Fundraising

A Note From Auction Harmony

Hey Folks!

As you know, when life gets busy, some things inevitably get set aside. For the last few years we've been growing. Our events have been multiplying, our team has been expanding (see the new faces here), and we've had to put aside our blog to keep up with the pace. But, the time has come to renew the blog and we couldn't be more excited!

Our goal with this blog is to share what we've experienced at fundraising events and what we've learned from our clients. We will keep you updated on industry trends, best practices, feature successful fundraising event stories, and invite you to get to know us better.

So please come back to visit us often. We hope you enjoy what you find here.

Lana the office dog says to have a happy summer!

Lana
Lana

Helping a Local Nonprofit Move Beyond Pen and Paper Bidding: A Fairy Tale Beginning

This is a story about a happy ending. Like all good happy endings, it begins with a fairy tale. It doesn’t include a castle, witch, or mythical creature, but it does have magic, imagination, and a rescue. Like all good fairy tales it begins with, Once upon a time...

It started a long time ago in a basement far far away. Okay, it wasn’t that long ago…and it really wasn’t very far away.

Caribe Schreiber - Engineer and Owner of Auction Harmony
Caribe Schreiber - Engineer and Owner of Auction Harmony

Dan and I were in college together. We met in an electrical engineering class. I was working for a couple of fortune 500 companies doing consulting work to help pay for books and tuition and trying to keep down a double major in electrical engineering and computer engineering. Somewhat successfully I might add.

Anyway, one day I got a call from one of the development staff at the high school I attended and they were in a real jam. They had an event coming up in one week and the IT guy that had been helping them run their auction had quit. He left mumbling something about stress and never wanting to be near a fundraiser ever again.

They asked if I could come give them some advice and maybe help them out of this unfortunate predicament they were in, of course, I told them that I would help.

So, given the closeness of their event, I setup a meeting with the development person for later that day. When I sat down with her, I had to have her explain what a fundraiser was, and how it all worked. I had never been to one, let alone seen the workings from behind the curtain.

She told me about her main problems:

People couldn't get checked in fast enough

Nobody knew where to sit

Making name badges was an impossible task

Trying to transcribe bid data correctly for 450 auction lots was a monumental task and always had mistakes and hurt feelings

Collecting payment from guests’ onsite was challenging and led to lots of follow-up work that dragged on for months

But mostly, she was just terrified about having to do this all without any system or IT help to get through the night. She was used to the other warts in the event process, she just needed to make it through this one event, and then she wouldn’t need me anymore.

So, I put on my thinking beanie, the one with the little propeller, and came up with some interesting ideas to try to solve all these problems. I locked myself away in my bedroom for about 5 days trying different things and writing more and more code to try to stave off the complete meltdown of this event. And after 5 days, I had something brand new that I thought had a pretty good chance of keeping us alive at this event.

I went in and met with the development person and she nearly cried when I showed her what I’d built. We didn’t have time for tears, so we started planning and getting training programs in place. We started pulling guest and auction data together and I started cramming it into this new system. I put together the network of computers and printers from stuff we scavenged from the school library.

Guests started showing up. We pre-registered their credit cards to keep the wrap-up from turning into a headache. We handed guests a set of barcoded stickers to use for bidding instead of forcing a volunteer to try to transcribe the potent combination of philanthropy, alcohol, and doctor’s handwriting and we sent people in to the event, and did a little praying.

It all turned out swimmingly. The barcode bidding method was a hit. Registration was super fastand eliminated lines completely, which was a huge win from the 30-minute registration lines the previous year.

Guests bid more often and higher using their barcodes than they had the previous year. We managed to close and audit the auction data using barcode scanners in under 20 minutes instead of the 60+ minutes the previous year.

And, when checkout came, we had everything all tidied up for the guests and we had everyone out the door and back in their cars before they knew it, instead of the 2 ½ + hours people had to wait in line for the check-out in the previous year.

