How can you make the most out of your school auction? While choosing high-quality, appealing items and hosting a stellar event are key considerations for your planning committee, there’s something else you’ll need to consider.
Who, exactly, are your bidders?
Getting to know your bidders can open up opportunities to create long term relationships with potential donors and increase bidding during the event.
It’s important to get to know them early and often, which is why we’re bringing you these top 7 tips:
- Research auction attendees in advance
- Train auction staff
- Reach out to your network
- Learn business affiliations
- Use auction software
- Engage and retain your bidders
- Track your results
- Send post-auction surveys
Let’s get started with the first.
The first part of this step is encouraging your attendees to RSVP to your auction. The second is taking that list of confirmed attendees and performing prospect research.
Prospect research is a way to learn more about who your attendees are so that you can create more targeted asks for donations and build stronger relationships with new and current donors.
Prospect research takes several wealth and philanthropic indicators into account, including:
- Philanthropic history. Has this person given charitably to other schools or education-based nonprofits?
- Involvement. Have they served on a school board, for example?
- Real estate ownership. Property values can indicate how much a donor can give and their likelihood of giving.
- Political giving. Donations to political campaigns in support of education-based policies can indicate a top prospect for your school.
All of these factors can be included into prospect profiles (here are some templates from DonorSearch to get started).
Considering both wealth and philanthropic indicators gives a clearer picture of who a donor might be, where their interests lie, and how much they can give.
You can perform prospect research in-house, or you can request the services of a screening company to do it for you, depending on your school’s budget.
Anyone who’s attending your auction is already a prospect for your school. Researching them in advance can help you target your top prospects so that you can strategize your interactions.
With a school auction, your goal isn’t just to get as many bids as possible. You also want to start building on relationships to create long-term supporters for your school.
To do so, you’ll want to train your auction staff and frontline fundraisers. Apart from making sure that everyone knows how to use your software, you’ll need to facilitate discussions on fundraising during the auction.
Once you’ve used prospect research to identify your top donor candidates, assign a staff member to each one.
During the course of a silent auction, or during relaxed moments in the live auction, have your fundraisers ask these potential donors questions about:
- Their involvement in your school, if unknown.
- What school programs they care about most.
- Their ideas for improving certain aspects of your school.
- Their willingness to make further donations.
Though you don’t want your staff to distract bidders from bidding, you can use the less exciting moments during the course of the event to engage with your top prospects and craft targeted asks that appeal to their interests.
One of the best ways to get to know your bidders is to meet them through a personal connection. After all, it’s much more natural to make conversation with a friend-of-a-friend than a stranger because of the common ground.
Before the auction, it’s important that you reach out to all of your key players to find out who they know and who they’re bringing.
Ask your procurement chair.
Ask your principal.
Ask the entire school board.
The point is that you can leverage personal connections to build a deeper relationship with donors, quicker.
But first, you have to know what those connections are. Then, you can request that your common connection — whoever they may be — can introduce you to the potential donors that they know.
In line with the tip above, it’s important that you pay special attention to business affiliations when it comes to planning your auction.
For one thing, business affiliations can give you insight into opportunities for corporate philanthropy, such as matching gifts.
For another, you can generate more bids by paying special attention to business rivalries.
For example, creating a seating chart that sits two (friendly) business competitors right next to each other can be a great way to stir up excitement during a live auction. Both parties are likely to compete to outbid each other.
Everyone has fun in the process, and your school earns more money as a result.
Ultimately, business affiliations can give insight into your bidders’ lives, so pay special attention to this factor when performing prospect research.
During the auction, you don’t want to have your hands tied with checking attendendees out and in, closing bidding, and performing other necessary but inconvenient tasks.
That’s why it’s important to use auction software to streamline your event.
Auction software can handle the hassle of logistics, so that you’re free to focus on building stronger relationships with your attendees.
Auction software can, for example, offer mobile bidding, which enables donors to bid on silent auction items from their phones. Without bid sheets getting in the way, mobile bidding clears up table space and keeps crowds dispersed around the event space.
Other features, like auto check-in and check-out, can prevent long lines from building up before and after your event, so that bidders arrive ready to bid and leave in a good mood.
When selecting auction software, you want to ensure that you’re choosing a platform that offers plenty of behind-the-scenes support, so that everyone knows how to use the software effectively.
During the auction, you’ll want to offer more opportunities to donate than just bidding. Why?
Because doing so allows your bidders to support your school in a multitude of ways. It sets the stage for further cultivation and stewardship (Need a refresher? This Qgiv resource can help).
You can promote engagement by:
- Making a live appeal. Asking for donations directly gives donors the opportunity to come forward.
- Enhancing an item. Let’s say you have a student painting up for auction. Have the student give a short speech about what the painting means and why donating to his/her school is important. Like a live appeal, this direct ask adds character to an item while opening the floor for more donations.
- Offering incentive. Have a table at your auction for accepting high-dollar donations. Everyone who gives a certain amount will have their name engraved on plaque that’s hung in the school atrium.
Previous donations are one of the strongest indicators of future donations. Enticing bidders to give more during your auction sets the stage for building a relationship with them.
A positive event experience at your auction can help you retain these donors so that you have the opportunity to learn more about them.
Knowing your donors before the auction can help you craft your event strategy. But once the auction is over, you’ll need to use the information you’ve gleaned to create an effective follow-up strategy.
One of the biggest indicators of top prospect behavior is large bids.
Bidders who bid on multiple items will likely be invested in your school’s future fundraising events. Likewise, those who won top dollar items need to be stewarded appropriately with highly personal thank-you phone calls or notes.
Another means of gauging your donors’ interests is by paying attention to the items that garnered the most bids. Not only should you include these items in your next school auction, but you can also use them to target your supporters’ areas of interest.
If for example, travel packages served as the most popular items, then perhaps you should host travel-themed fundraising events in the future. A night in Paris? A tropical gala?
The possibilities are endless, but knowing what you donors want can help you meet their preferences.
One of the best ways to know what your bidders think is to, well, ask them what they think.
Send out post-auction surveys to gather insight into your attendees and the success of your event.
You can ask them:
- How they would rate the auction.
- What they enjoyed the most.
- What they enjoyed the least.
- Their favorite auction items.
- If they plan to attend more events for your school.
- How they’d like to support your school in the future.
The key is to gather the information that can help you craft your auctions and other events so that your attendees enjoy them, which, in turn, can result in more bids and donations for your school!
Auctions are a top school fundraising idea, and for good reason. They offer your school the opportunity to engage donors and learn more about who your donors are, all while enjoying the fun atmosphere of bidding!
That’s why it’s important to do your research, so that you make the most of your school auction!
Ryan Woroniecki is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at DonorSearch, a prospect research, screening, and analytics company that focuses on proven philanthropy. He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits and is a member of APRA-MD. When he isn’t working, he is an avid kickball player. His post appears here courtesy of DonorSearch.