Auctions have long represented the most effective fundraisers for thousands of non-profit organizations. Recent advances in technology will help “supercharge” your event results. Now non-profits can access exciting and desirable experiences that can be auctioned off and they can drive winning bids higher during the auction itself! This playbook will help you identify your best options, ask the right questions, find the right partners, and maximize your auction efficiency. Particular emphasis will be given to vacations as they are by far the most popular experiences at fundraising events. We’ve spent several years studying and participating in the process of helping non-profits convert fun experiences into donations at their galas. We hope you find the following information useful!
We’ve asked hundreds of non-profit event planners to tell us about their auction events, and we’ve noted their priorities, identified problems, and discovered specific solutions to improve auction efficiency. We also discovered many great companies that specifically provide non-profits with technology, service and product (auction items) in support of auction events. The great news is recent developments in service offerings means that organizations of all sizes have access to technology and services previously available only to larger scale organizations.
Elements of a Successful Auction
Auction Priorities - Generally speaking, most event planners want to be sure that their event runs smoothly and that they raise as much money as possible. They have a limited staff, limited budget and limited time to gather items for their auction. If an event planner uses technology to support their event, they need total confidence that the technology will function properly and not let them down. In preparing for the event they need to understand the goals for the auction and gather the appropriate items and promotional materials that they believe will resonate with the donor audience, fit the theme of the fundraiser and hit their donation goals with all of the elements of the fundraising event.
Problems / Challenges / Tasks - Planning a good fundraising event takes a great deal of time and energy. Every team has a limited staff, limited budget and limited time to accomplish a wide range of complex and important tasks. The tasks range from choosing a date, venue selection and reservation, developing invitations and building donor lists , security, entertainment, catering, signage, ticketing, training volunteers and charging them with gathering items for raffles or silent/ live auctions. Several of the tasks associated with your fundraising event are detailed below:
Procuring Auction and Raffle Items: Event planners typically spend a lot of time gathering items and fun experiences for their fundraising events. The search for donated items and the coordination of volunteers to approach past generous donors, social networks and local businesses can consume a lot of time that could have been spent on other key event aspects. While vacations are the most popular items at events, they are often the hardest to secure because vacation home owners are often very busy, and they are tough to reach. Additionally it is difficult to get good photos and details of the property, draft a nice promotional flyer, and negotiate blackout dates. It all takes time that could be spent selling tickets, securing sponsors and promoting the event.
Finalizing Auction Items: The selection and vetting of the auction items often involves a committee. Time is consumed in logistics to engage the committee to get their preferences or votes in order to select the final items that will be sold to raise money at the auction event.
Creating Promotional Materials: The promotional materials (flyers, bid sheets, etc) should be self consistent and appear the same across the physical materials present, projected media and when viewed on a smartphone or tablet. Many times an event will utilize many formats; raffle, silent auction, live auction, etc. The ‘branding’ of the non-profit and consistency of the promotional materials can either add to the professionalism in the event or detract from it. In addition, the right promotional materials including high resolution photography, accurate descriptions of experience and items clear explanations of exactly what is included all build energy in the event which will benefit your non-profit with higher audience engagement.
Loading Items into Mobile Bidding Platform: Non-profits looking to supercharge their auction results are Increasingly turning to mobile bidding (bidding on your smartphone) solutions. These have proven (multiple studies) to greatly increase auction proceeds for a variety of reasons. Ask anyone who has been through the process of loading content (photos, logos, descriptions, restrictions) into a mobile bidding system, and they will tell you it can be a very time consuming part of the auction readiness process.
Solutions and Best Practices: Several great solutions now help solve many of the auction-related problems identified above and make the critical tasks far more efficient by giving event planning team more time back to focus on other crucial elements of the event such as invitations, registrations, ticketing and sponsorships. This dramatically improves results and helps your event run far more smoothly.
Procuring Auction Items: Event planners and auctioneers for non-profit organizations can now access a wide range of auction items and fun experiences through a variety of online sources for experiences that will add excitement and additional fundraising opportunities to the event. For both physical items to sell onsite and experiences there are several sources for “consignment” items each with different financial models, features and benefits. As an example the TravelPledge solution offers a wide range of inventory options for the non-profits with no risk, automated branded promotional materials and net donation rates as high as 80% of winning bid amounts. The fast availability of exciting inventory to sell gives the event planners time back to spend on promoting or organizing the event.
