Saturday, February 11, 2012

Take Your Charity Auction to the Next Level

If you've been organizing a successful live auction for a few years in a row, but your earnings remain level, it may be time to add an online element.

But before we go there, we need to be sure you've gotten the live auction event right. To do this you have to understand what works:

1.  Your Audience.  Running the auction for at least 3 years in a row will give you a clear understanding of the demographic market that your organization is attracting to it's event.  Is it primarily community business people 40 to 70 years of age or a younger sports-minded crowd in their 20's?

2.  Your Sponsors.  It's important to match your audience to your sponsors.  Seek out sponsors that offer products and services that appeal most to your audience, because the sponsors will be more willing to support your cause if there's a shared, vested interest.

3.  Auction Items.  Now that you know who attends your auction and who may be willing to sponsor or donate to it, seek out the exact products and services that will be of most interest to the audience - the buyers.

4.  Location.  Choose a location that fits your audience and the atmosphere that will attract them.  Do you need to offer a formal affair or a more casual, outdoor environment?  Yes, it's true that you can decorate most any environment to fit a theme, but my best advice is to be sure you choose a location that's large enough to accommodate the number of people you expect to attend.

5.  Ticket Price.  Set a ticket price within the means of your audience.  Research other events they've attended and what they may be willing to pay.  In some instances your ticket income will be your prime income source for the auction.  You've seen tickets priced at $100, $500, $1,000 or more.  If this is the case, just be sure to offer an atmosphere and meal that fits that bill. 

However, if you're organizing a school auction, keep the ticket price as low as possible (typically covering the cost of food and the hall), so that guests will then be willing to bid a litter higher on the auction items.

Now to take it to the next level...

If you've done all of this and feel as though you've found a good balance between your audience, sponsors, items, location, and ticket price, and your earnings have leveled out, then it's time to try taking your auction online.

So how do you do it?

Partner with a professional online auction company like Auction Pro or BiddingForGood.  

There's no need to reinvent the wheel. There's no need to spend time and money to build your own website to showcase your auction items when these types of companies have already done the legwork for you. Register your organization and input your items along with photos into their templates.

These companies charge a small fee for their service and handling the transactions, but that fee could be minor compared to the spike you'll see in bidding.

The Newburyport Education Foundation seemed to get it right with their Lighthouse Auction. This school-based organization did a great job using their online auction to complement their live and silent auction event. Here are some tips on how they did it:

1. As you receive donations, place them online and open the bidding well in advance (preferably a few weeks) of your live event. Be sure to post a photo along with each item. If an item is for a particular resort, restaurant, or company, link directly to that so the buyer can quickly research the item.

2. Designate some of these online items as "Available Online Only". If you have 200 items, decide how many you'll showcase during the live event and how many you'll move to the hall for silent auction bidding the day of your event. This will be based on how much display space you have available. The remaining items will be "Available Online Only" items and bidding can close on these anytime, but most commonly no later than 24 hours after the live auction is complete.

3. Continuously email the online list of items out to potential bidders. Advertise the auction website address.

4. The day before the live event, print the bid sheets for your live and silent auction items you'll transfer to your event. The highest bid received for each item is now the starting bid on these bid sheets. Presto! Most of these items now likely have a starting bid higher than if you had not allowed online bidding first.

Online bidding could be the boost your auction needs. It also allows those that aren't able to attend the live event to still support the organization.


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