How to Procure Nonprofit Auction Items

Nonprofit auctions add an element of excitement to your fundraising events while also bringing in more money for your cause. Most items in a nonprofit auction are donated by individuals or organizations. It is up to the nonprofits to procure the items for their auctions, which can sometimes be challenging and time-consuming. The effort is worth it as it will help bring more people to your event and boost non-auction giving. 

Luckily, with the right process and resources nonprofits can set themselves up for successful auction item procurement. This article outlines best practices for collecting items donated to your nonprofit auctions. We cover how to get started, where to look, and the best ways to communicate with potential donors.  

The first step to a successful nonprofit auction is having items available that are exciting to your audience. No two nonprofit audiences are the same, and it is important to understand who your supporters are and what makes them tick. This will best prepare you to decide what types of items will do best at your auctions. For example, if you are an environmental organization and your supporters are largely outdoorsy active people, consider sporting goods and outdoor gear items. 

Come Up With a Wish List of Auction Items

Once you know what your audience will like, come up with a list of auction items. Have a mix of items at different price levels. Again, you know your audience and their capacity so make sure that the items are within the price range they are willing to bid on. When building your wishlist, think of items that range from experiences (concert tickets, sports games, lessons) to luxury goods (jewelry, handbags), to one-of-a-kind items (local art, etc.). 

How to Find One-of-a-Kind Auction Items

Most nonprofits don’t want your run-of-the-mill auction items. They want items that are unique to their organization or location and also something that will excite their guests. It can be a challenge to think of exciting items that will stand out and be unique. The best way to find one-of-a-kind items is to think locally and reach out to your network. 

Seek Inspiration Within Your Organization

People are at your event because they care about your cause. Take a look internally and think about unique items that can come directly from your organization. For example, if you are an organization focused on children you could feature artwork by the kids you support. Or, if you are an environmental organization you might offer a camping expereince at your preserve or a piece of artwork or furniture made from a tree on the property. Think about what makes your organization unique to help you come up with creative ideas. 

Look Locally

Depending on your location, there are lots of possibilities for unique local items. If you don’t know where to start, take to Google or social media to search for creatives or unique professionals in the area. Think photographers, artists, classes, experience bundles (B&B stay and Restaurant Gift Card), gift baskets from local stores, etc. The more local you go, the more unique and personal to your cause your auction items will be. 

Reach Out to Your Network

Your network of supporters is a great opportunity to find unique items relevant to your cause. It is likely your board members, volunteers, staff, major donors, etc. have similar interests as those who support you. Connect with them and find out if they have any ideas or connections for unique items. Also, find out if they, or anyone they know have a special skill that might be a fun item to auction off. For example, is there a tennis coach in your network willing to give lessons? Or an artist willing to do custom pet portraits? Do you know anyone employed by your local sports teams with access to tickets/memorabilia? Unique experiences from people in your network are going to do well in your nonprofit auctions. 

Assemble a Committee and Find Volunteers

Reaching out to all of your prospective donors is a time-consuming process. Many nonprofits choose to have an entire committee dedicated to finding auction items. If your nonprofit has the people and resources available, consider assembling a committee. It is a plus if your committee members have a network of people and organizations they are willing to reach out to to ask for items. 

Set Up a Tracking System for Outreach

You will thank yourself later if you stay organized from the beginning. Consider utilizing shared tracking documents so you can stay on top of who is doing what. Start with your wishlist, then add potential donors to each item, and track how they were contacted (phone, email, follow-up, etc.). That way when a volunteer/committee member/staff member reaches out to an organization you know when. 

You will also want to stay on top of pick up/drop off of items. So make sure you connect with your team on who will be picking up what items or what times items will be dropped off at your location. Specify these details in your procurement letter and donation forms. 

Start Soliciting Auction Item Donations

Once you have your wish list and your team you can start reaching out to organizations and individuals for donations. You should put together an auction item procurement letter with a donation form attached. Below find a sample letter and a template for a donation form. 

Keep in mind that if you have a request for a specific item or dollar amount from an organization, ask them specifically for what you are looking for. The template letter offers a broader approach, but decipher what is best for your organization and tailor the letters to each organization you reach out to. 

Sample Auction Item Procurement Letter

Dear [Donor’s Name],

Subject: Request for Auction Item Donation

My name is [Your Name] and I am a/the [Your Connection to the Organization, eg. Volunteer, Board Member, Office Manager..] at [Your Organization’s Name].  We are excited to announce our upcoming [Event Name], which is scheduled to take place on [Event Date] at [Event Venue]. As we gear up for this much-anticipated event, we are reaching out to businesses and individuals in our community to request support through the donation of auction items.

