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How to Turn Bidders Into Donors

Posted by Ashley Shaw on 2/2/17 11:05 AM


Let’s face it:

Sometimes people come to your events because they want to bid on that great vacation package you’re offering - and then you never hear from them again. And yeah, you raised some funds. But how does that help you next year?

We all know it is much better to retain a donor long-term than to keep having to market for more and more donors. (And if you don’t know, check out this nice little post on donor retention from Bloomerang.)

So how do you turn a one time bidder at your silent auction into a regular donor in your pool of donors? With six easy steps, you'll be on your way:

  • Cater to Personas
  • Have a Good Story
  • Make What You Want Clear
  • Track Bidding Information
  • Express Gratitude
  • Hype up Subscriptions 


6 Steps to Turn Bidders Into Donors

For starters, here are six things you can be doing to help turn your bidders into donors - and long-term donors to boot:

Step 1: Cater to Personas


A while ago, I wrote a post on creating donor personas - and that process is going to help you a lot here.

If you want people to turn into donors at your auctions, then you are going to want to set up an auction that will attract the types of people who are likely to support an organization like yours.

Let me give you a crazy analogy that’s obviously over-the-top but will help me make my point:

Let’s say your organization is something akin to PETA. You’re having an auction, and you auction off one of those luxury exotic hunting trips to Africa. Now, you publish this auction everywhere, and it attracts a whole lot of people - because there are tons of hunters out there who would love to say they bagged a rhinoceros.

Your auction raises a lot of money. Yay! That’s great news! But what are the odds of someone who is interested in killing animals for sport wanting to donate to an animal’s rights organization?

No one is going to do something that outrageously out of scope. (At least I hope.) But what I wanted to illustrate was the importance of matching your auction items to what your typical donor would want.


If you do that, then your bidders are going to end up being the types of people who are likely to also donate you.


If your typical donor is…

  • A stay at home mom: think of auctioning items stay at home moms would want (a night out? A spa day? Back-to-school package?).
  • A “crazy” cat lady: pet food and items, cat-themed products, etc.
  • Big time fishers: fishing gear, fishing trips, and the like.

I could keep going. But I’m sure you’ve got my point:

Attract the people who are likely to want to donate to you, and then you are more likely to get them to donate to you.   

Step 2: Have a Good Story

stories for donors.jpg

I’ve also talked a lot about telling a good story, but I’m going to talk about it again.

Which would make you want to give more:

  1. We are an organization that helps kids. Please donate $5 to support us.
  2. Over five million children go to bed hungry every night. And chances are that some of those kids are friends with your children. These aren’t nameless strangers: these are your neighbors, your friends, and that little girl you walked by in the park today who made your heart tighten at her adorableness. And for $5 a month, you can make a huge difference in her life (and the lives of countless children just like her).

I don’t know about you, but number 2 would work better on me. (By the way, I made up those numbers just to make a point. So please don’t look to me for accuracy on this issue.)  

That’s because there are a bunch of charities out there - which means if I am going to donate to your great cause over somebody else’s great cause, I want to have some emotional reason to do so.

When you market, host, and follow up on an auction, make sure that you:

  1. Have a good story.
  2. Tell it throughout the process in a consistent manner.

Step 3: Make What You Want Clear

calls to action for donors

You’re throwing this big auction to raise money for your great cause. So everybody knows what you want them to do: donate. Right?

Maybe not. And why take that chance?

The truth is that many people who come to your auction may think they are helping just by participating in the auction (and, of course, they are correct.) But if you want them to do more, then you need to let them know.

Have a clear call to action when requesting donations. Don’t just leave it up to them to know you would love their help.

  • Make an appeal before, during, or after the auction (telling your story) and specifically stating the needs for donations
  • Follow up with people and put the request in clear language in your communications.
  • Make it an easy process - don’t ask people to go through a thousand hoops before they actually give.

And here is one final tip for this step:

Which do you think is clearer?

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, please donate, other points, talking, some more information, blah, blah, blah.


Well crafted story. Your donation makes a difference. Donate today.

Example Call to Action Button.png

Basically, make it as easy as you can for people to help you.

Step 4: Track Your Information

tracking donors.jpg

It is super important to track your bidding information from a donor management perspective.

The more you know about someone, the easier it is to market to them. And that applies whether you are trying to sell them a new TV or want them to donate to your amazing cause.

If you can see the history of all the events someone has attended and the items they have bid on while they are there, then you can probably figure out a lot about that person.

Let’s look at this person-who-I-just-made-up’s bidding and attending history:

  1. At the Camo for Kids Night, he bid on a hunting package, a super fancy tent, and a fishing gift certificate.
  2. At the Tools and Tots Auction, he bid on the ultimate toolkit, the mechanics class at a local community college, and a motorcycle.
  3. He did not attend the Beauty and Babies Bizarre.

Think about what just this little bit of information lets you infer about this person.

Tip 4 is very useful when combined with my first tip (creating personas). If you keep up with this information, you can add it to personas. Let’s say you have a persona for people like the guy I made up above: hunters, fishers, do-it-yourselfers.

Now let’s say you also have a lot of people who are exactly the opposite. They’d never be interested in those stereotypically ‘masculine’ things - at least not for themselves. They tend to like trips to the theatre, fancy galas, and anything that is already built and completed for them.

When you can easily see this information, you can use it in two big ways.

  1. You can target event invitations towards the right personas. Invite the guy above to events you think he would actually be interested in, and don’t bother him over the ones that he wouldn’t care for.

But my second point is the one that is relevant to this post:

  1. Target your appeals and your story to the persona you are asking to donate.

Step 5: Be Thankful - And Express It


A while ago, I wrote a post where I gathered all the best links I could find about thanking your donors. So I won’t talk about it a lot here.

However, I will mention this thought:

If you help someone out (whether that is donating money, time, or anything else), are you more or less likely to help them again if they seem grateful for what you did?

Most people like feeling appreciated. So if you want a bidder to turn into a donor, express how thankful you are for what they have already done (even if that was just attend your event without spending a penny.)

Step 6: Promote Subscriptions


Here is a pop quiz for you:

Which is better?

a.) A one time $120 donation.

b.) A monthly $10 donation that lasts a year.

I don’t know about you, but I would argue for b. Either way, you are getting $120. However, with b, you are also keeping your donor engaged and in the process. And that means he or she is more likely to keep that regular donation coming than if you don’t talk to them for a year and hit them up for another donation.

So when you are doing all of the steps I’ve discussed above, make your calls to actions and targeted appeals focus around smaller, monthly subscriptions.

That way, you aren’t just turning bidders into donors, you are turning them into engaged, repeat, regular donors.

Some Final Thoughts

Once you start turning one-offs into loyal helpers, you are going to see a huge difference in both your work load and your total donations. Hopefully all of these tips help you reach these new heights.

If you’ve got more tips or have questions, just let me know in the comments below.

And hey, if you are trying to throw a great auction that’ll get great bidders who will eventually turn into loyal donors, check out my recent posts:

And finally, give yourself a chance to win $500 worth of auction items or events by entering our contest. Just click the button below to find out all of the rules and information you need to start entering:

Win $500 GiveSmart Cash for Your Next Auction!


Topics: Silent Auctions, Fundraising Storytelling, Donors, Online Auctions

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