So, I sat back at the end of the night, thankful that I had survived and that my scant 5 days of development and testing had yielded a system that didn’t explode and leave me looking like Wile E Coyote opening an explosive laced parcel. The development person was so thankful; the event committee thanked me and headed home.

I thought ‘not too shabby…I guess I gave back to my community and I can go back to studying and consulting my way through engineering school’.

After coming-to on Monday morning I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to walk away from this thing I had just done. I checked my voicemail; there were messages from 6 other organizations that had similar events. They had tracked me down through the development person at the school and were pleading with me to come talk to them and tell me how we accomplished such a remarkable turnaround with this year’s event.

Dan Kelly - Engineer and Owner of Auction Harmony
Dan Kelly - Engineer and Owner of Auction Harmony

Dan and I were working on another product targeted at data center management and security at the time and when I told him what I’d done, we both decided that we should drop the current product and focus on this event system.

And so we did and Auction Harmony was born.

We still use many of these ideas that were born in those first 5 days and we’ve had a lot of other great ideas that we’ve added in the intervening 10 years, along with great staff and great clients.

Today Auction Harmony serves hundreds of nonprofits annually, across the nation from a variety of sectors and ranging in all sizes. We offer 7 different types of bidding technology and 5 types of event management technology.

So here we stand, on the shoulders of one person, offering a helping hand to a development staffer on short notice in her time of need.

Surprises and Opportunities with Female Donors

Most non-profits have a known group of donors who they can count on to loyally support their mission, engage as volunteers, and come back year after year with generous gifts. It’s easy to become familiar with your donors; you learn what works for direct mail appeals, the programs that garner the most support, and the community events that spark the most interest. However, these consistencies may not be as specific to the donors of a particular organization as we may think. If we look at donors from a demographic standpoint, the giving habits and patterns would likely be consistent with those of their peers.

One peer group that is worth noting and paying close attention to are women. Here are some insights we found to be quite striking:

 

Women Give, and they Give Generously

Results of the 2010 Women Give Report conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed that single women are more likely to give to charity, and give at higher levels, than single men of the same income levels.  Women who have never been married are nearly 10% more likely to give than never married men, and they are likely to give 57% more.

Is your donor base comprised heavily of married couples? It might be worth taking the time to cultivate relationships with some single women! As marriage continues to become a less dominate lifestyle in the US, your female donors may become a tremendous asset as you continue grow and develop your donor prospects.

 

Boomer Women

One specific segment of women to watch are those who comprise the Baby Boomers. With roughly 76 million individuals, the Baby Boomer generation is the largest in America today. Their ideals, behaviors, and attitudes towards saving and spending have a tremendous impact on the economy. Their philanthropic habits are also important to watch, as Boomers hold a significant amount of wealth in the US.

By 2030, it is estimated that Boomer women will account for 54 percent of their generation.[1] And, women over the age of 50 control a net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial worth.[2] That’s a whole lot of Boomer ladies who control a whole lot of money who could be contributing generously to your organization.

Boomer women were also the force behind the major shifts in traditional gender roles, and they reshaped the landscape of opportunities for education, employment, and wages for women. Not surprisingly, these Boomer women also have had an impact on how women give philanthropically.  The first women’s fund was created in the early 1970’s, and many public foundations have been created since.

These women are movers and shakers, and they have the potential to be powerful advocates for your organization.

 

What This Means For Events

We know that fundraising events serve many purposes for our clients, but one major factor is to provide an opportunity to network with a group of new donors. When thinking about your next event, it could be helpful to look at your female donors in a new light.

If you consider women’s propensity to give to causes they feel connected to and their ability to influence community and social networks, they are the perfect candidates to bring to your next event.

Working to build relationships with female donors is a worthwhile investment of time, and your next event could be the perfect place to start. Consider gearing some element of your next fundraising gala towards the women who walk in the door, and see where the effort brings you.

