Considering a Hybrid Charity Auction? 5 Things to Know

Today’s post comes from Karrie Wozniak. Karrie has spent more than a decade bringing innovative technology and fundraising strategies to the nonprofit industry. As one of the first executives at OneCause, Karrie combines her 20 years of experience in marketing with her passion for helping nonprofits expand their reach, leading industry research, marketing strategy, and fundraising consulting initiatives. She is also an active speaker on donor and fundraising trends, and has been featured on, Philanthropy Journal, and Nonprofit Hub.

Many nonprofits are looking to diversify their overall fundraising strategy by planning events that reach both in-person and virtual audiences. If you’re thinking about hosting a fundraising event to raise money for your cause while providing an engaging experience for supporters, a charity auction is a fantastic choice.

Both live and silent auctions have traditionally been held in person, with a group of attendees gathering at a set venue for a few hours one evening to bid increasingly more on high-demand items. However, online components are becoming more and more common in the past few years, due in part to the pandemic as well as improved technology making these events accessible.

As such, hybrid auctions are growing in popularity. These fundraising event experiences incorporate elements of both in-person and virtual engagement, allowing nonprofits and supporters to reap the benefits of flexibility, convenience, and fun.

Since hosting a hybrid auction involves coordinating two separate but cohesive event experiences, it’s a good idea to plan  early. How can you do so effectively in a way that provides an optimized experience for everyone involved? Here are five things to keep in mind for your hybrid audience:

  1. Hybrid auctions increase reach and flexibility.
  2. Mobile and online bidding tools improve user experience.
  3. Gamification tactics drive bids.
  4. “Buy now” options are great in certain circumstances.
  5. Tracking engagement metrics is critical.

Ready to find out what you need to know to pull off a successful hybrid auction? Let’s get started.

1. Hybrid auctions increase reach and flexibility.

Many traditionally in-person events have transitioned to virtual experiences over the last year to maintain engagement while in-person gatherings were not possible. According to recent studies from OneCause, donors are split as to whether they’re ready to begin attending in-person fundraising events once again. That’s where hybrid events come in handy. 

Hybrid events allow those who are ready to get back into the normal swing of things to participate in person, while others who would rather participate from afar can support your cause as well.

Plus, hybrid events (auctions included) allow you to account for various schedules and time zones. Instead of hosting an auction at a particular location during a three-hour time span on a predetermined date, a hybrid auction can open bidding more than a week in advance. This allows for online bidding leading up to and culminating in a gala event at the end of the week.

One of the best parts is that your event participants are no longer limited to your local area. You can reach donors anywhere, effectively opening attendance up worldwide. The results? Your upcoming hybrid auction has virtually no limits on its reach and has the potential to involve donors who might not otherwise be able to attend.

2. Mobile and online bidding tools improve user experience.

Using the right fundraising tools is critical for pulling off any charity auction in the most effective way possible, but it’s especially important for virtual and hybrid experiences. 

When shopping for auction software, be sure to choose a solution that offers both mobile and online bidding functionality. This is critical because:

  • Guests can participate from wherever they are, whenever they want.
  • Paperless solutions are less hassle and more sustainable, even for in-person bidding.
  • You can offer a seamless bidding experience where both in-person and remote attendees can participate.

Make sure your mobile-friendly auction platform also allows you to sell raffle tickets, collect additional donations, and offer “buy now” options on certain items. Then, once the event is over, winners should be able to quickly and easily check out and pay their bids within the secure online payment processing system and receive automated email receipts.

3. Gamification tactics drive bids.

Gamification tactics apply typical elements of gameplay (such as winning, losing, and friendly competition) to activities you wouldn’t necessarily think of as a game (like fundraising). Auctions are the perfect fundraising events to test out these powerful strategies.

