How to Run a Silent Auction Online
Auctions, silent auctions, raffles, and other methods of product-based fundraising are a familiar activity to most nonprofits. It’s an easy, entertaining, and engaging way to raise often considerable cash for your organization. Additionally, the auction event is a great way to meet and chat with your most dedicated audience members. Museums, zoos, historical houses, and other cultural institutions can take opportunities such as these to educate visitors about their company and the cause at hand.
During the current pandemic, silent auctions as they used to happen are no longer an option. Traditional fundraising events have either been cancelled or put online. And while face-to-face engagement and social fundraisers are shelved for the time being, organizations can continue to benefit from the generosity of their patrons via online silent auctions.
Why hold a silent auction?
A silent auction can be the most effective and entertaining method of fundraising for any organization. It is often more effective than asking for donations, as audience members have the chance to receive a prize in exchange for their money promised — thus making their contribution feel more reciprocal. And silent auctions, specifically, relieve some of the stress brought on by the clamour and conspicuousness of traditional live auctions.
Silent auctions are fun, interesting, and an excuse to have a party. This is an aspect of in-person events that are sorely missed in the online equivalent. Much of the enthusiasm and excitement is lost without the social component.
But there remain a number of benefits to holding online silent auctions. First and foremost, the fundraisers we love still get to happen, pandemic or no. Additionally:
- It’s easier than in-person auctions. You don’t have to drag auction items to the event hall, keep track of bids on paper, or worry about items being left behind by their winners. The whole process is streamlined and simplified through the online venue.
- You can experiment with length and flow. In-person silent auctions end with the event. But you can keep an online silent auction going as long as you want to. You can also add new items, feature popular prizes, and invite speakers to discuss what makes certain objects particularly interesting or valuable.
- Everyone can come. Your in-person silent auction audience is limited to those in the area whose schedules fit around the event. An online silent auction can be accessed by audiences around the world, at any time of the day or night. Online silent auctions have a reputation for selling out every time.
How do I run a silent auction for my business?
Now that we know what makes an online silent auction a fabulous opportunity for nonprofit organizations, let’s talk about how they work.
The Basics of an online auction
Traditional silent auctions look like this: beautifully displayed items, gifted to the organization by generous patrons, sit before a numbered sheet of paper, with a minimum bidding amount listed at the top. Throughout the evening, audience members will write their name and a bidding amount on this list. As their bid is outdone, they can write in a larger and larger amount, until the event ends and the items are won by the highest bidder. Winners then pay the organization, and take their prizes home.
While the logistics and set-up of an online silent auction are very different from those of an in-person event, the process remains virtually the same. And the event will still require planning, maintenance, and teardown.
- Getting Started. There are a number of planning issues to address before your auction can commence. First you need to source your auction items. Local businesses and artisans are a great source of in-kind donations and will likely happily contribute items or services to your auction. And knowing what your audience wants can help you to find auction items which will bring in big bids. Art museums should have custom pieces from local artists on their rosters. Zoos might include unique animal encounters or behind-the-scenes tours in their package. Children’s museums should stock their auctions with lots of goodies and experiences that both kids and parents will love. (To learn more about sourcing auction items for your event, check out our other article: In Kind Donations.)
- Setting up. You need to choose a platform for your silent auction: this means finding the right software or support for your event. You can find purpose-built platforms, or engage social media for an accessible and intuitive solution. The Facebook fundraiser feature can be leveraged to display specific or high-profile objects to your online audience. And, if your silent auction is culminating in a live event, you can have a Facebook auction through facebook live for added interactivity and intrigue.
- Promotion. Marketing your online event is just as important as any in-person gathering. Integrate social media and email campaigns, special promotions, press releases, and an auction-specific landing page on your website to get your audience interested in your event ahead of time. If your auction is tied to a larger event or movement, include information and external links to further explain the cause.
- The auction. Unless your auction is part of a limited one-day event, you’ll need to remind them to keep the bidding up for the duration of the fundraiser. Post on social media, send emails, and upload content to keep visitors engaged and interested. One great way to stir up your audience is to send an email every time they are outbid. You can also incorporate live content to replicate the feeling of attending an in-person event. When the auction is coming to a close, make sure to give your guests ample warning: encourage them to check their bids, buy last-minute raffle tickets, and wish them luck.
- Closing. Congratulate your winners, and get your prizes into the hands of their new owners. To avoid confusion, consider announcing the winners publicly, either via email or on social media. Then send a specific congratulatory email to the winners, clearly detailing how and when their items will be delivered to them.
Auctions in the time of COVID.
Many organizations are now making up for events cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19. It’s sad to miss out on the in-person parties we love under normal circumstances. But online events can be fun in their own way, and auction organizers should make the extra effort to turn online auctions into their own wild galas. Museum goers, zoo visitors, and frequenters of arboretums and others all miss life in these institutions. Don’t be afraid to get creative, and experiment with live feeds, social media, and other tools to help bring the party into your audience’s home.
How ACME can help.
ACME is a comprehensive ticketing, membership, and POS solution used by cultural institutions across the globe. ACME allows end-users to customize landing pages, extract data for membership marketing, and other aspects of customer experience to their heart’s content, delivering audience journeys you know they’ll love.
Data analysis allows you to understand your members fully, meaning you can deliver special content and auction items that are guaranteed to start a bidding war.
And with ACME’s latest donation feature, you can define exactly what your organization wants and needs for its latest auction event.
To see how ACME can work for you, request a demo today.