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How to Host a Virtual Auction: 10 Steps for Nonprofits


When I was a youngster, my parents would take us to an auction held every Saturday night. While the adults were inside and the auctioneer was doing his thing, the kids were all playing outside and having a good time. Unfortunately, times have changed parents can’t let their children out of their sight any longer, but auctions are still a terrific way to save money on what might otherwise be an expensive purchase. The key to getting the most out of an auction is to know what you want, what you need, and what you’re looking at.

I love auctions, but these sales aren’t quite what they used to be. A lot of times, there is nothing but a lot of junk up for sale and by junk, I don’t mean “someone else’s treasures.” I mean broken toys, mildewed linens, and cracked glassware – really, truly JUNK. There are some tips that can really help you to find the great hidden bargains, though, without wasting a lot of time and money.

  • 1. Check Out the Auction Company – As with any industry, there are some companies that shine while others can’t even work up a low glow. If you’ve never been to an auction, then your first one can either swear you off of them forever or give you the auction bug like I have. The internet is truly a wonderful tool and you can look for local auction company reviews. Most people are more than willing to share their feelings about which auction companies should be avoided and which ones will have you marking your calendar with sale dates.
  • 2. Plan to Spend the Day and Arrive Early – Most estate auctions will take the entire day and auctioneers are notorious for saving the best until the end. When you arrive early, you can take your time looking through what is offered and even do a bit of research to see what your maximum bid will be. I usually arrive an hour before the sale starts. My husband will take off for the outdoor items, while I concentrate on looking through the housewares and furniture. Some of the auctions we attend are held indoors and have seating available; others are held outside and bidding is done while standing in a massive group of people. Getting a seat towards the front or asking where the auctioneer will begin will help keep you from trying peer over and around everyone. I’m short, so this is important to me! You will need to register for an auction number. Normally, this will simply include your name, address, and phone number. You will receive a card with a number and that is how the auction company will track the bids you win.
  • 3. Make a List of Lot Numbers You Are Interested In – There is nothing more frustrating than to realize you’ve missed out on the bidding for something you really wanted. Each auction will have a number or some other form of designation on the items to be sold, so make a note of the ones you want to bid on.
  • 4. Determine How Much You Want to Spend before the Bidding Begins – If you decide that the beautiful quilt rack is worth $40, then don’t bid more anymore than that. Here’s a word of caution – it’s easy to get caught up in the bidding. It’s competitive and no one likes to lose. However, if you don’t have the will power to stick with your preset maximum bid, you could walk out with a lot less cash in your wallet than you planned. It’s only a good deal if it’s within your budget and sometimes that’s not always the case.
  • 5. What to Look for – So what do I find at auctions? Just about anything you might imagine. I have a gorgeous Broyhill floral sleeper sofa that I won for only $30. It sold cheap because it was missing one of the legs. A replacement leg for this sofa was only $4.75 and I found it online on EBay with free shipping. Many of the picture frames that grace the walls of my home have come from auctions. Some I didn’t even bid on, but they were thrown in a box of items that had another piece I wanted. That’s one of the beauties of auctions. There are many times when you’ll end up with several items simply because the auctioneer doesn’t want to take the time to sell each thing separately. When this happens and I don’t have any use for the other items, I list them on EBay or take them to my local consignment shop. I won a pair of gorgeous, real pearl earrings for only $7 and walked away with several gold chains. One of them turned out to be 24K gold and I sold it for $22.50 on Craigslist. That was a quick $15.50 in profit.
  • 6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions – I try to attend as many estate auctions in my area as I can. It’s often sad to think that people work all their lives to fill their homes with their most prized possessions only to have the family sell them off at auction. However, estate auctions will usually yield some great finds. Many items are heirlooms or items gathered during life’s travels. I found a fantastic two foot tall Chinese vase at one auction that I eventually sold for over $100 on EBay. My price? $12.50. The more unusual the items are, the more likely they will have a great resale value. There sellers are usually present for the sale. Ask one of the auction employees if the sellers are available to answer questions about a particular item. The worst that can happen is they say no.
  • 7. Do Some Research – With number 6 said, I feel that it’s important to know what you’re looking at. I carry two books with me to all the auctions I attend. The first is a guide to antiques and the second is guide for glassware. You can books that will help you determine the value of almost anything – from cars to books to art. Many can be checked out of your local library. I’ve made copies of the pages of items that I see frequently so it’s easier for me to know what something is worth.
  • 8. Be Ready to Pay for Your Winning Bids – When you win an item, you’re obligated to pay for it. There is no going back and changing your mind. Most of the auction companies accept debit and credit cards now. Some will still take a check; however, it’s best to find out before the bidding starts.

These are some of the best tips for finding great deals and even moneymakers at a live auction. It’s one of my favorite ways to shop and the selection is always changing! You can find listings for auctions in your area in your local newspaper, on Craigslist, or on various local event calendars. You can also sign up for email reminders of upcoming auctions at your favorite auction companies’ websites. Get ready to find some terrific deals when you hear “Going once, going twice…SOLD!”


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