5 Digital Engagement Tips for Auction Planning and Marketing (Guest Post)

Whether in-person, online, or hybrid, auctions are incredibly popular fundraisers for nonprofits looking to earn donations, connect with sponsors, and throw a fun event for their supporters. However, nonprofit auction planning and marketing has evolved over the years, and it can be difficult to stand out amongst other organizations hosting their own auctions. 

The integration of online tools into auction planning has created new challenges and opportunities for nonprofits looking to engage with supporters. Nonprofits hosting virtual fundraisers can set their auction up for success by using their tech stack to streamline their planning process and reach supporters in new and creative ways online. 

To help your nonprofit start planning how to run and market its next auction, this article will cover how technology can engage your supporters before, during, and after your event. These tips include both marketing and management strategies, including how to:

  1. Market high-value items
  2. Launch a microsite 
  3. Invest in auction software 
  4. Create a seamless registration process
  5. Follow-up after the event

No matter if your auction is online, in-person, or in-between, digital solutions to marketing and planning can improve your team’s efficiency, attract more supporters, and improve your guests’ experience. Auctions are complex events, having more moving parts than many other classic nonprofit events. While adding an online component might seem to complicate matters, digital strategies that streamline your planning and marketing cannot only improve your event’s overall success but keep your team organized. 

1. Market high-value items 

Unlike most other types of fundraising events, auctions give guests prizes in exchange for donations in the form of bids. For some guests, the items they have a chance to win are even more of a draw than the chance to support your cause. 

As you collect items for your auction, keep track of which ones could be used in marketing materials to offer an enticing preview of what guests can expect at your event. According to Handbid’s guide to silent auctions, items that have the highest attention grabbing potential are:

  • Unique. While your auction items should vary in price to ensure your event has something available for guests of all spending levels, unique high-value items can appeal to guests looking to win something that can’t be bought in a store. 
  • Bundles. Rather than pricing all of your low and medium value items individually, consider bundling them together to make a prize basket. To make your bundles seem special, group these items together to fulfill a theme. For example, you might bundle wine, chocolates, and designer soaps together for a relaxing day or romantic evening theme. 
  • Experiences. Lessons, vacations, and other unique experiences often have a higher value than physical items, and marketing these opportunities can show off just how wide a variety of items your auction has. Have your procurement team seek out local businesses who can provide vouchers for their services, providing unique experiences for your guests, and helping your nonprofit build connections in your community. 

Take attractive photos of these items to catch your supporters’ attention on social media or in your emails. These photos can be reused to market your high-value items in multiple places, including your website. Consider creating an online item catalog or image carousel on your website so visitors can learn more about your event and get excited about bidding. 

2. Launch a microsite

Nonprofits often market and host events on their main websites, but sometimes it can be more effective to launch a microsite. Microsites are websites created with a variation of your main website’s domain, focused on a specific topic. 

Microsites let your nonprofit market content that’s highly focused on one topic without cluttering your main website. For an auction, your nonprofit could launch a microsite with the following pages explaining your event:

  • An item catalogue. A comprehensive item catalogue lets guests browse your auction’s items ahead of time to get excited about bidding. Showing your catalogue also lets guests plan how they will bid and what items they will look for during the event, which can help ignite lucrative bidding wars. 
  • Q&A. It’s always useful to establish how guests participate and win items in your silent auction before your event. A dedicated Q&A page also gives your nonprofit a place to explain questions about registration, the bidding process, item delivery, payment collection, and any other concerns guests might have before signing up to attend your event. 
  • Sponsors page. Your sponsors and item donors allow your auction to happen, and their efforts should be recognized. Creating a dedicated sponsors page helps establish a good relationship between your nonprofit and potential business partners, while also transparently showing your supporters who is backing your event. 

Launching and designing a microsite can be a lot of work, especially for less tech-savvy nonprofits. Your nonprofit can examine other organization’s websites for inspiration on what makes an effective microsite design. Researching other great nonprofit websites is a good starting point for collecting sample websites to compare and contrast with your own. 

3. Invest in auction software 

Auctions are complex fundraisers that require your team to track item procurement and shipping in addition to other fundraising responsibilities such as registrations, donations, and volunteers. While your nonprofit should keep an eye on its fundraisers’ costs to ensure you don’t go over budget, investing in auction software can improve your event experience for your guests and your team. 

