Finding free auction items for you next fundraiser is not at hard as you might think. It’s as simple as using the connections and resources you already have to create some great auction items. Take some time to go over this list with your team. Fundraising committees are often pleasantly surprised to realize how many potential auction items they already have. You will also be surprised at how many people will gladly donate to help you raise money for a cause, especially a local cause. These one-of-a-kind donations are also more personal to your organization and will often raise the most money at a fundraising auction. They are much more valuable than any consigned item you might find because they were donated with your nonprofit in mind and they cost you nothing. Consigned items have their place at a fundraising auction, but free items are always the best items.
1. HONEY TO-DO LIST
Look for a contractor or skilled laborer who would be willing to donate their time and labor to someone who provides all the materials. The contractor can donate any specific amount of time or work they choose (for example, a plumber might donate a weekend or a concrete company might install a 10’x10’ concrete pad). This is the perfect opportunity for bidders to knock out that bathroom or kitchen remodel they’ve been dreaming about. The ‘Honey To-Do List’ item is also one of the easiest to find because most people have at least one contractor in their community.
2. TRAVEL POINTS
Another easy free auction item for someone to donate is travel points. Many people build up travel points that sit unused until they expire. As long as these points are transferrable (many are) they can make a great auction item. Look for someone in your community who has extra points like:
- Gas points
- Airbnb points
- Timeshare points
- Airline points
If you discover you have access to an abundance of travel points, you can even combine them to create a vacation package.
3. BEHIND-THE-SCENES TOUR
Find a professional in your community who has a unique occupation that is interesting and engaging to all ages. Creating a “behind-the-scenes tour” with that local professional can be a fun and engaging experience to auction off. This can be a great opportunity for young people in the community to explore a career or for adults to get a glimpse into a world that interests them as well as time with someone they admire. Look for someone like:
- A museum curator
- A newscaster
- The mayor or governor
- A DJ
- The chief of police
- A popular coach or principle (if you are fundraising for a school)
- Local celebrities or athletes
Another variation of this free auction item would be to find an expert in your community who can provide an insightful private tour of something unique in your area. Donors would enjoy a day doing things like:
- Hiking a nature preserve or national park with a park ranger
- Spending a day at your local zoo with a zoologist or animal expert
- Touring your nonprofit with your director or a student
- Visiting a local museum with a history buff
- Touring downtown architecture with an architect or local historian
Packaging either of these ideas with a free lunch for the donors and professional/expert is a great way to add further value. Your donors will be able to enjoy an all-inclusive day and your local professional/expert is more likely to donate their time if lunch is provided.
Think about what kind of historical memorabilia your organization might have from its founding or the time it has been in operation. These types of collectibles can be great free auction items that add a personal aspect to your live auction. Look for things like:
- The contract that started your organization, signed by the founding member(s)
- An old photograph of the founding member(s)
- An old newspaper article about your nonprofit in a beautiful frame or shadowbox
- Autographed jersey
- Vinyl records
- Vintage guitars
A quick cautionary note, there is a lot of fake memorabilia on the market and, sadly, a good portion of it is marketed to nonprofits for use in fundraising events. So, be sure to make sure the memorabilia you are auctioning off is real.
5. VIP SEATING
Front row seats to a special event are always sought after and make great free auction items. If you’re fundraising for a school, front seats to a graduation ceremony or school play are priceless to parents and grandparents (and provide the best photo opportunities). Or, take advantage of events being held in your community like:
- Times Square on NYE
- 4th of July Fireworks
- The Lighting of the Tree
- Live Music
Think outside the box and consider that the best seats for an outdoor event might be at a rooftop bar or on the perfectly positioned lawn. Getting these spaces donated is as simple as asking.
6. VIP PARKING
If your nonprofit or school has a parking lot it can be used to create a valuable auction item. Choose a desirable spot in your lot and give bidders the opportunity to claim their very own reserved parking spot. Parking spots are especially popular items at school auctions as families spend so much of their time coming and going to school. This can also be brought back as an annual free auction item, raising more money year after year.
7. NIGHT ON THE TOWN
Reach out to local restaurants, hotels and theaters/entertainment and ask if they would be willing to donate something to your nonprofit for the event. These things can be packaged together for a unique “staycation”. This takes a little bit of work but it still can be a great free auction item.
