How To: Write Fundraising Auction Item Descriptions

The title text “How to Write Enticing Fundraising Auction Item Descriptions” on the background of an auction gavel photo.

How to make sure you have the right fundraising auction item descriptions to entice your guests to bid on them.

Auctions are a popular event for nonprofits to put on their fundraising calendars, whether hosted as a standalone affair or part of a larger function, such as a charity gala. Planning these events
requires you to be thoughtful and detail-oriented, as they have many moving parts.

One important yet often overlooked aspect of nonprofit fundraising auctions is the auction item description. You’ve only got a few brief seconds to engage attendees as they browse item displays, making item descriptions one of the best ways to catch their attention. But how do you write a great description?

Not to worry—we’ll help you with your event planning by teaching you our top strategies for writing an effective fundraising auction item description. When written well, these will help you generate excitement, entice attendees to bid, and increase the funds you generate from your event.

Tips on how to write compelling auction item descriptions:

1. Understand Your Audience

Between choosing who to invite and deciding on what auction items to procure, you likely have
a working understanding of your audience’s:

  • Demographics
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Giving history
  • Motivations

Using these insights, you’ll be able to pinpoint aspects of your items that will appeal to your specific audience and highlight them in your auction item descriptions. For example, let’s say
that your auction event attracts an audience of individuals drawn to trips and travel. You can then highlight the attractions for a given destination and clearly outline lodging and amenities.

2. Create an Auction Item Description Template

Just as you would create templates for donation requests, you should also create templates for your auction item descriptions. Establish a consistent format in terms of fonts, colors, page size,
and layout. Use bullet points to highlight the important features of each item, including the following information:

  • Item name or title
  • Item number
  • Item donor information
  • Item description
  • Value
  • Important details (number of tickets, location of restaurant, etc.)
  • Restrictions or limitations (expiration dates, redemption requirements, etc.)

Having a template allows you to save time planning your auction, as you’ll know what information you need for each item and can take the guesswork out of the writing process. Plus, it helps guests quickly identify important details and what’s unique about each item.

3. Use Attention-Grabbing Language

To make your headlines and auction item descriptions more tempting, use words that:

  • Convey appeal (excellent, popular, quality, etc.)
  • Indicate comparison (competitive, superior, ultimate, etc.)
  • Communicate expertise (proven, reliable, noted, etc.)
  • Suggest a good value (fortune, wealth, reward, etc.)
  • Express size (bonanza, colossal, monumental, etc.)

For example, let’s say you’re planning a charity gala with an auction that focuses on sports memorabilia. For your description of a basketball, you might say, “An official NBA basketball
autographed by LeBron James, one of the greatest basketball players of all time.” This description helps you convey appeal by highlighting the attractive points of the item, namely its ties to LeBron James.

Additionally, strategically use font and formatting to bring attention to your items. For instance, in a silent auction, you might create a title card for each item and display it in a large, readable font. This will attract guests on event night from a distance, inviting them to come closer and read more. In the body of the description, you can use a different, but still legible, font to ensure potential bidders can easily get the information they need to make a decision.

4. Incorporate Storytelling

There’s no doubt that stories are powerful and evocative—we have plenty of books, movies, and TV shows as proof of that. While auction item descriptions should be concise, you can still incorporate storytelling elements to entice guests into bidding on your items.

For auction items, your storytelling element will likely be a personal anecdote. If you’re auctioning off a fine dining experience with a well-known private chef, you could include a quote
from previous customers of that chef, perhaps saying something along the lines of “A once-in-a-lifetime experience that changed the way I view food.”

Or, let’s say you’re auctioning off an all-expenses-paid cruise trip to the Mediterranean for two for your Valentine’s Day-themed auction. You might say something like, “Mr. Rodriguez, the
generous donor of this item, proposed to his now wife on this same cruise two decades ago. He hopes that the winner of this item will be able to enjoy this romantic experience, just as he did.”

If you’re interested in refining how you approach storytelling in item descriptions or other aspects of fundraising for your nonprofit, Swaim Strategies recommends reading fundraising books to learn more and obtain a firm understanding of foundational concepts.

5. Add Visual Appeal

According to Kwala, graphic design is important for nonprofits for many different reasons, and your fundraising auction descriptions are no exception. Incorporate your organization’s logo,
brand colors, and typography into your auction description template to create a consistent and professional look.

Since the focus of the description should be on the items, you should include photos. This is especially important for virtual or hybrid fundraising events, where attendees may not be able to
see the item in person. It’s also crucial for experience-type auction items since there won’t be a physical object for guests to view.

Aside from giving guests an idea of what your item looks like, photos also attract bids. Ask auction item donors for high-quality photos of physical objects and active shots of people using the item or enjoying the experience to ensure that guests have a good idea of the value the item will bring.

It’s Never Too Late to Start Writing Better Fundraising Auction
Item Descriptions

Although having to put more thought and effort into fundraising auction item descriptions can be daunting for busy nonprofit professionals, it’s well worth the effort. After you’ve incorporated
these best practices into your item descriptions and tailored them to your audience’s interests, be sure to collect data to assess the success of your strategy and help you make future improvements. It’s never too late to begin writing better auction item descriptions—start with your next auction event!


Writing For Non-Profits

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