it comes to receipting the individuals who purchased items from the auction/special event, please visit the page for further details on exactly how these individuals should be receipted. Charity Auctions. Most charities choose not to send receipt letters for items purchased at an auction as the charitable deduction can be determined by deducting the total amount paid minus the fair market value of an item.

Note of Caution: Your public figure raised should be your NET amount not your GROSS. Your gross includes the amount raised and does not exclude expenses. The most accurate figure for your donors is the amount that will go to further your charitable mission and that is the NET amount.

And then you start the process over again for next year!

Don't let this timeline scare you! With a dedicated committee of board members, volunteers, and staff members you can work to put on an event in three months or less. Its not best practices, but it can be done.

If this is your first event know that for the first year you want to have a successful event, meaning you want people to have a good time, you want sponsors to be recognized and rewarded for donations, and you want people to be excited about next year's event. To do that the first year it often means you have to downsize some of your visions in order to make the first year both a reality and a success. Remember, you can always go bigger the next and following years. For your first event work to make it both memorable and successful.

If you have a well seasoned event and you are looking for some technology upgrades from Bidding Owl, congratulations! You have made an investment it your event's success and your volunteers, staff and generous bidders will be very grateful! Always know that every event can be tweaked and improved, and most importantly should be analyzed on a yearly basis. Try and keep the staples that make your event rewarding and special, but know that in order to keep it fresh always encourage a thorough analysis and ask yourself how can we improve for next year? Don't be afraid to survey participants and find out what they liked and see if they have any suggestions for you.


Disclaimer: The information included from Bidding Owl does not represent professional advise. All organizations should discuss receipting and tax requirements with a professional account.