Finalizing Auction Items: Most non-profit events have a committee that selects the items for their event auction. There are several ways to gain consensus of the committee to finalize the list ranging from holding in person selection meetings, phone calls and composing email chains. One automated solution is available from TravelPledge. Account holders have ability to ’favorite’ a set of candidate experiences for an auction and send a link to their selection committee members. The members view the experience list and vote for their preferred items. This automated process saves a ton of time chasing down busy committee members for their input and provides a record of why the items were selected.
Creating Promotional Materials: Event organizers want to have a consistent style in the Flyers, Bid Sheets, and all Audio-Visual projection materials used during an event. Common solutions are to outsource to a graphics design group or use time from the team to develop the materials. TravelPledge provides a free tool to create your auction bid sheets and flyers that automatically harmonizes all the materials for the auction. An additional time saving benefit to this technique is that all the items promoted are saved for the non-profit for quick re-use in any follow on event.
Loading Items Into Mobile Bidding Platform: A hidden cost of mobile bidding can be the significant amount of time and effort devoted to loading the auction materials into the mobile bidding platform. Each mobile bidding platform has a process to follow to upload the descriptions, photos and other media to support each auction item. Another solution to save considerable time is being rolled out. TravelPledge developed software that can be configured for use with any mobile bidding company to fully automate the loading of auction items into the non-profit mobile bidding dashboard. This is a huge time saver for anyone planning to use mobile bidding and has the added benefit of automated check out once the event has concluded. Look in the featured section of Technology providers in this paybook for details on compatible mobile bidding companies.
AUCTION CHECKLIST See the Addendum of this playbook to find a valuable Auction Checklist that should help increase your auction efficiency and maximize your event’s success. With the right combination of technology, service, product and partners, future events can build on your prior events to give back even more time to the team to enhance the donor experience and increase giving.
If an event planner uses technology to support their event, they need total confidence that the technology will function properly and not let them down. The great news is recent developments in the technology partners available to all non-profits are making auctions easier, more effective and more accessible than ever before.
Our research uncovered many great technology solutions that make it much easier to get and promote inventory, easier for attendees to place bids and to see where they stand and to see when they are outbid. Non-profit organizations regardless of size can find a technology solution which is affordable and designed to suit the level of support desired. All of this can now be done from your audiences smartphone! Larger events can display a “big board” showing the total amount raised during the event and show winning bids on a projected screen image. The pioneers in this market started out by bringing in several hundred thousand dollars of equipment and staff to support the event. The industry is quickly gravitating to what we believe makes the most sense- Mobile bidding using iPhones/ Android devices. We’ve heard several examples of implementing mobile technology increasing auction proceeds by as much as 300% year over year. Each of the mobile bidding providers is in different stages of development, and each offers pros and cons in terms of reliability, user interface and pricing.
Each of the mobile bidding companies offer some form of mobile or online bidding and payment processing. Each offers pros and cons in terms of reliability, integration with experience providers, user interface and pricing. Contact us and we will be happy to give you our thoughts on each solution and help you identify the right technology partner for your next event.
The following mobile bidding companies provide useful technology and can easily integrate directly to the TravelPledge API, eliminating the need to manually upload item details. Be sure to ask your mobile bidding partner about this integration.
Many of the companies providing mobile (and touchpad) bidding technology solutions also provide some level of service to support the auction event. The amount of service provided varies widely (even between individual franchises of a given technology provider!) Alternatively, you may decide to hire an experienced event planner to help ensure your event runs smoothly and to handle the relationship with the technology provider. Tip- don’t count on the event planner to replace the staff recommended by the technology provider. Don’t take the chance of things breaking down in the middle of your event. Adding the right level of quality customer service can make the event so much more enjoyable for the attendees and can make it easier for the event organizer to focus on the big picture. Useful added services you should look for an event planner/ technology partner to provide include:
Every great auction event needs great items in its auction. Many event organizers rely on local businesses and supporters to help with gathering auction items. Restaurants, bars, amusement parks, salons, bowling alleys, and art galleries are all logical targets for event organizers that are seeking items. Supporters that own vacation properties are often asked to donate a spare week or two in support of the cause. Vacations are by far the most popular events at silent auctions but often times the most difficult to easily get (from within your donor base). Memorabilia and autographed items are often very popular as well, and there are several companies in the business of providing this sort of merchandise for silent auctions. Some examples of these include Unique Auction Items, Bluetree Marketing and others. In some cases, depending on the typical attendee, adding these extra items can help your results.
