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Running a Charity Auction: 5 Best Practices for the Tech-Savvy

By: Partner

This post comes to us from Rachel Clark, Vice President of Product & Technology at BidPal, the leading mobile fundraising software company that helps nonprofits engage more donors and raise more money. Since 2008, BidPal has helped nearly 2,800 organizations raise more than $1 billion and connect with over one million unique donors.

Charity auctions are some of the most popular fundraising events, and for good reason.

Because there’s a built-in incentive (the chance to win amazing items!), charity auctions tend to help nonprofits raise a lot of money. Plus, bidding is a fun and interactive activity, making auctions some of the most engaging fundraising events out there.

The one downside to charity auctions, however, is that they can require a lot of planning. Nonprofits have to organize many moving parts for these events to run successfully.

Luckily, now there’s a wide range of technology available to nonprofits to help make their charity auction planning and execution run smoother than in the past.

The problem lies in the fact that, since this technology is relatively new and somewhat specialized, many organizations aren’t yet aware of all the tools available. And if they are aware, many aren’t sure about how they can utilize these tools to make running their charity auctions more efficient and effective.

If you’re one of these organizations, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll cover 5 top technological best practices for hosting a charity auction, including:

  1. Hosting an online auction.
  2. Using an event site as an auction catalog.
  3. Selling tickets and sponsorships online.
  4. Implementing mobile bidding during a silent auction.
  5. Accepting mobile donations during a live appeal.

By the time we’re done, you’ll not only have learned the ins and outs of some of the most popular auction technology, but you’ll also have a better idea of how you can use it to bring your auctions to the next level.

1. Host an online auction.

There are plenty of ways that you can introduce technology into your in-person auctions (and we’ll cover several below!).

However, if your organization really wants to get tech-savvy, you can consider making your entire auction digital by hosting it online.

Online auctions are basically digital silent auctions. The organization creates an event or auction site that lists information and images of all auction items. Participants register by providing their name and credit card information and can then browse the items and place their bids via the online platform.

Why should your organization consider hosting an online auction, you might ask?

Well, they present many advantages:

  1. They’re more cost-effective. Since you won’t have to rent out a venue, hire a caterer, or put money towards many other expenses that come with in-person events, hosting an online auction is usually much more cost-effective.

  1. They’re highly flexible. Because all of the action is taking place online, supporters can place their bids at any time, from anywhere. Plus, since there’s no physical event taking place, your organization can keep bidding open for much longer and open your auction up to many more people than you would be able to with a traditional pen and paper, in-person charity auction.

  1. They’ll help you raise more funds. Since they can run for longer and more people can participate, online auctions can potentially help your organization raise more! It all depends on the makeup of your supporter base, how you market the auction, and which type of auction (in-person vs. online) is most fitting.

  1. Data collection is seamless. Auction sites can easily be set up from event planning or auction software. Because all event data is shared between the site and the software platform, collecting data on your items and supporters is seamless.

While online auctions have many pros, their one major downside is that they’re less engaging than in-person events. Your organization will have no chance to interact with supporters in person, which can make the event seem less compelling and tangible to participants.

To address this issue, many organizations choose to host their online auctions in conjunction with a live or silent auction. It’s also an excellent strategy for maximizing funds!

If your organization wishes to pair an online and in-person event, you can either opt to open the online auction before the event to give participants more time to bid. This combination also affords organizations the opportunity to host an additional online auction afterward to sell off any leftover items.

Just make sure that you find auction or event planning software that has all of the capabilities you need.

Software will be necessary for setting up an online venue and enabling supporters to bid, so it couldn’t be more important to find a platform that fits your organization.

The bottom line: Any way you choose to host one—by itself or before, during, or after an in-person event—online auctions can be an excellent way for your organization to maximize your auction fundraising.

2. Use an event site as an auction catalog.

Besides enabling your organization to host online auctions, auction or event sites can also serve as excellent promotional tools for your in-person events.

As we touched on in the last section, these sites are branded to your event and allow your organization to list photos and information about all auction items. That being the case, they make excellent online auction catalogs!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, auction catalogs are one of the primary methods by which organizations market their live or silent auctions.

These catalogs usually include general information about the event, but their main purpose is to showcase the items. The hope is that, when supporters see all of the amazing items they could win, they’ll be more incentivized to attend (and bid at!) your auction.

While once organizations had to print their catalogs (and some still do), nonprofits can now make them digital by using their auction sites as an online auction catalog.

Since auction sites are generated by auction or event planning software, setting up the site is relatively easy.

Just make sure you record all pertinent item and event information in your auction software, such as:

  • A short description of your organization and event.
  • A tentative schedule.
  • Where your organization plans to put the proceeds.
  • The name of each item featured.
  • A brief (but specific) description of each item.
  • The starting bid amount and market value of each item (important for tax purposes).
  • High quality photos of each item (where applicable).
  • An acknowledgement of all contributing parties (sponsors, donors, volunteers, your committee, etc.).
  • Sponsor recognition (if applicable).

Once you have your site up, disseminating your auction catalog is as simple as sharing the link to your site with your supporters.

Whether you’re hosting a large annual event or a small-scale back-to-school fundraiser, advertising your auction is simpler, more cost-effective, and more environmentally friendly than ever!

The bottom line: By using an auction site as an auction catalog, your organization will expend fewer resources marketing your in-person auctions.

3. Sell tickets and sponsorships online.

Many auction and event planning software platforms also include a portal where organizations can sell tickets and sponsorships online.

