Coronavirus (COVID-19) has put many non-profits into a position of pushing their spring auction to the fall, cancelling it or being creative and running their gala completely online (often called a virtual event). This article is meant to walk through the creative option of running a virtual event online with mobile bidding software and streaming software like Facebook Live or YouTube Live. Without wasting any time, let’s dig in.
Let’s say your gala event is next Saturday night. You were planning to open your doors at 6pm, have your silent auction of 150 items from 6pm till 8:30pm and then hold a live auction for 5 items followed by a “raise-the-paddle” with a goal projected on screen. You were holding out to see if you could still do the event but it’s time to cancel the gala. You have considered going completely online but aren’t sure what to do and in what order to do it. Here is a step-by-step approach.
Pick A Mobile Bidding Provider
Companies like ClickBid help non-profits auction items online and at gala events. The process starts by signing up for an account. Once your account is created, you import your auction items and photos. Each item should have a catchy title and description about why the item is worth bidding on. Clearly written exceptions tell bidders what is not included or if there is an expiration date. Lastly, a category will help bidders find the item, a starting bid ensures a good kick off, a minimum raise cuts down on endless bids and a closing time lets everyone know when the system will automatically pick a winner.
You should also consider a few photos of the item to really show it off (a few close ups of individual pieces, a wide shot) and, if time permits, a logo of the donor.
Setup The Event Site
Online bidding companies like ClickBid will provide an event landing page or event site to help you promote your event online. Be sure to include things on your event page like:
- when the auction will open
- a message about the event and organization
- how to bid (typically provided by the mobile bidding company)
- when the auction will close
- a preview of the auction items
- a leaderboard showing starting bids and eventually winning bids
- sponsor logos with website links
- pictures of the charity and previous event photos
Once you have these elements, share the site on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and via your newsletter. This will get the word out. It’s important to remember that you can continue to tweak content based on feedback you receive from those who visit the page. Therefore, don’t feel like it has to be perfect right away. You’ll have time to edit content right up to your virtual event.
Open For Bidding
As you get closer to the original event date (2 or 3 days before the event), open the auction. Do this by sending a specialized email to your donors with a link to register and bid. Post the registration link on Facebook with a few key photos of your best items. Treat this like a grand opening of a new store and welcome donors to enter the auction. Encourage them to browse the categories, get the bidding started and join you for the big Saturday Live Streaming event.
Monitor The Progress
Your mobile bidding account will track all your bidder registrations and bids. Keep an eye on activity and see if any items need to have their starting bids lowered. You can also send more emails or social posts regarding activity. Share with your donors which items are getting the most bids, which items need bids (Great Deals!) and remind your donors to tune into the live steam.
The Live Stream
It’s Event Day and you, along with some volunteers, need to set up a web camera on a laptop or use a newer smartphone on a tripod to broadcast the event. Services like Facebook and YouTube offer high quality and highly available live streaming services. You only need a free account on either platform. Setup the camera or laptop on a table that won’t bounce or topple over during your event. Take a few pictures with your camera first to see what others will see. You want people watching to get a wide enough view to see a laptop screen or TV and a couple of your staff. Think of it like a news broadcast.
Pick a quiet area that does not have a lot of extra random noise. If you have the money, buy a microphone that can plug into your smartphone or laptop. Good audio helps your audience stay engaged. They shouldn’t have to get inches away from the speaker to hear clearly. There are a few links below for good equipment. Pro Tip! Do a trial run with 3 or 4 volunteers the day before. Record it and then re-play it. Take notes and make tweaks. Was the camera in the right spot? Did it bounce? Do you need more room? Was the audio loud enough? A few minor adjustments will help a ton.
Just like your physical gala, make a plan and event flow so that you don’t lose focus and risk having your audience drop off. As a suggestion, start the stream a half hour before the silent auction closes. Fill that time with instructions on how to register, how to bid (with visuals) and statistics on how the auction is going. Ask your viewers to post comments on your Facebook and YouTube channel and read them out to viewers (with commentary). Be real and relaxed. People know this is live and you are trying something new. That’s part of the draw. You can make mistakes and correct yourself on air.
A live auction online is essentially a silent auction that is held at a specific time. People can preview the item during the silent auction but will actually be able to bid on the item for a set amount of time until a maximum amount is reached. If you had an auctioneer for your event, they may be able to assist with the live auction and call it for you.
Once the live auction is over, load the appeal display on a laptop or TV and point the screen at the camera so viewers can watch the total go up. Explain how to give and what each suggested increment means. Tell a story about why this virtual paddle raise is so important or use the video you were planning to use at your live event. Thank people as they give. The appeal should take about 10 minutes.
The whole experience or virtual event should flow from silent to live and appeal. Close with instructions on how to pay. Mobile bidding platforms like ClickBid allow your winners and donors the opportunity to pay right from their phones.
Visual Aids And Support
As you prepare for your virtual event, there are a few key items to have with you as the host with the most. A laptop or tablet that you can use to browse stats and share with your audience. When you broadcast with Facebook or YouTube you will know in real-time how many people are watching and you’ll know how many bids are coming in. Here are some tips when you’re broadcasting:
- Thank your sponsors as people join the live broadcast
- Highlight items with lots of bids
- Highlight items with no bids
- Remind people what time the silent closes
- Tell the audience what the funds are for
- Look at the camera and talk to the audience (instead of to another laptop)
- Have someone with you to help share stories and keep the energy
After the Virtual Event
This is where you handle payments, item pick up and post event surveys. Your mobile bidding software should provide secure payments online where you can even charge admin fees to the buyer to help you cover your credit card fees (ClickBid allows for making this optional).
If you allow shipping, you can set up an item called Shipping and add amounts to it for each winning bidder who wants to have their items shipped. This will allow you to cover those costs as well.
Lastly, be sure to ask your online bidders and participants in the live stream what they thought. Google has a tool (Google Forms) that is free and easy to use. Be sure to ask your donors if they would participate in future “pop up” live events. These fundraising events are easy to do, low cost and help you stay engaged with your donor base (while appealing to an audience of technically savvy donors).
Ultimately, it is up to you and your team to determine if a virtual event is right for you this spring (and into the future). At ClickBid, our team knows how to help you set up your auction, and get your bidders registered, bidding and giving online. We can help you through this entire process and make sure you’re set up to succeed.