A wide range of items will enhance the event experience
In any case, two primary goals should be to get a reasonable number of quality items (to avoid “auction fatigue” and dilute your donor pool) and to ensure that a significant portion of the winning bid goes to your cause. Since the potential donation created by the event is typically limited by how much each attendee can spend, it’s important to consider how any “consignment” items will be perceived by potential donors and if they could actually “dilute” the your potential donations. In the figure below you’ll find a comparison between donations generated with a typical consignment program versus donations realized using the TravelPledge program.
Consignment versus TravelPledge program to maximize auction results
Vacations - Geronimo Solutions, LLC spent millions of dollars developing technology to allow non-profits to easily convert vacations donated by supporters and to provide access to $millions in vacation rental inventory donated by property owners all over the world. A best practice implemented in TravelPledge is to harmonize the donated vacation promotional materials with the selected auction items to create the same look and feel for an event. Additionally, Owners that participate must donate either ALL of the rent or HALF of the rent, which ensures a large donation for non-profits that use the vacations (this is sharp contrast to previous programs and a unique benefit of the TravelPledge program). The technology solution allows non-profits to easily “claim” vacations and auction them at events. Vacations are also offered on year-round private label TravelPledge fundraising websites.
Interface allows event organizer to claim a vacation for an upcoming event.
Golf Rounds- Geronimo rolled out a solution for golf course managers to save time donating certificates (that non-profits get access to each year for events), and the program is gaining traction very quickly. This solution provides a best in class simple interface for non-profits to enter a geographic location of interest and quickly find nearby golf courses that offer certificates for their auctions. The sale of these certificates will always give the non-profit at least 80% of the winning bid.
Interface allows event organizer to claim rounds of golf for an upcoming event.
Lessons- Geronimo rolled out a solution for instructors to post lesson certificates. This program provides a simple interface for instructors to post certificates for use by non-profits and automates the entire process for them. Non-profit leaders can easily get lessons (golf lessons and soon guitar, sports, art, cooking, etc) for their events when they log into their TravelPledge admin accounts.
Interface allows event organizer to claim golf lessons for an upcoming event.
“Bucket List Items”, Cruises, Golf Vacations, Tours, Broadway Shows, Dinners, and more - Geronimo Solutions, LLC continues to launch new platforms to gather all sorts of experiences and those are now beginning to appear for event organizers. Platforms such as OneSpareCruise.com, OneSpareTable.com, OneSpareTour.com, OneSparePhotoShoot.com and others are expanding the diversity of auction items available. These new platforms make it easy for business owners to post certificates for use by non-profits and automates the entire process for them. Non-profit leaders can easily get fun experiences for their events when they log into their TravelPledge admin accounts.
Recent advances in technology combined with easy access to auction items, reliable mobile solutions and well organized staff all can pay big dividends at your next event. It’s well worth spending a little extra time upfront to identify the right partners that will help make your life easier, make you look good, and help to optimize your auction results year after year. With the right set-up each event will build on prior events and make your team even more efficient leading to better events. Event attendees will enjoy your event, tell their friends and support next year’s event!
Founded in 2010 Geronimo has developed several unique platforms that help non-profits organizations easily connect with businesses. Business owners are able to leverage the promotional power of non-profit fundraising events, while non-profits raise more money each year. Geronimo’s platforms enable golf courses and resorts, golf management companies, vacation rental managers, golf professionals, cruise lines, restaurants, retailers, and instructors to leverage the promotional reach of tens of thousands of non-profit organizations to help promote their unique experiences.
More than 7,000 non-profit organizations have created accounts on Geronimo’s straightforward "Travelpledge" fundraising solution. More than $50M per year in fun experiences is now available to participating non-profit organizations. Each participating non-profit is required to promote the generous business owners that donate some or all of the proceeds.
The following auction Checklist can be used to enhance your auction results. This checklist is focussed on the auction processes within the event only and is not a substitute for a full event planning guide.
Planning Phase (typically 6 months or more prior to the event):
Readiness Phase (4-6 weeks prior to the event)