When it comes to key fundraising events for your nonprofit, auctions can be a highly effective avenue for increasing donations to your cause. However, when embarking on an auction-planning journey, it helps to have guidance to get started. Karrie Wozniak, CMO at OneCause, outlines six essential tips in this article. Karrie has more than twenty years of experience in marketing and passion for helping nonprofits expand their reach, leading industry research, marketing strategy, and fundraising consulting initiative. 

Running a hybrid silent auction is no easy feat. Between engaging your in-person and remote audiences, procuring appealing items, and smoothly conducting bidding, your nonprofit has a lot of planning and work ahead of itself. However, when you plan a hybrid silent auction correctly, your nonprofit will reap plenty of benefits—from expanding your reach to helping your fundraising results skyrocket.

Unlike a traditional auction, a hybrid auction allows you to engage with donors from all over the world—whether they’re in your local area and able to attend in-person or miles away participating virtually. This can lead to stronger donor relationships, inviting supporters to give to your organization during your event and support your nonprofit for years to come.

To make your hybrid silent auction a success, you’ll need to leverage the right tools and strategies. Follow these essential guidelines to kickstart the planning process:

  1. Invest in powerful auction software.
  2. Make it mobile-friendly.
  3. Ensure your event reflects your mission.
  4. Promote your event widely.
  5. Target two distinct event audiences.
  6. Collect and leverage your auction data.

Running a hybrid silent auction is a team effort, so make sure your entire nonprofit’s team is on board and ready to engage in the planning process. This will make it easier to assign roles and responsibilities along the way and create a well-designed event and decide if you need additional support by engaging a fundraising event planner. Let’s dive into how you can create a memorable hybrid silent auction, guaranteed to meet and exceed your fundraising goals.

1. Invest in powerful auction software.

Hybrid auctions rely more on technology than a traditional in-person auction does, so investing in the right tools to manage your dual bidding experiences is more important than ever. According to the OneCause guide to fundraising platforms, an all-in-one fundraising solution will make it easier for your organization to manage the entire fundraising process and easier for your supporters to engage and give to your cause.

Specifically, look for a fundraising platform with the following key features:

  • Mobile bidding. Mobile bidding is the best way to smoothly facilitate incoming bids and make the entire process more convenient for both your in-person and remote attendees. Plus, because of its ease of use, you’ll inspire more bids and give guests a positive impression of your event and organization overall.
  • Table management. For your in-person component of your hybrid silent auction, you’ll need an easy way to assign seats. The right fundraising platform will enable you to complete these assignments in just minutes and upload venue and seating plans.
  • Express check-in and self checkout options. Guests don’t want to wait to start the bidding process. Capitalize on their excitement and immerse them into your auction quickly with contactless express check-in and QR codes for guests. Then, when your event is over, supporters can efficiently checkout and pick up any items they won.
  • Live streaming. A reliable live streaming network allows your remote guests to actively follow along with your event and feel physically present. The right fundraising platform will also offer live chat to drive virtual engagement.
  • Real-time analytics. As your fundraiser progresses, you should be able to monitor progress towards achieving your fundraising goal. Then, you can encourage more donations among your in-person and remote attendees in the final stretch. Your nonprofit should also be able to track donor behavior and trends to inform your fundraising strategy at your next hybrid auction.

A fundraising platform with these features and more will help you lead successful auctions and host other types of events, including galas and peer-to-peer fundraising opportunities. Your platform should grow with your organization and provide long-term value, so ensure that you’re working with a full suite of comprehensive tools that can boost your ROI for any fundraising activity.

2. Make it mobile-friendly.

According to fundraising statistics from 360MatchPro, half of all nonprofit website traffic last year came from mobile users, indicating that more and more people prefer interacting with their favorite organizations right from their phones. That means it’s essential that you prioritize the mobile experience for your guests. When planning your event, here are a few key aspects to consider:

  • Allow guests to register and bid from mobile devices. Ensure that guests have full functionality to your auction platform from their mobile device, allowing them to register, purchase tickets, make bids and donations, and check out from whichever device they choose.
  • Send real-time outbid notifications. You can’t always count on bidders to be glued to their mobile devices during your auction, anxiously waiting to see if they’ve been outbid. However, by sending real-time notifications to participants’ mobile devices, you can recapture their attention and encourage them to up their bids to win the item.
  • Automatically resize content to fit smaller screens. Your text, images, and interactive content should automatically resize to fit the portrait-mode orientation of a smartphone, freeing users from needless zooming and horizontal scrolling. To achieve this, use bidding software that comes with mobile-friendly tools and optimizes the auction experience for mobile users.

Providing a mobile-friendly user experience is critical for maximizing engagement. Otherwise, you risk missing out on a significant portion of your supporter base simply because your hybrid experience was not accessible.

