It’s been an extremely busy several months for the nonprofit sector. Pandemic response efforts, crisis fundraising, and shifting to virtual engagement techniques have almost certainly required drastic changes in your nonprofit’s initial plans for the year.
And with the year-end giving season right around the corner, there’s not much of a chance to take a break! Your nonprofit is probably already gearing up for another busy period of fundraising and donor engagement to tap into year-end generosity.
Hopefully, your nonprofit has already begun exploring its virtual event options since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual fundraising events have proven to be viable alternatives for nonprofits ready to get started with the right technology and strategies. In fact, many nonprofits that we’ve worked with have dramatically exceeded their initial fundraising goals with the switch to virtual events.
If an engaging virtual event sounds like the right move for your organization’s year-end campaign, we recommend hosting a virtual auction.
At OneCause, we specialize in supporting charity auctions, so we’ve pivoted right alongside the nonprofit sector to adapt to the new realities and challenges of virtual fundraising. Online auctions are an extremely flexible type of virtual event that can work for all types of missions and audiences. Plus, they’re easy to incorporate into a wide variety of other virtual events you might host, like an online gala.
However, competition for your donors’ attention online is fiercer than ever before! In order to maximize your event, you’ll need an effective event plan and marketing strategy to get you started. Here are our top tips for making your own virtual auction stand out to donors:
- Procure the perfect range of auction items.
- Host livestreamed celebrations during your auction.
- Give donors access to mobile bidding tools.
- Offer engaging add-ons to boost revenue.
- Tap into the power of peer-to-peer tactics.
Armed with these tips, you’ll be sure to draw a substantial crowd to your nonprofit’s virtual auction and keep them engaged through to close-out. Let’s dive in.
1. Procure the perfect range of auction items.
More than any other element of your virtual auction, the items that you procure will play a major role in determining your success. You’ll need to procure the perfect range of auction items to excite your donors and generate some healthy competition. Nothing can attract excited bidders quite like the perfect auction item or package.
However, this means more than simply offering the most exciting or flashy items you can find. Your catalog of auction items needs to be targeted to your nonprofit’s unique audience.
This means considering donors’ interests but also their capacity to give and their expectations for your event. For instance, a large-scale virtual gala targeting older, wealthy donors would definitely feature a different range of auction items than a smaller online auction hosted by a school PTA.
Take the time to think about your own audience and supporters, and then start brainstorming different items and packages that they’ll find exciting and truly valuable. In our own auction item idea directory, we’ve broken down our favorites into categories like classic ideas, showstoppers, virtual-friendly items, and more to help kickstart your procurement process.
2. Host live streamed celebrations during your virtual auction.
Livestreaming has proven itself to be a valuable addition to all kinds of virtual nonprofit events, including auctions. Incorporating live elements into your virtual auction opens up new opportunities to make donation appeals, present items, shout-out your supporters, and create a more dynamic, engaging experience.
These are a few ways that nonprofits have added live streaming elements to their virtual auctions:
- Kickoff celebrations to launch the auction, explain the rules, and show off key items.
- Live finales to announce winners, thank your participants, and make final donation appeals.
- Periodic live check-ins to make announcements and amp up the bidding energy.
- Large virtual gala portions of the events in which you might include speakers, ceremonies, multimedia presentations, entertainment, and sponsor shout-outs.
- Live bidding portions for mobile bidders to compete for your top items in real-time.
To simplify the process of including live streaming elements in your auction, work with virtual fundraising software that features built-in live video capabilities. A centralized virtual event center will improve the entire experience for both bidders and your team once it’s time to kick off the auction.
3. Give donors access to mobile bidding tools.
Mobile bidding tools open up your virtual auction to much wider audiences by allowing bids from both desktop and smartphones. Since many virtual auctions occur over several days, providing your participant’s plenty of flexibility and easy mobile access is a no-brainer to boost engagement.
While your virtual auction will naturally not involve classic paper bid sheets, offering mobile bidding in addition to bidding through your main website offers a major benefit: push notifications.
With push notifications, you can instantly direct bidders’ attention to items that could use more bids or to your top items that are generating a ton of competition. Plus, you can keep everyone in the loop by notifying all of your bidders at once about bid openings, closures, and upcoming live streams.