Auction software comes with a variety of benefits that help streamline in-person, hybrid, and online auctions. Here are a few features to look for in your auction software solution:

  • Mobile bidding. Bidding apps let guests stay up to date on their bids, no matter where they are. Mobile bidding is a key component of online and hybrid auctions, especially if they take place over several days. Mobile bidding can also be used at in-person auctions, letting guests quickly bid on items while participating in other parts of your event. 
  • In-app check-out. In-app check-out is a must for online auctions, enabling bidders to immediately claim items they win at the end of the event. Mobile check-out processes can also benefit in-person events by letting guests check-out from their phones and avoid long lines. 
  • Reporting tools. Your auctions will produce a lot of data about both your supporters and sponsors. Find an auction software that can track bids in real time, allowing your nonprofit to identify highly sought items during your auction to help fuel bidding wars and attract attention to items that have few or no bids. After your auction you can then track which items were the most successful relative to their market value, providing guidance for your procurement team for your next auction.

Auctions software can be a big investment, so be sure to research your options, compare solutions, and request demos before making any purchases. You can start creating a list of potential auction software solutions using online resources like this one that highlight key features of multiple auction software providers. 

4. Create a seamless registration process

After guests view your marketing materials and decide they’re interested in attending your auction, they’ll navigate to your event landing page. From there, you should ensure every step towards completing registration is as smooth and easy as possible. 

Small design elements on your landing page and registration form can determine whether or not guests sign up for your event. Set up analytics tracking on your website to monitor key performance indicators to see how guests interact with your page, allowing you to identify steps in the process where they might drop-off. A few common problems that can cause reduced engagement are:

  • Non-branded forms. Navigating guests away from your website can make them unsure who they are giving their information to, which can result in abandoned registration forms. Ensure that every part of your registration process features key brand elements such as your logo to create a consistent and secure experience for your attendees. 
  • Lengthy registration forms. Limit all forms to only the most necessary questions for your event. While it can be tempting to gather as much information about your guests as possible, too many questions, especially ones that seem tangential to your event, can lead to frustration and less guests at your auction. 
  • Unclear registration processes. Make navigating to your registration form from your event landing page as easy as possible. Remember that event pages have two primary objectives: informing guests about your event and encouraging supporters to sign up. Consider including your registration form at the top of your landing page, or, if you decide to build a microsite for your event, a “Register Now” button on every page of your event’s website. 

After creating your registration forms, make sure to test their accessibility. A few common accessibility problems on forms include necessary fields having only one visual indicator and textual directions only appearing within the information fields themselves (and subsequently disappearing once guests start typing). Accounting for these problems will allow your auction to reach the largest audience possible. 

Additionally, your nonprofit can use your registration process to boost engagement and conversions. Offer guests tiered tick packages or VIP options, providing more options for how they can participate in your auction.

5. Follow-up after the event 

Your auction isn’t finished until you’ve completed your follow-up process, which can provide a wealth of insights for your next auction’s planning and marketing teams. Make sure auction and event software tracks key data points, including the name of every guest to thank for attending. 

In addition to thanking guests, don’t forget to reach out to sponsors after your auction and thank them for their contributions. Auctions allow your nonprofit to connect with supporters, but they’re also an opportunity to forge professional relationships between your nonprofit and local businesses, who might be open to sponsoring future events. 

The follow-up process also allows your nonprofit to step back and assess where your event succeeded and what could be improved. Cornershop Creative’s guide to digital fundraising recommends bringing in a fundraising consultant to help provide additional insight, which can be especially helpful if your nonprofit comes up shy of multiple fundraising goals. 

Digital engagement for any event requires nonprofits to be extra aware of matters of convenience and how to attract attention online. Your auction’s planning team can position your auction for success by using software to stay organized and present guests with seamless interactions. Additionally, creative marketing can help you stand out from the crowd to help earn the highest bids on each item generously donated to your auction. 

Sarah Fargusson

Self-described as a “non-profit junkie,” Sarah has dedicated her career to serving the needs of the non-profit sector. Her project management experience spans a variety of non-profit management disciplines including strategic planning, community engagement, capacity building, fundraising and research. She has worked both in and for the non-profit sector at the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, and the consulting firms The Lee Institute and The Curtis Group. With her ever expanding non-profit tool belt, Sarah joined Cornershop Creative to tap into her techie, creative side, while developing meaningful partnerships with her clients to help them more effectively achieve their goals.

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