How to Organize a Chinese Auction

By: Emilie Sennebogen  | 
Don't throw a run-of-the-mill auction; put a little spin on it.
Don't throw a run-of-the-mill auction; put a little spin on it.

Running a non-profit organization is often an appealing alternative to anyone who feels corporate America has worn out its welcome. Dedicating yourself to helping a worthy cause is a noble way to make a living and not a bad way to earn a paycheck -- even if it's not quite what you used to make. That being said, just like any job, non-profits come with their challenges. Fundraising duties are relentless, and it can be challenging to keep coming up with fresh ways to get donations in the bank.

Auctions are great ways to raise money for a cause, either as their own event or as part of a larger event. Silent auctions are quite popular because they're low key and fairly easy to organize. Bidders casually walk around, usually with a complimentary cocktail in hand, bidding on donated goods and services that are displayed on a large table. If you see something you like, you simply write your bid on the sheet. It's all out in the open, so you can see what the person before you bid and decide if you want to up the ante. When the auction is over, the highest bidder wins the prize.


If this type of event has become a little too standard for your organization, why not mix it up a bit and consider a different type of silent auction? A Chinese auction is essentially the combination of a silent auction and a raffle. Rather than having bid sheets, bidders buy tickets and use those to bid for prizes. The more you want something, the more tickets you put in the jar to increase your odds of winning. Sound like a fun alternative to the standard silent auction? Read on for the rules and regulations of a Chinese auction.

Chinese Auction Rules

There are a few different types of Chinese auctions, so the rules depend on which one you choose. The standard format is the one we talked about on the first page, where people put their tickets into individual jars at the table. Another way to do it is to display all of the goods, but have everyone drop their tickets into a central jar. That way, they have the possibility of winning any of the prizes, which may be appealing to your guests.

If you really want to make it exciting, you can run it in more of an old-school auction format, where there's a central stage and people bid on each item as it comes up. Popular items may create bidding wars, with people offering hundreds of tickets per item. This may cause people to run out of tickets quickly, resulting in more ticket sales. If you choose this format, be sure to have ticket sellers walking through the crowd.


Regardless of what type of auction you choose, there are a couple of things you can do to maximize profitability. First, you should price your tickets in bundles of anywhere from 25 to 100. Silent auctions usually have a minimum bid for each item, which Chinese auctions don't have. So, if everyone only buys a few tickets, you're not going to raise the funds you hoped for. You can package ticket bundles together for quick transactions as people come in the door. You also may want to consider bundling lower-priced items together to make an attractive prize. For example, a gift certificate for a pedicure would go well with one for a manicure or a facial. The greater the perceived value, the more people will be willing to spend to get it.

Originally Published: Apr 9, 2012

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  • Reynolds, Kimberly. "Fundraising With a Chinese Auction." April 1, 2012.