If you incorporate mobile bidding tools into your virtual auction, you’ll need to take an extra step to fully explain to your participants how the technology works. Include explainers and demo videos in your broader digital strategy for promoting the event.
We recommend creating a dedicated email stream to send to registrants leading up to the event launch. In these emails, tease your items, explain how the process works, and walk through the mobile bidding process step-by-step. This can greatly reduce confusion and frustration once your auction begins, so bidders can hit the ground running.
4. Offer engaging add-ons to boost revenue.
Add-ons are a great way to offer your bidders more ways to engage with your auction while also raising additional revenue. Consider these popular add-ons for virtual events like auctions:
- Buy-it-now options. Give bidders the option to bypass the competition and simply purchase their favorite item (usually at 150-200% of the item’s initial fair market value).
- Fixed-price add-ons. These are add-ons that participants can purchase during the registration process or throughout the duration of the virtual auction. T-shirts are a classic example, although think about other add-ons more directly related to your mission. For instance, a food bank might offer bidders the option to directly purchase a case of foodstuff to be donated to its pantry.
- Raffle tickets. Raffles make easy additions to all kinds of nonprofit events. With a virtual raffle, participants can purchase digital tickets when they register for your auction. Then, pick a winner during your finale livestream. This is a great way to boost your event’s revenue without adding too much extra work to your team’s to-do list.
- Fundraising challenges. Spur giving with competitive giving elements. Set fundraising goals and ask donors to unlock challenges for your hosts or ambassadors if they hit donation goals. Fun examples include head shaving, cake in the face, Tik Tok dances, and other funny social challenges.
- Extra perks. A little incentive is never a bad idea to boost engagement and make your auction more exciting. Consider offering extra perks to item winners (or even randomly-chosen participants!) like free merchandise, tickets to your next event, or a discounted annual membership.
Add-ons like these can help you raise more while creating a more engaging experience for attendees. Virtual auctions are extremely flexible fundraising events, so get creative to come up with the best ideas to incorporate into your own plans. Just be sure to actively promote any of these exciting perks to encourage more potential attendees to register!
5. Tap into the power of peer-to-peer tactics.
Social media marketing is a powerful force for spreading the word about your virtual auction and securing more support for your cause. Use peer-to-peer tactics to boost attendance, raise additional donations, and generate more excitement leading up to your auction. There are two general routes you might take:
- Launch a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Empower your supporters to create their own individual giving pages to share with friends and family online. Encourage them to explain why they love your nonprofit’s mission and are excited about your upcoming virtual auction. This strategy can get your virtual event in front of a much wider audience, helping you to increase attendance while also raising more donations.
- Recruit ambassadors in your community. An ambassador campaign allows you to take a more focused approach to large-scale virtual event promotion. Recruit well-connected supporters and give them everything they’ll need to get the job done, including individual sign-up pages and digital content to share online. Set specific donation and registration goals for your ambassadors, and then be sure to publicly recognize and reward them during your event.
Both of these tactics tap into the power of social proof to generate more engagement for your auction. When a potential donor or attendee sees that their loved one supports your cause and eagerly promotes it on your behalf, they’re much more likely to get involved than if they encountered your nonprofit on their own.
Plus, the direct impact that ambassadors and peer-to-peer volunteers can have on your event goes a long way to deepen their relationships with your cause. This makes peer-to-peer tactics an effective way to boost your retention rates over time. Bloomerang’s guide to donor retention ranks peer-to-peer campaigns as one of the top strategies for cultivating stronger long-term relationships with supporters.
Heading into the year-end giving season, your nonprofit’s virtual campaigns and events have to stand out from the crowd in order to succeed!
If you’re hosting a virtual auction as part of your year-end fundraising and engagement activities, remember these tips and incorporate them into your plans from the start. With a tailored range of auction items, engaging live streams, intuitive bidding tools, appealing add-ons, and peer-to-peer connections, your virtual auction will stand out to supporters as an exciting opportunity. Best of luck!
Joshua Meyer brings over 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as the Director of Marketing for OneCause. Currently, as a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Josh manages all of the firm’s marketing efforts. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.