What Bidders Should Know About Charity Auctions

There are a number of things that bidders should know about nonprofit auctions. For example, they need to know what cause they’re supporting and how the funds further it. If it’s a virtual event, they need to know how to access the event and participate. The list could go on!

But, for this guide, we’ll focus on two aspects that are absolutely essential for baseline nonprofit auction participation: how to bid and the auction’s rules.

Let’s get started.

How to Bid

What’s the single most important thing for a bidder to know to participate in a charity auction?

How to bid!

If you host an auction and guests don’t know how to bid, you’re not hosting an auction at all— instead, it’s a social event with a fast-talking presenter and (hopefully) a good meal.

We’re seeing nonprofits ditch the bid sheets and embrace mobile phones in the bidding process. But, if your guests were previously used to writing their names and bid amounts on a piece of paper, you’ll need to share a quick explainer of how to use mobile bidding tools.

To help explain this to guests, Handbid’s guide to mobile bidding breaks down the process:

  • Guests download the mobile bidding app on their smart devices. In the app, they can search by name, date, or nearby location to find your auction. Or, you can send them a one-click link that directly opens the auction in their app.
  • In the app, guests can purchase tickets or otherwise register for the event. They’ll provide contact information and register their form of payment for easy checkout later on.
  • During the event, guests can browse items. They can view items in certain categories, search by name or item number, and view buy-now items. For in-person auctions, guests can easily scan QR codes to pull different items up in the app.
  • Guests receive notifications when they’ve been outbid. This can be a text message or push notification on their phones. 

Because they’ve registered payment information in advance, guests can self-check-out on their phones using ApplePay, Google Pay, or the credit card they originally stored.

The Auction Rules

Admittedly, the rules at an auction are more “guidelines” than carved in stone. But, silent auction rules benefit both your organization and your guests. For your nonprofit, rules provide a roadmap for troubleshooting sticky situations and helping your event run smoothly. For guests, rules show that you’ll treat all participants fairly.

By investing in mobile bidding software, you can drastically simplify the process of setting and communicating auction rules. Bidding tools can help with the following auction participation rules:

  • Bidding by set bid increments. You don’t want guests responding with $0.01 each time they’re outbid— you won’t reach your revenue goals (unless you want to keep the auction open for months). Mobile bidding software enforces minimum bid increments to keep the revenue increasing as you expect.
  • Maintaining legibility. Bid sheets can lead to scrawled handwriting that leaves your team scratching their heads at the end of the event, trying to figure out who won an item. Mobile bidding software removes handwriting altogether!
  • Not stealing or guarding bid sheets. Yes, it happens. Mobile bidding software eliminates traditional bid sheets and prevents users from hiding them or standing in front of them to intimidate others or dissuade bidding.
  • Not canceling bids. Generally, you want to avoid allowing guests to cancel their bids if possible. Imagine that the winner of a high-ticket item cancels their winning bid by scribbling out their name on the bid sheet (yes, it happens), but then the runner-up is no longer interested! That’s a surefire headache for your team. Mobile bidding software won’t allow guests to cancel bids on their own. Instead, they’ll need to reach out to your team for the next steps.

This doesn’t cover every rule you should set for your auction. For example, you’ll likely want to require contact (address) information, and each winning bidder should pay for items and show proof before they are given the item. However, your technology will handle the key participation rules that donors should know before attending your auction.


By communicating these basics with your guests before your next charity auction, they’ll have all of the information needed to participate. Good luck!

Written by Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid. Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.