3. Ensure your event reflects your mission.

When donors feel emotionally connected to your cause, they’ll be more likely to participate, donate, and bid on items during your event. Continuously reiterate to your guests how your event and the revenue raised will be used to support your nonprofit’s mission.

Consider the following best practices for connecting your event with your greater mission and inspiring supporters to give:

  • Choose a relevant event theme. Setting a theme is a great way to increase participation and reiterate the meaning behind the event. For example, an ocean conservation organization hosting a hybrid auction might make their event theme “Under the Sea.”
  • Tell constituent stories. One of the best ways for supporters to truly understand the importance of your mission is by hearing it from those who have directly benefited from it. With their permission, consider sharing real stories of constituents and how they were positively impacted. You can even bring constituents in to tell their story in their own words at your auction event!
  • Tie revenue to concrete impacts. Because donors like to know how their hard-earned money is being used, it’s a good idea to highlight impact statements to better communicate impact. For example, consider sharing metrics like $X raised goes to support Y number of beneficiaries in a specific way.

It’s important to frequently remind guests that they’re participating in your event to support your nonprofit and its vision for social good. It’s not just a fun night out or a way to win exclusive prizes—although those are certainly excellent benefits of a fundraising auction as well!

When attendees understand the impact that their contributions make on your mission, they’ll be more likely to support your organization by giving well above the fair market value for auction items or by making donations outright.

4. Promote your event widely.

In order to secure a high turnout for your auction, taking a strategic approach to event promotion is a must. A multichannel marketing strategy with the following key methods of communication can help your nonprofit reach diverse audiences:

  • Direct mail: Sending physical invitations via direct mail can grab supporters’ attention and increase excitement for your upcoming event. Because direct mail is one of the more costly promotional tactics, consider reserving this method for engaging with high-value donors and historic event attendees.
  • Email: Email is one of the easiest and lowest cost ways to get a message out to a wide range of supporters. To make sure your message stands out in recipients’ already crowded inboxes, be sure to choose an eye-catching subject line and address the reader by name.
  • Social media: Your organization’s social media presence can go a long way for promoting your event and boosting attendee engagement beforehand. Be sure to share information on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and encourage supporters to interact with and share your posts as well!
  • Web presence: Your nonprofit website is likely the hub for all sorts of information about your upcoming auction, including how to learn more or register for the event. Maximize this invaluable resource by directing traffic to a dedicated event web page from your other marketing channels.

It’s important that you don’t leave event marketing as an afterthought! Get started early on in the planning process to ensure your supporters are aware of the upcoming opportunity as well as understand what a hybrid auction is, how to get involved, and all that it entails.

You’ll also want to determine how you’ll handle the two audiences of virtual and in-person attendees. Will you promote one experience to certain types of donors more heavily? How will you explain the virtual bidding process so that even the least tech-savvy supporter can join in? Answering these questions beforehand can go a long way to ensuring a seamless and well-thought-out experience for each group.

5. Target two distinct event audiences.

Planning a hybrid event involves juggling a number of moving pieces. Specifically, you’ll need to craft two memorable experiences for your in-person and remote audiences within a single, coherent event.

To do so, it’s important that you take the time to plan for each experience based on what that particular audience is interested in. For example, donors have reported that certain elements are much more engaging during virtual events than others. These components tend to cater well to virtual and remote audiences:

  • Mobile-optimized event platforms
  • Picture-in-picture technology
  • Live streamed content
  • Real-time chat breakout rooms
  • One-click donations

On the other hand, these elements were favorites for engaging face-to-face audiences:

  • Event themes
  • Chatting with other guests
  • In-person speakers
  • Live entertainment

Other elements like raffles, auction bidding, matching gifts, and online promotion beforehand will be experienced by both remote and in-person event audiences. Regardless of the components you incorporate into your plans, be sure to consider the way your various groups of supporters will interact with each. And remember—no one audience is more important than the other!

6. Collect and leverage your auction data.

Tracking your event performance through fundraising data is an impactful way to learn about what works well along with what leaves room for improvement. If you’re looking for key performance indicators (or KPIs) to track for a hybrid auction, consider the following data points:

  • Percentage of attendees who engage in-person vs. online
  • Average bid size
  • Additional donations beyond ticket sales and bids
  • Number of bids on each item
  • Average time attendees spent participating
  • Event ROI

To make the most out of your event data, be sure to determine which KPIs to track early on in the planning process and keep up with your progress throughout. Then, take a look at your results by analyzing auction data and seeing what you can do better the next time you plan an event. A strong fundraising platform will automatically track and organize donor activity so you can draw insights and trends from your data.

A hybrid silent auction can be a highly rewarding experience for your supporters and your organization. Take ample time to prepare for your event with your staff and volunteer base and reflect on past fundraising event data so you can create a memorable, engaging event that will appeal to your donors’ interests. The right tools will streamline the entire planning and execution process, so be sure to invest in a comprehensive fundraising platform that will meet your nonprofit’s needs.

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