If your software has this capability, your organization should definitely take advantage of it!

Being able to buy online will make it much more convenient for guests to purchase tickets. And, especially in this day and age of instant access, the more convenient something is, the more likely supporters are to follow through.

Additionally, using an event planning or auction platform to sell tickets online will give you and your guests much more flexibility over ticketing.

Robust platforms should allow your organization to set multiple ticket packages and sponsorships, so guests can pick and choose to find the best fit.

For example, your organization could sell:

If you’re hosting an event where guests will be seated at tables, many software platforms will even let guests reserve tables and select seats.

The packages you choose all depend on your organization and its constituents, but the point is: when selling tickets through your auction site, you’ll be able to offer attendees more convenience and multiple options.

Not to mention, since your auction site will be linked to your event software, all ticket purchases and data submitted online will automatically be recorded in the platform, allowing you to better analyze your donors and their giving patterns.

Managing RSVPs has never been smarter or easier!

The bottom line: Selling tickets online will provide your guests with a much more flexible and intuitive reservation experience and will make data collection much more efficient.

4. Implement mobile bidding during a silent auction.

When your organization thinks of silent auctions, bid sheets are probably one of the first things that come to mind.

If you’ve hosted a silent auction before, I’m willing to bet that you probably don’t have the most positive association with bid sheets, either.

You know firsthand how much work it takes to generate, format, fill in, and lay out bid sheets for dozens or hundreds of items.

Throw in a complicated checkout process (collecting sheets, matching them to winners, manually inserting the data into your event software or a spreadsheet, etc.), and you realize that dealing with bid sheets is really a downright hassle.

What if I were to tell you that you could eliminate all of this hassle and make more money at your silent auction simply by implementing another bidding method?

The other bidding method? Mobile bidding.

Mobile bidding has transformed the face of silent auctions. Not only does it make executing silent auctions much simpler for your organization, but you’ll also see about three times as many bids as you would see if you were hosting a paper silent auction.

To illustrate why mobile bidding provides these benefits, perhaps it would first be helpful to go back and give quick rundown of how it works:

  1. Your organization sets up an event site using your auction or event planning software. It lists all pertinent information about the items and event.
  2. The day of the auction, all of the information on your event site is automatically transferred over to the mobile interface. During check-in, volunteers will check in guests and get them set up on the mobile bidding platform by pre-registering their credit cards.
  3. Guests can access an app or mobile-responsive website to browse items and place bids. Mobile bidding will send text message notifications to them when they’re outbid, so there’s no more camping out by items to protect bids. Guests can even set maximum bid amounts on certain items and let the software bid for them.
  4. Once it’s time for items to close, bidding will shut down. Because they submitted their payment information in advance, winners are automatically charged.

As you can see, mobile bidding eliminates the need for an involved checkout process. Additionally, since all data is generated from your event-planning software, all of the new data you collect during the actual event will automatically be recorded.

But how does it help your organization potentially triple the funds raised from bidding? In a couple of ways:

  1. It’s more convenient. Now, guests no longer have to write their name, contact information, and bid amount to place a bid. Instead, they can simply access the auction via their mobile phone, and they can even have the software bid for them.

  1. You can keep items open for longer. Because the checkout process is so much faster and simpler with mobile bidding, it won’t require nearly as much time, and you won’t have to stagger item closing to prevent people sneaking in last-minute bids. That means your organization can keep items open for as long as possible to maximize funds. You can even start breaking down your setup before the auction is over, since guests can view the items on their phones.

I could go on and on about the advantages of mobile bidding, but the takeaway is that it will make a world of difference for your silent auction execution and fundraising.

The bottom line: Mobile bidding can help organizations raise more from their silent auctions. It also helps alleviate some of the stress of executing the event by simplifying registration and check-out.

5. Accept mobile donations during a live appeal.

A solid majority of the funds you’ll raise at your charity auction will come from winning bids, but there are also plenty of other strategies you can use to make even more at your auction.

While I won’t go into too much detail here, I will talk about one popular strategy that often includes a technological component: the live appeal.

For those of you who have never heard of live appeals, they’re requests for monetary donations made during in-person events. In regards to auctions, you can implement this strategy during both live auctions and silent auctions.

How it works is that your emcee, auctioneer, or someone from your organization will take the (literal or proverbial) stage and ask the audience to help your nonprofit reach a fundraising goal by the end of the auction.

While your audience could submit their donations on paper pledge cards, it’s much easier to have them submit their donations via their mobile phones.

If you’re using mobile bidding for your silent auction, you wouldn’t even have to invest in a separate piece of technology to execute this strategy. Most mobile bidding interfaces have a donation portal where guests can submit standard, monetary donations apart from bids.

On the other hand, if you’re hosting a live auction, you’ll need to enlist the help of a text-to-give service.

With text-to-give, donors make contributions by texting a keyword to a number that’s unique to your nonprofit. They’ll instantly receive a text with a link that leads them to a page where they can fill in their payment information and submit their donations.

To up the ante, many organizations will display a fundraising thermometer that updates in real-time as guests submit their donations. These thermometers are generated from the mobile bidding or text-to-give software.

When your guests can visualize more clearly how their contributions are adding up to reach the goal and see their friends submitting gifts, too, your donations should soar!

The bottom line: Any way you conduct one, a live appeal is an excellent opportunity to raise more money at your auction and yet another way to give your auction a modern flair by incorporating technology.

For more info on charity auctions and auction technology, make sure to check out, and contact us for any questions you may have.

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