[GUEST POST] Raise More at Your Next Auction: 5 Essentials to Get Right

Charity auctions have always been a staple of the fundraising world and for good reason. These events are engaging for guests and exciting additions to your annual event calendar. 

However, as we head deeper into what’s shaping up to be an unpredictable year, it’s crucial for your nonprofit to stay on the lookout for new fundraising trends and ways to raise more. Adaptability and smart planning are key to weathering any disruption.

This is especially true because charity auctions tend to be fairly complex fundraising events. To return significant fundraising revenue, auctions require considerable investments of time and resources. 

Of course, the exact scale of these investments will depend on the unique specifics of your event, but any auction, ranging from an online auction up to a lavish live auction gala, requires plenty of advance planning. 

This longer planning and execution timeline means you’ve got plenty of opportunities to implement new strategies for raising more with your auction.

Whether you are hosting an onsite event in the future or moving to virtual fundraising now, here are a few tried and true strategies for strengthening your own auction:

  1. Careful planning and prep
  2. Smarter event tech and support
  3. Continuous performance analysis
  4. Investing in your relationships
  5. More focused and dynamic opportunities

The best practices underlying these tips can be applied to other types of fundraising events or campaigns, but we’ll walk through how they can be used specifically to bolster the impact of your next charity auction. Let’s get started.

1. Careful Planning and Prep

Extensive planning and preparation should be a critical first step for any type of event that your nonprofit hosts. This is especially true for auctions because there are so many moving parts to wrangle. Each of these logistical elements needs careful forethought:

  • The date and venue (onsite or virtual) for your event
  • Your guest list and registration processes
  • A plan for promoting the event to guests
  • The type of auction you’ll host — live, silent, or live appeal
  • Any additional digital bidding methods you offer
  • The auction’s schedule from beginning to end
  • The items and packages you’ll offer
  • Your post-event processes, including check-out and follow-up

For organizations that are new to hosting charity auctions, the to-do list can quickly get overwhelming. This is partly because there are elements of auctions that you simply can’t afford to get wrong. These are the details that directly impact how much you’re able to raise and will shape the ultimate return on investment (ROI) for your event. 

One common pain point for nonprofits hosting their first auction is the item pricing process. Learning how to properly price silent auction items (or items for any auction) will ensure you’re able to raise more at your event than you spent preparing it. You’ll need this essential foundation to begin implementing strategies for boosting revenue.

2. Smarter Event Tech and Support

When it comes to fundraising, technology can (and should!) play a more central role than ever. For instance, nonprofits of all sizes now understand that virtual and online fundraising is the new norm and have quickly adapted to that reality by implementing the right software and platforms to support their online efforts

However, it’s not enough to simply implement an online donation form on your website. How will you promote it to potential donors? How will you collect and use the transaction data that it generates? Additional software that supports your core fundraising efforts will help you raise significantly more over the long run than if you used just one or two tools in isolation. 

This is especially true for charity auctions because, as mentioned above, there are a ton of moving parts to manage. Event management software designed specifically for auctions should serve as your tech anchor, but what else can you use? 

If you’re new to auctions or the larger world of nonprofit technology, the challenge might be simply learning what kind of tools are out there to help you raise more. Additional types of software that can help you boost the results of your auction include:

  • Donor management or CRM platforms. An underlying database that can connect with your auction software will be invaluable for storing essential data and helping you identify ways to keep strengthening your events over time.
  • Prospect research software or databases. With this resource, you can screen your auction’s data for proven opportunities to raise more and build relationships with potential major donors who attended your event.
  • Merchandising platforms. As in-person events, auctions are a great chance to raise extra revenue with branded merchandise like t-shirts or other swag. Plus, they’ll give attendees a physical reminder of your nonprofit and the fun they had at your event.
  • Marketing software. Promoting your auction via social media and email is essential for ensuring a strong ROI in terms of guest turnout and promoting ticket add-ons, payment pre-registration, and other revenue boosters.

Check out our complete rundown of top auction software and support tools for more information on any of these categories. Even smaller nonprofits hosting more casual events can benefit from expanding their auction tech stack, but only if you know where to look! Be sure to budget some time in your early planning process for tech research.

3. Continuous Performance Analysis

This essential ties in closely with the previous section about building an effective tech stack for your event efforts. Specifically, your auction software, CRM, and marketing platforms should all contribute to your ability to check in on your performance and make adjustments as needed.