 

 

[1] Damen, M.M. and McCuistion, N.N. 2010. Women, Wealth & Giving: The Virtuous Legacy of the Boom Generation. John Wiley & Sons Inc.: Hoboken, New Jersey.

[2] MassMutual Financial Group 2007. http://www.massmutual.com/mmfg/pdf/afbs.pdf

Innovations that Can Aid Nonprofits with Donor Retention and Fundraising

Charitable giving has undergone numerous necessitated changes over the past few years. Innovation is becoming increasingly more important for their success as the climate for fundraising has become more competitive for nonprofits as they face an over-saturated market and an economy with less disposable income.

If you have experience supporting a nonprofit, you’ve probably attended a gala fundraiser or two. Galas are a great way for nonprofits to showcase their cause and renew inspiration in the mission of the organization. Galas provide an opportunity to bring in new donors, and they allow current donors to enjoy the fun, social side of philanthropy. The key is guest experience, which ultimately turns those guests into reliable supporters.

Call it a trend or a growing awareness but many nonprofits’ are incorporating auction technology into their charitable events to outshine their competition and retain their donors. Here’s how it works:

No More Lines

Guest experience begins and ends at the door. The last thing you want after working tirelessly for months on end is to have frustrating lines at registration and check out, leaving a less than stellar impression on your guests. By using technology at your event, guest name badges are preprinted with their bidder number, table information, and a barcode. Check in and check out is as easy as scanning a barcode, swiping a credit card and you’re on your way.

Enhanced Silent Auctions and Engaged Donors

Venues aren’t always the most accommodating spaces for silent auctions. A small room filled with a hundred or more auction items, bids handwritten on a sheet of paper located near the item that you and every other guest are trying to get to.  Guests will typically cruise the silent auction displays upon arrival, but once they’ve seen it, they don’t go back. This means money is left on the table.  The most common feedback we hear is “we wish we would have known we were outbid” or “it was too much trouble to get back to the table.”

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By far, the biggest advantage with auction technology is how easy it is to bid.  Wireless bidsheet tablets are placed in front of all of the auction items, so the current high bid is visible and the touch screen makes it easy to place or raise bids. Just enter your bidder number and touch the amount you would like to bid, confirm and you’re done.  Guests can also register their smartphones, bid on handheld devices, or at kiosk stations placed throughout the event space so they can browse, bid, and monitor bids while grabbing a cocktail and mingling with friends. Guests using smartphones will also get alerts when they have been outbid.

Increased Participation and Revenue

It’s common sense. A greater number of bids on an item drives the price higher, which means more money for your charity. Because auction technology is so accessible, it allows guests to be more active participants as well as fostering a sense of friendly competition.

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The Fund-A-Need or Special Appeal portion of the program is very effective for generating significant revenue within minutes. The energy created in the room is vital for the success of the Fund-A-Need. Traditionally, the auctioneer creates this energy, but we’ve seen increased success by incorporating a Donation Tracker and Donation Tablets.

The Donation Tracker is used on stage providing guests with real-time tracking of donations and recognizes guests for their contributions. Donation Tablets are used at the tables and are passed around by guests who can donate electronically through the device. This encourages participation from people who wouldn't normally hold up their bidder number, as well as competitive patrons trying to outdo one another.

Instant Feedback and Eliminates Inaccuracies

With digitally recorded bids, you can instantly get a sense for how well your silent auction is doing, and make adjustments to items that aren’t getting bids. This process also eliminates human error and the recording of incorrect bid amounts or bidder identities.

Because you look like a Boss

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Plain and simple: technology is fun, sleek, and sexy. It’s impressive to your guests, and provides an environment that mirrors the instant gratification most people have become accustomed to in their everyday lives. However, bringing technology to your event can be an investment, especially when you’re running on a tight budget and every penny counts. If you don’t think your nonprofit can afford technology at your fundraising event, we have ideas to make it happen. Our technology has many screen displays to feature sponsors or advertisers; soliciting corporate underwriting prior to the event is a great way to cut down on your costs.

