How to efficiently find in-kind donations

Auction is coming, find items now

Your big annual fundraising auction is around the corner, and you haven’t had enough time or volunteers to collect all the in-kind donations you need. With so little time and so much to do with logistics, staffing volunteers, sponsor/donor promotion, and ticket sales… how do you find quality items for your event?

Renee Zau from DonationMatch is here to help

I’ve served on over 60 silent auction committees as a volunteer or auction chair for a range of organizations--from nationally recognized charities with paid staff to my children’s school PTA’s. I’ve also personally spoken to hundreds of event leaders and donation decision-makers at companies as the Co-founder of DonationMatch. Rumors, confirmed by benefit auctioneers, say that it takes the same amount of time to prepare a fundraising auction (not counting event planning) as it does to plan a wedding. I wish I could say there were a magic bullet for securing in-kind donations (we’re working on it). It’s still the biggest challenge event organizers face, but a strategic approach makes it easier. Here is mine, starting from preparation to lead resources.

Start As Soon As You Can

This isn’t just to lessen the workload and protect your sanity. As soon as your day/time/place has been inked, you’ll want to start your asks in order to qualify for the most opportunities, ideally at least 6 months ahead. Some giving programs are seasonal or simply run out of inventory--which can be unexpected and disappointing. You may also need time for second and third follow-ups. Work smarter, not harder, and start those relationships with potential donors early.

Make It Easy for Others to Help

Create an event website (a central hub for event information, ticket sales, and sponsor/donor promotion) and sample communications (email, social media posts, images from past events, donation request letter, sponsorship letter) to make sharing by others as easy as copying and pasting. Your event website should have a contact name, email address, phone number available for questions. Google Drive, free to nonprofits, is a great place to make social media posts and letters accessible to all committee members, especially if you want the option to update it or add more later--and don’t forget to share the folder link on every committee communication.

Leverage, Leverage, Leverage

A key to maximizing my success has been prioritizing the "one to many" opportunities, potentially yielding multiple donations with a single touch. Once your letters and website are ready, take that information to these go-to resources to reach multiple companies at once.

donation%20match%20infographic.jpg

Donors of past events

  • Key to Success: Thank them for past support, share what it achieved, invite them to be a part of your community again.
  • Pros: More likely to donate with fewer touches, shown they already like you
  • Cons: Need to segment list by preferred method of accepting requests: online forms/mail/email

Your Board of Directors, Staff, and Event Committee

  • Key to Success: Sharing opportunity for event exposure with their fellow business owners, LinkedIn contacts, industry associations, clubs or groups they belong (church, workplaces, friends/neighbors, Chamber of Commerce)
  • Pros: Obvious supporter and knowledgeable about your organization, may donate personally or from own business
  • Cons: Limited time, possible donor burnout, may want to set a goal or expectation for number of items each person secures

HARO (sign up as “Journalist/Reporter” and indicate “Giftbag” as the only category)

  • Key to Success: Being concise about type of event, event date, audience demographics, items needed and quantity needed.
  • Pros: Companies browse event lists each week
  • Cons: “Shot in the dark” with regards to responses you may receive, if any; cannot contact companies yourself, gift bag items only

DonationMatch (sign up as a Nonprofit to list events needing items)

  • Key to Success: Pictures and a concise description of how companies will be promoted at your event
  • Pros: Free to use and secure 5 items, only one application to complete, instant delivery of printable gift certificates upon approval, can export donation data (paid feature)
  • Cons: Selection limited in some areas

Consignment Companies i.e.Winspire

  • Key to Success: Surveying attendees about travel and entertainment interests to select likely bestsellers, selecting multiple package options, understanding the fine print.
  • Pros: VIP and priceless experiences can attract bidders to your event, no-risk items can be used any way you wish (Winspire blog has creative raffle and auction ideas)
  • Cons: Need to deduct cost of package from amount raised once sold

More Resources

If you’ve exhausted these and still need more items, here are some free resources where you can find information to reach one company at a time. I would split these among committee members, if possible:

I hope you discovered some new ideas here that will make the best use of your time and maximize what your fundraising event earns. Please feel free to share any I’ve missed!


Thanks to guest blogger Renee Zau for her expert advice!

Renee Zau is a leading expert on finding in-kind donation requests. She built DonationMatch to streamline handling requests and enable companies to more easily do well by doing good.