Simply put, your auction strategy needs built-in ways to track your fundraising progress and see where you can improve. By pooling the data generated by your auction, you can significantly boost your ROI over time. This applies to every stage of the auction planning, execution, and follow-up processes, too. For example, be on the lookout:

  • Before your auction: Use your historical data from previous auctions, other events, and past campaigns to guide your strategy. What was the turnout at your last auction? Which marketing outlets fell short on securing registrations? Which types of items generated a lot of interest, and which items failed to return much value? An effective data strategy will build a strong foundation for event planning and help your auctions continually improve.
  • During your auction: With auction management software and mobile bidding tools, you can watch the performance of your auction in real-time and make adjustments throughout the event. If you’re seeing low interest in a particular package at your silent auction, for instance, make announcements live (or via text for virtual events). At a live auction, elements like digital fundraising trackers and leaderboards are extremely effective at boosting the energy and keeping the audience engaged whether supporters are participating from the ballroom or their living rooms.
  • After your auction: The data generated by your event will be invaluable both in the short- and long-terms. Immediately review your overall performance to make sure you hit your fundraising goals. Be sure to personally thank your attendees, especially those who gave the most through bids, add-ons, donations, or other purchases. In the long-run, your data will be useful for future auction planning, as discussed above. Use these insights to build relationships, set achievable goals, and anticipate problem spots.

The best practice of building strong data processes into your fundraising efforts is useful across the board. Think of your past GivingTuesday campaigns; what do you do after the buzz dies down? Too many nonprofits enjoy a surge of support on GivingTuesday but then fail to capitalize on that expanded audience over the long-run. Concrete strategies for recording, organizing, and analyzing that data help you raise more and more each year.

Remember, data hygiene should be an important part of any new data management strategies you implement. This involves creating a standardized approach for entering, labeling, and tidying your data. A disorganized database full of duplicate entries can quickly become useless. Explore this data hygiene guide from AccuData to learn more.

4. Investing in Your Relationships

Relationship-building is a huge opportunity for nonprofits that host events, and especially auctions. By investing time and resources in strengthening your bonds with key supporters and partners, you lay a strong foundation for continued fundraising success. Examples of relationships worth investing in include your relationships with:

  • All attendees of your events, particularly generous and highly-engaged donors
  • All volunteers who give your events crucial logistical support
  • Businesses and individuals who donate auction items for your events
  • Any local businesses that sponsor or otherwise support your events

Taking the time to build personal relationships and express gratitude toward each of these groups is essential for making your auction efforts more sustainable each year. Simply put, you can’t pull it off without them, so make sure they know you appreciate their support. If you’re a newer organization without much experience conducting personal outreach and follow-up, leverage existing resources like donation thank-you templates.

This applies to the earlier stages of your auction planning, as well. Make a strong impression on potential item donors and sponsors to 1) boost the chances they’ll donate an item or package, and 2) remember your organization even if they’re unable to donate this time. Use this OneCause auction donation request letter for an idea of how to get started.

Remember, healthy retention of supporters is essential for continually raising more with your events. Repeat donors are much more likely to give to your cause and place bids at your auctions. This means you’d rather have an auction full of repeat attendees than only brand new guests (although they’re great, too). Investing in your relationships repays itself in dividends over the long-run.

5. More Focused and Dynamic Opportunities

Finally, during the lead-up to your event (whether live or virtual) and during your auction, make sure to provide plenty of targeted and engaging ways to give. You can’t raise more with your events without first providing more opportunities to do so. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make plenty of live appeals. You should make live donation appeals at several points throughout the event. Provide guests with mobile bidding and giving options to maximize results, and use a digital fundraising thermometer or digital tracker to create a sense of urgency.
  • Focus your auction offerings. Auctions that offer fewer but more targeted, exciting, or unique items to guests tend to see better results. Too many offerings can have the negative effect of overwhelming your guests and reducing the number of overall bids that items receive. By focusing your procurement efforts on a smaller range of items highly targeted to your guests’ interests, you’re sure to see more competition and engagement. 
  • Offer experiences and packages. This is another trend in item procurement. Donors are increasingly interested in packages of items and experiences, like unique tours, parties, and trips, over standalone items. Packages and experiences make bidders feel that they’re getting more (financial and emotional/personal) bang for their buck, so to speak, and will generate much more interest than single items offered individually.
  • Create a P2P strategy to promote your event. The peer-to-peer fundraising model can be extremely effective for promoting your auction to your community and getting the attention of a wider audience. For large-scale auction events, ambassador fundraising, in particular, is a great way to leverage the relationships of your most dedicated and well-connected advocates in the community.
  • Promote additional giving opportunities. If your guests and donors are eligible for any additional ways to give, make sure to let them know! Corporate philanthropy programs like matching gifts and volunteer grants are common examples for auctions since these events can yield fairly large individual donations and can require large volunteer teams.

Take the time to consider exactly how you’re asking attendees to give to your nonprofit. Strengthening your range of offerings is always a good idea, but remember that bidding shouldn’t be the only way that individuals can contribute to the success of your auction! 

By covering the bases from the planning process to your underlying technology to how you provide giving opportunities, these tips will ensure you can raise more with every auction you host. This is more important now than ever as nonprofits of all sizes learn to make the most of their resources in new virtual environments. 

By Kelly Velasquez-Hague, Director of Content Marketing, OneCause

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.

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