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14 Questions to Ask When Planning a Successful Virtual Auction

When deciding on which elements to employ in your virtual auction, several factors should be considered. They are:


■ How much time do you have before your proposed date?

■ Are you replacing an in-room event, if so, what was the original date?

■ Are your supporters highly loyal and will they accept a new way to show support?

■ How technically competent is your support network?

■ Are your supporters more likely to be comfortable using a computer, cell phone, or would it not matter?

■ Do you already have your auction items or are you starting from scratch?

■ How many live auction items would you typically sell if you had an in-room event?

■ How broad is your support network?

■ Do you have a robust social media following or extensive mailing list?

■ How many people attended your last event?

■ How much money is typically raised in the auction part of your event?

■ Do you have many sponsors who purchase tables, and could you still get them to sponsor a virtual or online event?

■ How much do you need to raise?

■ What has been your ratio of costs for your event compared to your net?


Hopefully these questions will get you thinking about how you can replace your current system while keeping your regular supporters pleased to continue their support in a new methodology. For example, if your event is soon, your challenge is how to move what you have already in place over to a virtual or online event. If your event is planned for many months from now, you likely do not have many of these things in place, so your challenge and opportunities are different.


The good news is that once you move “out of the ballroom,” you are no longer limited by either time or space. Your bidders and donors are not restricted to how many can fit in your venue or the amount of time typically dedicated to that event. In other words, if you usually have a four-hour affair and put 300 people in your event room, you can now expand to four days or more and have an unlimited potential audience. The world is your new “room!” This is excellent news for organizations with extensive support outside their local geography, such as alumni. Using outreach through mail or social media can really expand your list of potential bidders.


Also consider the potential online audience’s willingness to view an event online over a finite time frame. If you believe your supporters will watch a video show on a specific day with a limited time frame, then the virtual auction route might make sense. This might work well with a school audience where parents, grandparents, and others with a vested interest would all come together to have a party in support of the school. On the other hand, if your supporters are not as closely tied emotionally to the cause, but still willing to support it, then a more traditional online auction spanning several days to a week may be a better choice. The decision must be based on your knowledge and experience with those who have supported you.


Other Considerations


Assuming this is your first experience at a virtual or online auction, start with these few considerations for going virtual:


■ Without a captive in-room audience, you will need to be creative in keeping your virtual guests tuned in—more on this later.


■ There is no longer the need for a check-in or check-out system as these activities are generally handled automatically by the bidding system used.


■ Your costs should be greatly reduced if you are not serving meals or paying for traditional staging, lighting, sound, and decorations. But, these costs will be offset with the online service costs, which should be relatively less expensive.


■ Since guests will not be leaving with their items after the event, you will need to arrange to ship items to the winners or have a means for them to be picked up. This may add some costs, but most buyers are typically willing to accept a modest shipping or delivery fee.


■ Getting people to attend a dinner with an auction is different from getting people to attend a virtual or online auction. However, it is possible to employ some of the same tools. With an in-room event, tables are often filled by sponsors and table hosts. There are no tables, of course, in an online auction, but it is still possible to fill your virtual audience in part with corporate sponsors and circles of friends.


■ Payment is made online by credit card, so in most cases, your payment is immediate at the event’s conclusion. Bidders are sent a link to a payment screen to complete their purchase. However, so you don’t restrict active bidding on more expensive items or limit your donations during the raise the paddle, some accommodation for pay by check could be considered. This should be handled immediately following the event.


■ You can still do a “Raise the Paddle” (sometimes called Fund a Need, Emotional Appeal, etc.) with an online event. This works well with a few additional requirements. The “ask” is done by way of a video, the online guests are asked to view it, and then directed to a link or button to donate. This is not that different from when done in-room. One additional requirement is that the video should be concise (your audience will not view a lengthy video), emotional, and end with the call to action. The call to action should be easy to do, such a clicking a link, and like when done in-room, follow pre-set suggested donation amounts. Having a “thermometer” or some other display that tracks the donations in real-time greatly enhances the process.


■ More is not always better. In other words, it is possible to have too many choices and overwhelm your virtual audience with an abundance of auction items. Creating packages or focusing on the most popular items can work to your advantage. Online auctions require the bidders to have a sense of urgency to bid. If they have too many choices, the tendency is to do a lot of looking and not a lot of bidding. When you make each item unique and broadly appealing, you create that urgency to participate, and the consideration from your bidders increases.


■ You can still have a series of “live auction” items however, there is a catch— you should sell many items at once! This is because it is challenging to keep a potential bidder for your 5th, 6th, or 7th item engaged while items 1, 2, and 3 are being sold. The solution is to allow bidding on all the “live items” at once but bring each up in sequence and narrate the bidding and highlight it. For those who want to bid on future or previous items, they may do so. You are engaging all bidders simultaneously this way and keeping their collective interest.


Closing Thoughts


These questions and considerations are a great starting point as you begin planning your virtual auction. That said, there are a number of other factors to consider when hosting a successful and engaging virtual event. For additional tips, download the full Virtual Auction Guide here.