Since early 2020, event planning has been a unique challenge, requiring nonprofits to pivot to virtual events, then hybrid, and now potentially back to virtual. Maybe this uncertainty has turned your event calendar into a bit of a nightmare, but the changes have kept your supporters safe and your nonprofit afloat. Plus, the silver lining is that you’ve gotten to see just how much potential your website has to help market and run your events!
Your nonprofit’s website is many things: a place to host your content, a resource for your supporters to learn more about your organization, and a digital fundraising tool to promote and host your events.
Some virtual events need more online structure than others. For example, an auction needs a catalog, an online bidding tool, a way to alert guests when they’ve been outbid, a payment system, and a check-in and out system.
Auctions are such a fun, interactive, and effective fundraising event option, but the long list of features you need might prevent you from planning one. However, this is where your website comes in! It’s a spectacular tool that can check off all the to-dos for your fundraising auction. With your website, you can:
- Market your auction.
- Make event registration easy.
- Create a microsite.
- Integrate your auction software.
- Post photos on your website.
Most of these steps can be accomplished with your own skills, a little knowledge of web design, and a can-do attitude. Some steps might require more background knowledge on virtual software and assistance from a web design consultant. When getting started, make the changes that you can to prepare for your auction, but don’t hesitate to reach out for help for the rest.
Market your auction
Successful digital event marketing is like juggling. You have to share messages and marketing materials on several platforms and then work to keep your messages all moving smoothly.
Social media and email marketing tend to receive the most focus in marketing tips and tricks guides, which makes sense given their relatively low investment cost and wide potential audience. However, don’t let all this outreach marketing distract you from one of your most valuable marketing tools: your website!
Sure, your website may not have as many active everyday users as Twitter or Facebook. But chances are that a far higher percentage of the people who do stumble upon your site (or, even better, specifically seek out organizations like yours) are much more likely to have an interest in what you do than someone who came across your Instagram through a hashtag.
The question, then, is how do you get these interested people to discover your auction? The answer lies in keywords, organic traffic, and search engine optimization. Cornershop Creative’s SEO for nonprofits guide offers a few tips for nonprofit leaders with a wide variety of tech backgrounds (ranging from “How do I attach something to an email” to “I built my own computer when I was twelve”) to improve their incoming traffic. Here are some tips that can help you drive more people to your site:
- Target specific keywords. SEO can feel like a losing game if you’re competing with websites like Wikipedia and Amazon for keywords. The good news is that you don’t have to! Instead of targeting the broad keyword “auction,” you’ll probably have better luck with a keyword like “nonprofit auction events in Boston” or with a keyword that speaks to your mission, like “children’s advocacy events.”
- Use a blog. So keywords are great, but it’s a bit tricky to find a way to incorporate your auction-related keywords into your normal content about your mission. With your blog, you can write keyword optimized posts about almost anything, from updates at your nonprofit (like your upcoming auction) to educational pieces about your cause (which can target other important non-auction related keywords).
- Optimize for mobile. Google rewards mobile-optimized websites with higher page rankings. This means making your website user-friendly is both more convenient for your guests and can help more potential attendees find your auction!
- Share all the details. Unlike social media sites and other third-party platforms, your website has the space to explain whatever your supporters might want to know. Attract attention to your auction straight from your homepage, too, by adding a bold call-to-action or even present the auction in pop-ups that display on key pages throughout your site.
You’re already putting so much effort into planning your auction, so why wouldn’t you want to market it as much as possible? Your website is the perfect tool to get your auction out there (especially to people who are already interested in your cause). By optimizing your site, you can definitely increase those RSVPs.
Make registration for the auction easy
Your guests’ experience with your auction begins when they sign up, so think of your registration form as your first chance at making a good impression.
While a few rare individuals may enjoy sitting down to fill out a nice, long registration form, most people want something quick and easy. Show your guests you respect their time by keeping your form straightforward and to the point. You can do this by:
- Paying attention to user experience. If it’s not simple to register, users will not complete the form. Think of what forms fields you’ll be using for the event and only collect that information. If you have 20 required questions, break your form into multiple pages, so users aren’t overwhelmed with all the questions on one page. In contrast, don’t break it into multiple steps if the form only has three questions. No one likes extra clicks.
