As we quickly approach the summer and fall months, many nonprofits are on the lookout for ways to energize their donors, strengthen their connections, and raise mid-year revenue.
An auction is a fantastic and flexible way to engage your donors any time of year while generating fun as well as proceeds for your nonprofit.
With all of the strategic planning and coordination that goes into hosting an auction, it’s important that you take the time to plan your approach strategically. Maximizing your auction’s fundraising and donor engagement potential will help you get the most from your event. Our top auction tips include:
- Research your audience.
- Adapt your engagement strategy for your auction type.
- Actively encourage donor engagement.
Effective auctions have lots of moving parts, but by planning ahead with an eye toward maximizing engagement, your hard work will pay off. Engaged donors mean more excitement, more bids, and more revenue for your mission!
Research your audience.
Successful fundraising begins with understanding your donors. Before you start planning, spend time researching your audience. Research can help you make smarter, data-driven decisions on everything from which items to select, to what type of auction will work for your audience.
When researching your auction’s audience, be sure to:
- Identify trends in your donor data: Your nonprofit attracts different kinds of people, but there are likely several trends among your engaged donors. Comb through your donor data to identify different donor segments based on demographic information: age, location, or occupation, plus engagement history like donation channels, frequency, and average amounts.
- Create donor personas: Use the trends in your data to create donor personas. Donor personas are archetypes that represent your supporter segments. One could be an active, young student. Another could be an older executive who is passionate about philanthropy. These personas guide your engagement strategy and help you align everything from your communications to message to auction offerings with your target supporter groups.
- Design a unique strategy for each persona: Different personas require different engagement strategies. Younger donors might prefer to connect with your nonprofit via social media, while older donors might engage via your website or mail. When designing marketing materials for your auction, segment your donors and then tailor your messaging to fit each persona’s unique needs and interests.
One important note: be specific when creating your donor personas. The more details you can include, the better you can adapt your engagement strategy. As you continue planning, regularly refer to your donor personas at key auction decision points. They will help you make sure your auction aligns with your donor motivations.
Adapt your engagement strategy for your auction type.
To maximize your auction’s success, the type of auction you host should influence your engagement strategy. Let’s take a look at the auction types and potential engagement strategies for each.
Silent auctions occur using either traditional bid sheets or mobile bidding tools. Attendees view items and then silently make their bids on their phones or by writing their names down. To keep donors engaged during a silent auction, be sure to:
- Provide additional activities to supplement the silent auction. Look to honorees, an event program, raffles, and live entertainment to keep attendees engaged and create a richer experience outside of just bidding.
- Have volunteers answer any questions or talk through items in greater detail. An emcee can highlight items and announce bidding and closures throughout the event.
- Share the impact that a starting bid can have on your nonprofit. This will reinforce the idea that bids will go towards a great cause.
In live auctions, each bidder is assigned a paddle or bidding number and an auctioneer announces items for attendees to bid on. Live auctions are very engaging, but these additional tips can help drive more fun and proceeds:
- Save the biggest or highest-value items until the end of the auction to build momentum and bidding.
- Hire an auctioneer. If you can, have a professional auctioneer help you with the actual live bidding. Auctioneers can help you raise more for each item.
- Offer cocktail or meal breaks during the auction to give participants time to mingle with one another.
Virtual auctions have become increasingly popular in recent years, and they’re one of the most engaging options for an online event. To maintain virtual engagement:
- Make the event as interactive as possible with chat functions, mobile bidding software, and breakout rooms to encourage connection and shared experiences.
- Use gamification, such as a fundraising thermometer, leaderboards, and outbid notifications to motivate attendees to keep bidding.
- Live-stream your celebrations so that viewers at home feel like they are at the event and a part of the fundraising.
- Test your technology in advance to avoid technical issues on the day of your auction.
Hybrid auctions are a great way to engage in-person and virtual attendees at the same time. However, hybrid auctions do require more careful planning since you are designing two experiences. Here’s how you can keep your hybrid auction engaging for everyone:
- Start planning your event early. We recommend at least 4 months of planning time. Create a schedule of events that can help keep everyone on the same page, whether they’re an attendee or at home watching the show.
- Similar to virtual events, use gamification tools to keep attendees motivated.
- Make online bidding tools accessible to both in-person and online guests in order to streamline the giving experience for all.
To have the greatest chance for success, your engagement plans must be tailored to your unique context. Think of the type of event that would interest the most people. Do your supporters value in-person connections or do they prefer the convenience of attending events from the comfort of their own homes? You know your donors best, so choose based on what is right for your donor base!
Actively encourage donor engagement.
One of the best ways to encourage engagement and generate some advance excitement for your auction is to host a peer-to-peer fundraising or ambassador campaign in the weeks leading up to it. Create promotional materials for the auction that explain your mission, recruit well-connected supporters to spread the word, and then let them loose!
This strategy works especially well for live, silent, or virtual auctions held as part of a larger event like an annual gala or spring walkathon. During the event, take some time to honor your ambassadors, reward them for their fundraising and promotional help, and maybe have them complete a funny challenge or two.
What other steps can you take to maximize engagement with your auction? We recommend looking at all of its individual elements and finding ways that they can be improved to offer a better, more exciting, or more streamlined experience for donors.
According to The Giving Experience Study by OneCause, ease was the number one giving motivator for donors. A seamless giving experience is a top priority for today’s charitable givers. To make giving easy, be sure to:
- Share instructions and rules in advance: You don’t want donors to feel confused about how the process works. Share instructions and rules in advance of the event and reiterate them before bidding starts. Even better, post the rules in places easily accessible like your website or fundraising page.
- Procure great items: Desirable items can drive up bidding prices and engagement, resulting in more revenue for you. Connect with local businesses to secure popular items in your community. Be sure to refer to your donor personas to assess which types of items would be most enticing to your participants.
- Use mobile bidding software: Whether you’re hosting an in-person or virtual auction, mobile bidding software makes participation seamless and convenient. Participants can make bids directly from their mobile devices, anytime, anywhere.
- Recruit experienced volunteers: Event managers already have enough to handle on the day of the auction, so recruit experienced volunteers to help with the workload and to interact with donors. Participants will enjoy the opportunity to connect with others, especially if they’re knowledgeable about your cause. Volunteers can help to engage your donors and keep them coming back for more.
Prioritizing your participants’ experience at your event will motivate them to give and will encourage them to continue engaging with your nonprofit. No matter the type of auction you host, putting attendee experience first will help you reach your fundraising goals.
Auctions are naturally an engaging event, but focusing on maximizing their fundraising potential can help you reach your goals quicker. Remember to research your audience and put their experience first, as a well-organized and fun event is the best way to forge strong relationships and encourage donations. Good luck!
Author: Kelly Velasquez-Hague
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 and raise more funds for their cause.