The Power Of Community – Online Auctions

05/19/2020 9:10 AM | Stephanie Owens (Administrator)

As Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) works to assist communities to connect and learn from one another, the powerful trend of community fundraising and online sales is flooding in. DCI reached out to a few successful efforts to understand the process, partners, and price tag for doing an auction. We are pleased to share some examples of communities that held successful online auctions to rally the community in a new and profound way. They have shared their experiences and takeaways in hope that we can all learn and get better at navigating this tool. Thank you to the partners who generously shared their information:

  1. Chaffee County - Now This is Love Auction TeamChaffee County Visitors Bureau, Salida Chamber Of Commerce, Salida Business Alliance, and Buena Vista Chamber Of Commerce partnered to create an online auction and storefront for businesses in Chaffee County to sell gift cards, products and services amidst the challenges of COVID-19. 
  2. Cañon City Partners - Royal Gorgeous: Cañon City COVID-19 Business Leader Taskforce, The City of Cañon City, City of Florence, Fremont County Tourism Council, Cañon City Chamber of Commerce, Vistaworks, and Daily Record local newspaper. Vistaworks volunteered their man-hours to set up the website and run the marketing campaign at cost, and the Chamber of Commerce employees volunteered their time to carry-out the online auction.
  3. Leadville/Lake County - Share the Love Auction Team: Local business owners came to their partners at the City of Leadville, Main Street Program, Chamber of Commerce, Lake County Economic Development Corporation, Lake County Community Fund, Leadville Herald-Democrat local newspaper, Lake County Tourism Panel to run an auction to benefit their businesses along with the existing Lake County School District Arts program and the Lake County Emergency Relief Fund.



    Chaffee County: Now This is Love Auction

    Canon City: Royal Gorgeous Deals

    Leadville/Lake County: Share the Love Auction


    The online auction went live just 3 days after conception, ran for 10 days

    From start to finish, money was in the hands of the businesses within 15 days.

    The live auction ran for 14 days.

    Main Street partnered with the existing Lake County School District Arts Program auction 9 days before launch date. The auction ran for 12 days


    There were 871 different items in the auction from gift cards to art and even furniture. There were 2,017 different items sold in the auction

    58 businesses, one business had 13 artists participate. 223 products uploaded. Our digital marketing reached 1.5 million people and the site had over 30,000 browsers.

    Over 30 local small businesses benefited, in addition to approximately 20 more on behalf of the Lake County School District Arts Program


    The overall auction generated $116,514.88. 100% of all sales went directly back to each business.

    The overall auction generated only $9,400 in sales. 93.5% went back to the businesses

    Cañon City did not have an independent fund adequate enough to absorb the 6.5% fees. This was an inhibitor for businesses to participate.

    Approximately $50,000 in total sales/donations was raised

    • Approximately $40,000 in sales to local businesses
    • Approximately $5,000 in donations to Lake County Emergency Relief Fund
    • Approximately $5,000 in sales/donations benefiting Lake County School District Arts program



  • Create a shared spreadsheet system to organize the data and share buyer information with business owners.
  • Have a single point of contact for businesses to cut down on any confusion, redundant messaging, and build trust amongst all auction participants.
  • Create a form to process incoming items and a FAQ for buyers and sellers: Check out the example from the Now This is Love Auction Be sure to communicate any limits/restrictions, in addition to responsibilities of businesses (taxation, shipping, etc.) clearly to participants when promoting – make sure that your partners are on board
  • Set, track and update realistic goals to give customers a tangible feeling of how their contribution is pushing the program forward (Share the Love started at a goal of $10,200, we approached that goal in the first two days, thanked the customers for helping us to reach that goal, raised to $25,000, then raised again to $50,000 – repeat as necessary!). New auction items can be added daily so buyers will continue to check back and purchase more items.
  • Set limits on total amount of items each participant can list to encourage broad participation (there are likely limits, per level of hosting fees, on the total number of items that can be posted). If an item was sold as a "Buy Now”, businesses can restock the auction.


  • Promotions/Advertising – reached a broad audience of prospective local business participants and prospective customers utilizing all tools available to each stakeholder/partner
  • Shared Costs – despite unexpectedly high transaction fees, sharing the costs between three partners (Main Street Program, Chamber of Commerce and EDC) made final costs palatable/justifiable for each organization – no fees were passed through to either business participants or customers
  • Utilize individual strengths of participants and maximize volunteer contributions


Offer customers option of donating directly to one or more non-profit beneficiaries

It is likely that the needs/desires/challenges faced by your local business community are unique – be prepared to pivot if the feedback you receive makes sense to improve your program’s chances of success – again make sure all of your partners are on board with proposed improvements


  1. UNDERSTAND THE FEE STRUCTURE. Explore all options for online auction hosting and online payments. 32auctions, eBay, etc. and PayPal, Stripe, etc. Consider hosting on a local site/storefront as well.
    Here is an example of processing fees:
    • Payment Amount = $100
    • 32auctions Fee = $3.30
    • PayPal or Stripe Fee = $3.20
    • Amount Raised = $93.50
  2. CONSOLIDATE ACCOUNTS. Funnel all funds through one account on PayPal/Stripe. Preferably a non-profit account to avoid higher fees
  3. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. Have a detailed plan in place for the immediate distribution of funds after the auction to get the funds in the hands of your business community and non-profit partners as quickly as possible.
  4. CLEAR GUIDELINES + POLICIES. Make sure the sellers note state local policies. i.e. sales taxation issues – donations vs. retail sales, etc. As well as noting shipping policies/information in their item description, e.g. Local pickup only, shipping not included, shipping included, etc. Be detailed about the process for both buyers and sellers and make sure they understand what is expected of them.  
  5.  ROTATE FEATURING ITEMS FOR SALE. With a lot of products to sift through, we noticed an uptick in sales after the website rotated featuring the more popular and desirable items to sale. 
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