Going Once, Twice, Thrice….Online Auctions

December 15, 2008

One of the most effective online fundraising tools is the online auction.  Nonprofits know that auctions are time consuming and difficult to manage, but also very lucrative.  In 2006 alone, more than 16 billion dollars was raised through charitable auctions in the U.S. (National Auctioneers Association).  The use of an online auction will reduce the amount of resources required to host the auction while maximizing the potential profits. 


The Fundraising Team can solicit auction-able items from local businesses (gifts-in-kind of products or services), parents, staff, and even the students themselves. 

Options Available for Online Auctions

Three viable options are available, each of which has been analyzed below.

On Website – Some organizations have taken the path of hosting an online auction on their own website. The advantage to this method is that the organization does not have to pay any commission on items sold, and they have control over the auction at all times.  Disadvantages are significant however, as it requires considerable computer savvy and time to create a successful auction.  Furthermore, payment arrangements and credit card security must be addressed. 

Or you can outsource:

Mission FishMission Fish allows nonprofits to sell and buy auction items on eBay’s Giving Works.  To list your auction on Giving Works, you will first need to set up a free Mission Fish nonprofit account, then an eBay account. 

Advantages of Mission Fish:

1.      Huge number of potential buyers.

2.      Relatively inexpensive.   Mission Fish is free, but eBay generally charges between 4-6% of auction selling price.

3.      Easy to set up and little continued involvement.

4.      Any seller can donate between 10%-100% to your nonprofit.  Your nonprofit is listed on Mission Fish so sellers can select and decide how much they wish to contribute.

Disadvantages of Mission Fish:

1.      Ebay shoppers are looking for the best deal.  Nonprofits would ideally like people to pay equal or more than the market value of the item to contribute to their cause.

2.      Difficult to create community.  Anyone and everyone can bid for an auction item so it is much harder to build a sense of community and get supporters personally involved.

cMarket – cMarket is another online auction tool that is specifically designed for nonprofits.  This is a more hands off approach to online auctions because after the sign up process is complete cMarket manages the entire process.

Advantages to cMarket:

1.     Simplest way to have an online auction.  cMarket has hosted more than 2,000 online auctions for nonprofits and the auction is handled by professionals.

2.     Vacations, cruises, and many other prizes can be acquired risk free.  Many of the prizes are available through cMarket and are free of charge if the auction is not a success.  If the auction is successful however, the items selling price to the nonprofit is still well below market value.

3.     Bidders are supporters.  cMarket is smaller in scale and most of the bidders will be people notified about the auction through emails, phone calls, or personal requests.

Disadvantages of cMarket:

1.      Expensive.  The additional services come at a price of $295 per year and 9% commission.

Recommendation – For the first time, use Mission Fish because it is lower risk (you will probably get near market value) and inexpensive.  However, cMarket is a promising tool for many nonprofits in the future.

Conclusion: e-Philanthropy is a very new concept in general (keep in mind the internet is not that old itself!); however, it happens to be the current fundraising trend and I expect it will evolve/develop even more.  This means “we” (fundraisers) still have a lot to learn about quality e-philanthropic fundraising methods.

One Response to “Going Once, Twice, Thrice….Online Auctions”

  1. Jim Wintner Says:


    I just wanted to let you know about another vendor of online charity auction services.

    BenefitEvents.com has been providing hands-on and highly customized auction event services to nonprofits across the country for over ten years.

    I invite you to visit.

    Best regards,
    Jim Wintner

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