Should You Use Mobile Bidding For Your Special Appeal?

30 May 2017 By Roger Devine

Special Appeals (aka Paddle Raises or Fund-A-Need) are a staple of fundraising auctions. Mobile Bidding is a popular auction trend. Are they compatible?

This is a guest blog post by Brian Bice, a professional benefit auctioneer based in our hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Like most benefit auctioneers who have been in the business for a while, I’ve seen changes in auction software in recent years. It used to be that, at the end of every benefit auction, guests faced the buzz-kill of checkout. Long lines and hours of waiting were normal. When benefit auction software came of age, it put an end to the checkout headache.

Subsequently, software companies looked for other aspects of the auction structure that could be automated and sped up. The most visible of these is the silent auction.

Silent auctions are rapidly leaving behind the “grid and clipboard” system that’s been the norm for decades, as guests learn how to bid on their phones. Very civilized and, I assume, generating as much revenue as the old fashioned method always did.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I encountered a proposed use for benefit auction software that I now know to be a very big mistake. At most benefit auctions, one key element in maximizing the revenue stream is the special appeal, sometimes referred to as the “paddle raise.” This is the moment when the auctioneer calls out specific dollar amounts, and guests raise their paddles to donate that amount of money. Except this time, the paddles didn’t go up. The phones came out.

There, on each smart phone screen, guests could enter their donation in the privacy of their own two hands. It happened very quickly. Later, we learned that the total dollar amount was significantly below projections and, in fact, less money than any paddle raise that that nonprofit had realized in the past several years. By any reckoning, it was a bust, a failure. But why?

The general consensus at the debrief meeting a few days later was that the smart phone approach had been clean, quick, and easy for guests to manage. What it didn’t offer, however, was the opportunity for guests to see how much or how little all of the other guests were donating.

During a standard special appeal, guests raise their paddles knowing that all of the other guests in the room can see how generous they are with their donations. Or how stingy. This dynamic results in an unspoken pressure on donors to pony up a reasonable amount of money for the cause at hand. None of these pressures came into play when guests were allowed to make their donations on smart phones.

In today’s world, changes in technology happen very fast. Changes in human psychology happen much less often. For now, my experience teaches me that the “old fashioned paddle raise” is still the most financially productive way to manage a special appeal.

Brian Bice has been serving as auctioneer for school, charity, and club fundraisers for more than twenty years. He lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon with his wife, Carmen, and two sons. He serves as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for CASA of Clackamas County and is a proud member of the Rotary Club of Lake Oswego.