Why online charity auctions are amazing – especially now!

Pivoting strategies on short notice is always tough, as organisations of all shapes and sizes are learning.

As non-profits adapt to the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and its wider economic impacts, it’s an undeniably challenging time to be steering your mission or plans forward.

However, the world of virtual charity events has already been thoroughly explored, with plenty of effective technologies and strategies to learn from. Learning the basics of virtual events, and implementing ways to support your efforts over the long run isn’t only do-able, it’s practically essential now.

My story: 

 I have organised an online auction every year in memory of my friend Ainslie Duffell. She sadly died in February 2015 of breast cancer following a very brave 12-year fight against the cruel disease. This is a project very close to my heart, so I am driven, and motivated.

Ainslie’s husband Phil and son Alex both had an idea which came when they read Ainslie’s private journal only to be read after her passing. In it she documented her pain at being unable to attend the cricket ground where Alex played. There were no disabled facilities as she was in a wheelchair in her latter months – and there were no facilities for girls. Ainslie therefore missed her son’s first century.

Phil & Alex decided this could not continued. Alex played – and still plays when not at university – at Purton Cricket Club which is the oldest club in Wiltshire. In fact, it’s an astonishing 200 years old this year!

The idea was to create a pavilion in Ainslie’s name which was fit for purpose. It would be a living legacy, with disabled access and facilities for female players reflecting the needs of the sport in the modern era. The need was identified, the audience was purposefully targeted. Now for the long journey to raise the funds.

As one of Ainslie’s friends I was asked to help out and I’ve been pleased to do so. Over those five years since she passed, I believe I’ve probably raised around £8,000 myself.

The big ask: 

 So, we needed £50,000 ‘seed’ money to start the project, show commitment and start to access relevant grants and funding. Thankfully, we’re almost there!

The original plan was to have a ‘Purple Soiree’ in 2020, when we would have crossed the line, however COVID-19 had other ideas and put an end to that unfortunately.

Virtual auction:

 I wasn’t going to let the pandemic stop my dream of creating a lasting legacy for my friend. So, I decided that I’m doing an online silent charity auction again across social media. This  year it’s more relevant than ever however it will be the 5th time I’ve done it.

In some ways, virtual charity auctions are even easier to plan and host than traditional in-person events (such as our intended Purple Soiree). Removing the logistics of venues, catering and entertainment frees up a lot of time for your team to focus on other tasks that will more directly determine the event’s return on investment, like item procurement and digital marketing.

However there’s no doubt that real world events capture the emotion, the personal contact and the human interaction which shows supporters how alive Ainslie was, how brave and how amazing the husband and son she had to leave behind. Nothing beats that real world experience. My top 10 tips for holding an online/social media auction: 

  1. It must start with passion – don’t do it cynically or for ulterior motives because PR people will suss this out and it will not go down well with the audience, in turn, harming the event’s reputation. It has to mean something to you as this will be very evident to others around you. Empathy generates action.
  2. Donate at least six lots yourself – don’t let it all be stuff donated to you. This shows you are willing to put your hand in your pocket and not expect everyone else to pay out for items without your own input. This may sound like a lot of things to donate, but it shows you are committed and investing in your event.
  3. Do your event for a set period – not only this, but do it intensely and do it well. If you aren’t going to do something properly, then why bother at all? Put in your best effort, as much time as you can spare and for goodness sake – stick to the timeline! Deadlines are just as important in charity events as they are in profit-driving events.
  4. Choose one main social media platform – Identify the most effective channels for your audience. Focus your attention on the social media network that is popular with your target donors. Look to your past email campaigns, identify winning strategies, and use those when blasting invites to guests. Will the chosen platform target your ideal donors in the correct way? Do some research and create a tailored digital marketing plan.
  5. Have a variety of lots to suit all tastes and budgets – business-to-business and business-to-consumer – the item procurement process is one of the most important steps of any type of auction. After all, your supporters love your mission, but the items are the main draw of the event. Be sure to hone in on the best performing items in order to ensure you generate maximum activity and return on interest. What can your average donors afford to bid on? Who are your target auction attendees?
  6. Set a financial target which is realistic – before you start sending out invitations to your charity auction, you need to determine how much money you want to raise and how much you’ll need to spend to make the event a success. Other variables you’ll need to pin down include things like the number of items you want to sell. Setting your goals and budget in advance will give you plenty of time to plan the rest of your charity auction and adjust your initial goals or budget if necessary.
  7. Build anticipation – promoting your online auction will be essential because, as discussed above, competition for attention on the internet can be fierce. By specifically targeting your audience in ways that you know they’ll be more likely to engage with, you boost the chances that they’ll follow through to register and then bid during the event.
  8. Evidence the journey, record milestones however small – “remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” – Nelson Mandela. Celebrating milestones energises and re-engages the audience. It lifts the collective spirits.
  9. Once it’s over let everyone know the outcome – be open about how much you raised and shout about it! People are waiting on tenterhooks for the final golden number. But before you get to this stage, ensure people pay before they get their lots and then send them out or deliver them in a timely manner.
  10. Ask for testimonials so you can show people receiving their lots – Getting testimonials from happy customers and clients is an important part of building your event. Positive testimonials build brand awareness and social proof, and they’re a crucial marketing tool. It’s a great way to build your reputation as a fundraiser and to create excitement for your next event.

The outcomes:

 Charity events may seem like hard work, but there are so many incredible outcomes that you may not even know about.

–       Money for charity – this is an obvious one, but just remember the money is not profit, it’s for a good cause and for people less fortune than us. It demonstrates social responsibility.

–       Intense period where lots of eyes are on your social media – by doing events such as this, it shows that you are charitable, capable and able to organise events, and it’s more eyes on your business.

–       Showcases other business owners too – this is a great way to support local businesses and get them in front of donors.

–       Feels good and shows you care – what better feeling is there than doing something for someone else or for a purely unselfish reason? It’s cathartic and just feels damn good.

–       Great PR for you in your community – This is a great way to show everyone how caring you and how you give back to your local community, building up your positive reputation!

Want to take part in my event this year? If you email me and sign up to my newsletter – fiona@fionascott.co.uk– you will be sent the list of lots when the auction goes live in November!