8. NAMING RIGHTS
The naming rights to a unique space can be a great high-dollar auction item. If you’re in a building phase right now, this is the perfect opportunity to auction off the naming rights to your new addition. It could be the naming of a building, a hallway, a room or even a playground. This is a popular item for bidders who want leave a legacy behind and name a space after a loved one or their even a business.
People are always looking for spaces to host wedding receptions, graduation parties, birthdays or other big events. If your nonprofit has a beautiful space you can auction it as a venue for your donor’s next event. Or, maybe there is someone in your community who works for a beautiful farm or ranch that would be willing to donate a their space. Maybe you have donor who happens to own an actual event venue. Another way to add value to this item would be to collect a few volunteers who would be willing to donate their time to help with catering, serving or helping with set up/tear down.
10. LIFETIME FIRSTS
Find a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers a donor and/or their kids a chance to fulfill a childhood dream. These experiences can be great free auction items because they are priceless. Look for experiences that give donors the chance to:
- Throw the first pitch at a local baseball game
- Sing the National Anthem at a local sports event
- Ride the Zamboni at a local hockey game
This is also the perfect item to help raise awareness for your nonprofit as your donor is announced and the audience is informed about your organization at these local events.
11. VACATION PACKAGES
Putting together a free vacation package can sound intimidating but it’s not as hard as you might think. There is probably somebody in your nonprofit’s community who owns a summer home, a vacation cabin or an Air BnB. Even things like an RV, a boat or a tent on a unique property can be turned into vacation items. If you can find something like this, consider raising the value of the item by turning it into a package. Look for airlines, restaurants or activities local to the destination and ask for a donation.
12. GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY
Consider whether your organization or local community is breaking ground on a new space. Give donors the chance to cut the ribbon or hold the gold shovel at a groundbreaking ceremony or ribbon cutting. It’s a fantastic opportunity for a donor to participate in a monumental and historical moment or receive recognition individually or for their business. Groundbreaking ceremonies also often get a lot of press coverage which is the perfect opportunity for a larger audience to learn about your nonprofit’s mission.
Using artwork as an auction item requires careful forethought. Artwork can be the hardest item to sell at a fundraising event because everyone has unique tastes and preferences. If only a small percentage of your audience likes a piece of art in your fundraising auction, you are limiting your bidder pool to that small percentage.
However, if your piece of artwork is connected to your organization, this can be a very successful free auction item. Types of artwork that do well are:
- A painting of something significant to your nonprofit done by a local artist
- A painting that all of your students or recipients contribute to
- A piece of furniture decorated by the members of your organization
14. ONE-ON-ONE LUNCH
A one-on-one lunch can be a great opportunity for donors to meet or spend time with someone they admire or want to speak to. Examples of people that would make a great one-on-one lunch item are:
- Someone unique to your nonprofit (i.e. the director or school principal)
- The mayor or governor
- A successful investor
- A local celebrity
This is another item that would be perfect to pair with a free lunch from a local restaurant.
15. PRIVATE LESSONS
Do you know somebody with a unique talent or skillset? This person can donate their time in the form of private lessons for a donor who wants to learn something new. This works especially well if this talented person has a reputation for their skillset or if they are a celebrity of some kind. Skillsets that make great free auction items include anything like:
The value of this item will be higher if this talented person doesn’t typically give lessons and cannot be purchased anywhere else.
16. EXCLUSIVE TICKETS
Tickets to baseball games are common free auction items for fundraising events. However, exclusive tickets to an event that you can’t normally buy are even better. Explore your nonprofit’s community for connections that might be willing to donate something like:
- Behind-the-scenes seats to a Hamilton dress rehearsal
- Seats to an exclusive fashion show
- Box seats at a baseball game
- Tickets to an award show
- TV show tapings with a live audience
These might seem difficult to find but most of the time it’s as simple as making a phone call and describing your nonprofit’s mission and work. Even if you don’t have a direct connection, you will be surprised at how many corporations want to help nonprofits when given the opportunity.
17. THE BONUS ITEM
The bonus item is something all nonprofits can do. At the night of the event have your MC or professional benefit auctioneer announce the live auction and ask if there’s anyone in the audience who might like to make a last minute item donation to the live auction. You never know what a donor might bring to stage. We have seen some awesome items be brought forward last minute. For instance:
- A vacation home in Hawaii
- A day on a sailboat
- A trip in a limousine
- Excavation work by a construction company
Not only does this get the audience involved and allows them to be the heroes of the night, but it can raise a lot of money and it’s a great free auction item.