The bottom line is that fundraising galas take enormous effort to plan and prepare for. Bringing technology to an event helps to make all that effort worth it by providing guests with a flawless, high-quality experience. A mission that is effectively communicated and a clear set of goals will drive donors to give, and the technology will allow them to do so with ease and satisfaction.

The world of fundraising is not for the faint of heart

The world of fundraising is not for the faint of heart. You know this; we know this.

Financially sustaining a foundation or non-profit requires strategy, relationship management, diligence, and sometimes a thick skin. Planning a fundraising event takes all of these things plus a strong dose of organization and collaboration.

Last month, Bloomerang hosted a webinar that discussed best practices and new trends for fundraising event success. Here are some of the highlights of their discussion.

Know your guests. Are you hosting a party for millennials or their baby-boomer parents? Are you dealing with corporate sponsors or perhaps a room full of political movers and shakers? These demographics matter, and tailoring your event to suit these different populations will contribute to your success. Knowing what your guests will find interesting and engaging helps position you to find the proper venue, the best silent auction items, and how to craft your ask.

Less is more. This is especially true when it comes to silent auctions. Flooding your guests with choices does not always lead to higher bids. An overcrowded silent auction can leave guests feeling overwhelmed and disinterested. Focusing on higher value items that are in-line with the demographics of your crowd will help foster bidding interest and competition. This may also extend to games like a “wine pull.” If it suits your crowd, you may consider replacing your usual 100-bottle wine pull with a 35-bottle scotch pull. Charging a higher amount for a chance to win, while increasing the overall value of the prize creates fresh excitement for a tried-and-true event game. Again, knowing your guests is key.

Start your event early. Pre-launching your silent auction online is a great way to garner excitement for event night. A pre-launched silent auction helps you engage with not only the guests who are attending your event, but also with those who cannot be there to attend in person. Allowing guests to preview and bid on items provides an atmosphere of friendly competition among top items, and it helps you raise money before the event even starts!

End your event as smoothly as it began. Setting up your guest registration to allow for pre-authorization of payment will facilitate a smooth process for guests checking out once the event is over. No matter how lovely the centerpieces, how robust the selection of wine, or how lively the band; your guests always remember the final part of the night. Standing in a long line to pay for and retrieve silent auction items can spoil a guest’s overall impression of the evening, no matter how many other elements of the night went perfectly. Allowing your guests to pre-register a credit card at the beginning of the event allows for a seamless check-out, and equipping yourself with enough volunteers to manage the end-of-the-night rush will drastically reduce lines.

The rest is a combination of tenacity, attention to detail, and a little bit of luck. Auction Harmony holds tight to the notion that you know what goals are best for your event. We just want to help make those goals easier to for you to achieve.

Our web-based event organizer keeps all of your silent auction, ticketing, guest, and seating information in one centralized location. With a clean interface and various reporting capabilities, all the details and information you collect in the months leading up to your event can be captured and maintained with ease.

Another web-based tool we offer is our Auction Preview, which serves as a platform to allow guests to peruse and bid on silent auction items prior to the event. Generating excitement for your event has never been easier.

If you choose to partner with Auction Harmony, your event data remains available to you year after year. This allows for a comprehensive look into what historically works and what doesn’t, enabling you to build a future event that has the maximum potential to succeed.

We also offer various services to help make the guest experience easy and enjoyable. Our check-in process includes the opportunity to pre-register guest payment, and is coupled with our simple check-out process which reduces lines and includes a printed receipt for each guest. Your guests will leave your event remembering your mission; not the half hour they stood in line to pick-up their silent auction winnings.

We would love to work with you to build some of these best practices into your next event!

To learn more about best practices in fundraising events, watch the full webinar hosted by Bloomerang here.