Including gamification helps event attendees engage in the auction, keep coming back to outbid their peers, and overall be willing to donate more money for your cause. Here’s a few of our favorite gamification methods:

  • Leaderboards: Incorporating a prominent leaderboard (either virtually or in person) that’s updated in real-time with the names of top bidders is a great way to drive engagement and bids. Those who do see themselves on the board will be encouraged to continue upping their bids to stay on top, while those who haven’t made it to the leaderboard will want to get in on the action.
  • Outbid notifications: Traditional silent auctions require participants to keep coming back to determine whether they’ve been outbid on the items they’d like. With mobile bidding tools, you can send real-time outbid notifications that immediately bring bidders back to your auction when they’ve been beat—even if they’re multi-tasking while participating off-site. It’s a great way to retain participants’ attention over time!
  • Fundraising thermometers: Fundraising thermometers are a fantastic tool for tracking progress toward overall fundraising objectives. When people see that you’re close to surpassing your goal, they’ll be more likely to contribute more to play a role in your success.
  • Countdowns to bid closes: This strategy can help you drive bids right up to the auction close.Leverage countdown timers to showcase exactly how long participants have left if they want to win a particular item. This can often lead to extra generous final bids and more revenue for your organization.

When you think of an auction like a game, you can set your event up for significant success and increase motivation and encouragement, while increasing your proceeds too.

4. “Buy now” options are great in certain circumstances.

Items up for auction typically start at a percentage of its fair market value (or FMV), then gradually rise as participants compete to out-bid one another. However, many auction fundraisers also incorporate a number of “buy now” items which can be immediately purchased at a higher price.

As you solicit items for your auction, determine whether they should be offered as a “buy now” option. So how do you decide when the circumstances are right?

Do look for items that are popular, trendy or can be considered as an impulse buy. Electronics, liquor, wine, jewelry often make good buy now items.

Don’t offer an instant buy option for your most unique or exclusive items as well as items that have incited bid wars in the past. After all, you don’t want to lose money with a “buy now” item that has the potential to drive bids through the roof.

For those you determine would be good “buy now” items, this guide to pricing auction items recommends setting your price at 150-200% of the market value.

5. Tracking engagement metrics is critical.

Fundraising events offer organizations a wealth of data to measure supporter engagement in multiple ways. Hosting a hybrid event with a comprehensive online platform makes collecting and tracking this information easier than ever.

There are a number of different metrics you can choose, but we recommend determining the points you’ll track ahead of time and selecting data that aligns with your particular event’s goals. A few common metrics to track when it comes to any sort of fundraising event include:

  • ROI (return on investment): To calculate your ROI after your auction, add up all the expenses needed to make your event happen—including software purchases, venue rentals, and staff time. Subtract total expenses from your total revenue raised to obtain your net revenue, then divide that number by your expenses. That final number, times 100, is your event’s return on investment, and means that for every $X you spent, you received $Y back.
  • CPDR (cost per dollar raised): As the inverse formula to ROI, your CPDR tells you how much you spent in proportion to the amount that you raised. To calculate this metric, you simply divide your total expenses by total revenue.
  • Average gift size: Average gift size is an easy metric to calculate, simply by adding up the total contributions (through donations and purchases) and dividing by total number of individual gifts received. You can do the same thing with auction revenue as well, though you should likely track bid revenue separately rather than lumping them in with general gifts.
  • Attendance: Your attendance metrics should be easy to keep track of through your ticketing and registration system. If you want to take a closer look at attendance numbers, you can calculate additional metrics such as expected attendees vs. number who actually showed up or attendees who gave vs. those who didn’t.

Don’t forget to analyze and leverage your collected data to get a better understanding of your success and make necessary adjustments for your next events. For example, did your auction meet its fundraising goals? Did you notice a difference in gift sizes between on-site and remote attendees? 

Determine where your team did well and locate areas with room for improvement. Your hybrid auctions will keep getting better and better!

Charity auctions are some of the best fundraising events that nonprofits can host for both revenue and engagement purposes. When you take this traditional fundraising strategy hybrid, you allow your supporters to participate in any way that works best for them. 

But remember, virtual and hybrid engagements rely more heavily on technology, so it’s critical that you equip your team with the tools they need to pull it off.

Leave a Reply