- Making your registration form accessible. Remember to be considerate of all of your guests, and make your registration forms accessible by using proper color contrast, including alt text in images, and putting all directions in readable text.
- Using add-on features strategically. Keeping your forms short limits the number of other engagement opportunities you can present guests with while they register. However, if your nonprofit happens to use a website builder like WordPress, you can get around this limit with pop-up and store check-out plugins, encouraging guests to take extra actions on the last stages of their registration without feeling like you’re lengthening the process.
Lastly, be sure to brand your registration form and payment processing page with your nonprofit’s logo and color palette, especially if these forms direct visitors away from your website. Doing so will provide a sense of security, letting guests know without a doubt that they are attending an event hosted by your organization and not some shady scammer.
Create a microsite
For many virtual events, you’ll be perfectly fine hosting your registration, live-stream, and other event features on your main website. Fundraising auctions, however, are a different animal, and might need a more dedicated space to explain all the details.
Instead of cluttering up your main website, you might decide it’s better to create a microsite for hosting your auction and use your main website as a promotional tool.
When building your auction’s microsite, you’ll need pages for several core elements, including:
- Your item catalog. A list of item names with a few photos may be easy to set up, but it’s not especially impressive. By contrast, item catalogs require a dedicated page on your website, an engaging layout, and plenty of room to explain all the cool features of each item.
- Information on bidding. Online and mobile bidding can be a little confusing, especially for those new to the online auction platforms. To help your guests participate in your auction, you may need to create a page and maybe even a tutorial video dedicated to explaining mobile bidding, and you should provide a link to download any necessary apps.
- Auction rules. You and your guests need to be on the same page about how an auction is won. In about nine out of ten cases, you won’t have any problems, but that one hiccup can be resolved quickly if you have a public participation agreement you can point to. You can also use the auction rules to explain other parts about how your auction will work so everyone knows what to expect.
And don’t feel like you have to limit your microsite to just these pages. As you start planning the finer points of your auction, you’ll likely discover all sorts of information and features you’ll want to add to your microsite. You can also expand your options even further by looking into custom software development to get access to unique online tools built just for your nonprofit’s auction. Get those creative juices flowing!
Integrate your auction software
Online auctions need one very important piece to function: online auction software. But this necessary tool will only work if you integrate it with the rest of your nonprofit’s techstack, including your website.
There are an impressive number of auction software solutions available, as demonstrated in re:charity’s online auction software guide. Resources like these are a great place to start weighing your options and noting which software integrates with which platforms. Before making a purchase, confirm with your provider that integration won’t be a problem.
Once you have the right software, connect it to your website, CRM, event software, and any other necessary tools. Practice entering information in these systems to make sure your data is flowing smoothly between your platforms to prevent any potential data loss or user experience issues down the line.
Post photos on your website
Before and during your virtual auction, take photos whenever possible so that you can continue promoting your nonprofit even after your event is over. These might be images of your high-value items, pictures of smiling faces over zoom, or a photograph of part of your event’s live-stream (which can be especially useful if you paired another event, like a gala, with your auction).
In your immediate follow-up, thank guests for attending, make sure they received any items they won, and check in with sponsors to thank them for their contributions. Instead of sending a plain text thank you letter, you can add images taken during your event to remind guests how much fun they had. Plus, a great photo could convince guests to hang onto your thank you card, which might remind them to attend your next event.
Then, you can turn to your website to post photos of your auction. Snapshots of guests having fun interspersed with photos of high-value items will help attendees recall your auction with fondness and encourage others to attend next time. Just remember to ask any guests who appear in the photos for their permission to post them online!
Auctions are popular events that have massive earning potential, but they’re also an investment. To set your auction up for its best chance at success, look to your website first. When used effectively, the possibilities for hosting, marketing, and managing your event are, well, not endless, but certainly impressive!
Start exploring what your website can do for your auction, and don’t hesitate to reach out to an expert in nonprofit web design and marketing to get that extra, professional touch to unlock your website’s full potential.