Designing Your Nonprofit Auction Catalog: 5 Strategies

Learn more about how to create an auction catalog for your nonprofit fundraising event

When it comes to auctions, the items your nonprofit procures can make or break your fundraising success. To maximize your event’s potential, your items need to be unique, high-value, and appealing to your specific supporter base.

One effective way to showcase your nonprofit’s auction items is to design a catalog. By listing all of the available prizes in a single booklet, along with additional information about your fundraiser and organization, your auction catalog can serve as both a marketing tool and a guide to the auction event itself.

To design an auction catalog for your nonprofit’s next event, try the following five strategies:

  1. Understand When to Create an Auction Catalog
  2. Incorporate Your Nonprofit’s Branding
  3. Write Item Descriptions With Your Audience in Mind
  4. Acknowledge Your Event Sponsors
  5. Develop Digital and Print Versions of Your Catalog

While some nonprofits pay professional graphic designers to produce their auction catalogs, it’s possible to make one yourself with the right tools and a little creativity. There are plenty of templates available online which you can customize to meet your organization’s needs, no matter your level of design experience. Let’s dive in!

1. Understand When to Create an Auction Catalog

Although creating a high-quality auction catalog isn’t as difficult as it might seem, it still requires an investment of time and effort. So, it isn’t necessary to make one for every auction your nonprofit might host.

According to the fundraising experts at Winspire, auction catalogs are best suited to in-person live auctions. These auctions tend to feature fewer items than silent or virtual auctions, and the list is finalized further in advance, giving you the time to create a catalog that include all of the items you’ll feature.

Attendees at an in-person silent auction are most engaged when they’re actively browsing the tables instead of reading a booklet, and it’s easier for virtual auction participants to view items directly in your event software rather than going back and forth between the platform and a catalog. For an in-person live auction, however, it’s helpful for participants to read through a guide to the event and choose the items they’re interested in before the intense bidding process begins.

The silent and virtual auction alternative to a live auction catalog is well-designed bid sheets. Above the space where participants write their bids and contact information, include a creative title, description, and photo of each silent auction item on the corresponding sheet to catch supporters’ attention.

2. Incorporate Your Nonprofit’s Branding

Branding makes your nonprofit recognizable and memorable for supporters, and it helps maintain consistency across various marketing materials. Your auction catalog is no exception. As you design the booklet, make sure it accurately reflects your nonprofit’s brand.

Kwala’s guide to nonprofit branding lists several essential brand aspects to incorporate into your auction catalog, including:

  • Your organization’s name and logoEspecially for newer supporters, these elements provide a first impression of who your nonprofit is and what you stand for, so they should appear on the cover page of your auction catalog.
  • A consistent color scheme. Make sure the text colors in the booklet contrast adequately with their background colors to improve readability.
  • Interesting but legible typography. Add visual variety to your catalog by choosing two fonts—one for headings and one for body text—that complement each other. However, to avoid a cluttered look, it’s best not to use more than three different typefaces. Also, make sure to choose typefaces that are easy to read, even for titles and other aspects of your catalog where you might want to add a visual flair.

Additionally, consider writing a few sentences in the booklet detailing your organization’s mission and how you plan to use the funding you bring in from the auction. This way, supporters can feel confident that their event contributions will further a good cause.

3. Write Item Descriptions With Your Audience in Mind

Your auction catalog should contain enough information to be a useful resource for event participants, but not so much that it could become overwhelming. In most cases, a total of 12-15 live auction items allows you to keep both the catalog and the event itself to a reasonable length.

As you describe each item in the catalog, consider your supporters’ perspective by following these tips:

  • Group the items into relevant categories. To appeal to different supporters’ interests, organize the catalog so they can easily find what they want to bid on. You might include categories such as travel, food and beverages, arts and entertainment, and family-friendly prizes.
  • Keep your descriptions concise. You’ll want to fit a maximum of two to three item descriptions on each page. Make them easy to skim by keeping paragraphs short and using bullet points when possible.
  • Mention any item restrictions. If concert tickets are only valid for certain dates or a vacation package limits the winner’s choice of airline, let supporters know in the catalog so they can make an informed decision about whether to bid on the item.

Next to each item description, include a related image—either a photo of the physical item or something related to the experience you’re auctioning off, like a picture of the destination the winner of a vacation package would travel to. This not only makes your catalog design more aesthetically pleasing but also gets supporters excited about bidding on each item.

4. Acknowledge Your Event Sponsors

Many fundraising events, including auctions, can benefit from corporate sponsorships. Some businesses may be willing to support your event through financial contributions, while others will provide auction items at a reduced cost or as in-kind donations.

However, for a partnership between a business and a nonprofit to succeed, it needs to be mutually beneficial. Your sponsorship requests should clearly state that in return for your corporate partner’s contributions, they’ll receive free publicity from your organization. The easiest way to do this is to include your sponsors’ names and logos in your event marketing materials—including your auction catalog.

If a business donated a specific auction item, include a brief acknowledgment under its description, such as “This item was contributed by [sponsor name]” accompanied by the business’s logo. Then, add a page listing all of your financial sponsors with a title like “Thank You to Our Event Sponsors” to show your gratitude and honor your agreement.

5. Develop Digital and Print Versions of Your Catalog

Make sure your auction catalog is finalized well in advance of your event, so you can both convert it to a PDF and send it to a print shop to make physical copies. There are two main reasons for this, and the first is convenience. During your auction, participants can choose whether they’d prefer to look through the print booklet or download the digital version on their smartphones.

The other reason is to improve your event marketing strategy, as aligning your online and offline efforts allows you to reach more supporters. Include a print catalog with any event invitations you send by mail, and link to the PDF on your nonprofit’s website and in emails to give supporters a sneak peek of your auction items.

An auction catalog is an essential tool for the success of any in-person live auction events your nonprofit may host. Well-written item descriptions convince supporters to bid on your high-value items, and incorporating your nonprofit’s branding into both the print and digital versions of your booklet helps align your catalog with your other marketing efforts. Plus, it’s a great place to thank the sponsors who made your event possible.

After your auction, revisit your catalog to evaluate its strengths and areas for improvement. As with any marketing strategy, time and practice will help each auction catalog you make turn out better than the last.