[Your Organization’s Name] is a [brief description of your organization, its mission, and any relevant achievements]. Our commitment to [cause or purpose] has allowed us to [mention any impact or success stories].

The success of our fundraising events relies heavily on the generosity of our community partners, and we believe that your contribution could make a significant difference. We are seeking donations for our live and silent auctions, which are key components of our event. Items that tend to attract attention and garner enthusiastic bidding include [provide examples, such as unique experiences, travel packages, exclusive merchandise, etc.].

If you choose to support our cause through a donation, [Your Organization’s Name] will ensure that your generosity is recognized prominently at the event. This recognition may include mentions in our event program, on our website, and through various social media channels.

To facilitate the process, our team is available to pick up the donated item(s) at your convenience. Alternatively, you may also deliver the items to our office at [Your Organization’s Address].

If you have any questions or require additional information, please feel free to contact [Your Contact Person] at [Your Contact Person’s Email Address] or [Your Contact Person’s Phone Number].

Thank you for considering our request, and we look forward to the possibility of collaborating with you to make [Event Name] a tremendous success.


[Your Name]
[Your Organization’s Name]

What to Include in Your Auction Item Donation Form

When sending out your request letters you should also put together a donation form to accompany the letter. Consider including the following fields in your donation form:

Full name or organization name
Item description: A brief yet detailed description of the donated item or service.
Estimated value: The perceived value of the item, which can help in setting starting bids or reserve prices.
Delivery preference: Whether the item will be delivered to the organization or picked up by the organization’s team.
Specific instructions or restrictions: Any special instructions or restrictions related to the item, such as expiration dates, usage limitations, or delivery considerations.
Recognition preference: How the donor wishes to be recognized (e.g., by name, as a company, a specific title, or anonymous).
Acknowledgment: A statement affirming the donor’s understanding that the organization is a registered nonprofit and that the donation is voluntary without the expectation of goods or services in return.
Signature: A space for the donor to sign and date the form.
Additional Comments/Notes: A section for any additional comments, notes, or specific details about the donation.
Instructions on where and when to return the form along with the donated item.
Contact information: Information for reaching out in case the donor has questions or needs assistance.

Send a Thank You Post Event

Once an organization becomes a donor to your cause, you will want to maintain a relationship with them. Sending a heartfelt thank you after your event is one of the most important steps you can take to steward your auction item donors. Include information about how successful the event was thanks to their support and make it clear they were an integral part of the evening’s success.

Silent Auction Donation Request Sources

In addition to reaching out to local businesses, many larger organizations will also donate. Many well-known brands accept requests for in-kind donations to nonprofit auctions. If you have a specific brand or organization in mind a simple Google search of “brand” and kind donation request forms should help point you in the right direction. Below is a list of some organizations we have found that donate items to nonprofit organizations to help you get started:

Beach Dashery
Mustard Seed Jewelry
Kendra Scott 

Sporting Goods & Tickets
DICK’S Sporting Goods
Major League Baseball (MLB)
National Basketball Association (NBA) – search by team + donation request
National Football League (NFL) – search by team + donation request
National Hockey League (NHL) – search by team + donation request

Travel & Entertainment

Disney Parks
Universal Studios
Six Flags
Delta Air Lines
American Airlines
Jetblue Airlines
Carnival Cruise Line

Other Ideas (Local): Consider reaching out to local businesses or search them by name and in-kind donations. Many local venues, hotels, clubs, etc will offer InKind donations to local nonprofits. 

Comedy Clubs
Concert Venues
Country Clubs
Golf Courses
Gym/Fitness Clubs
Boutique Hotels (Unique Experiences)
Escape Rooms
Movie Theaters
Tour companies
Rental companies (boats/paddle boards/bikes/scooters/etc.)

Final Thoughts

Incorporating nonprofit auctions into your fundraising events not only adds excitement but also serves as a powerful avenue to raise essential funds for your cause. As highlighted in this article, the process of securing the right items for your auction can be both time-consuming and challenging, but with the right strategies and resources, nonprofits can set themselves up for successful item procurement. The effort is also worth it or the additional funds and traffic it will bring to your nonprofit event. 

Remember, the success of your nonprofit auction relies on the generosity of your community and supporters. Approach the procurement process with enthusiasm, a clear strategy, and a focus on building lasting relationships with your donors. Best of luck with your fundraising efforts!