How to Convert a Live Auction Fundraiser to a Virtual Auction Fundraiser

The fundraiser can still go on! While social distancing is driving a wedge between people physically this does NOT mean the end of auction fundraising. Convert a live auction fundraiser to a virtual live auction easily.

We know it’s disappointing to have to cancel the in-person event however the event can still continue albeit in a more creative way. Virtual live auctions can still be fun, can still be interactive and can still bring in the needed funds.

The importance of community and generosity has never been more than they are now. While some of your supporters may not be in a position to give at this time, there are others that can and will. They just need to be asked and given the means to do so. Suggest that if donating in a financial way is not feasible, that’s understood and helping get the word out is equally valuable.

But don’t be bashful about asking for donations at this time, just do so with kindness and empathy. Provide a clear message on how the funds raised will help in an actionable way: feeding the hungry, teaching the students, caring for the elderly, fostering the animals, researching to cure a disease, providing medical or assistive services. Describe how the funds will be used in the near term in a meaningful way.

Here are the three key steps to convert your live auction to a virtual live auction:

  1. Spread the word
  2. Use a lively auctioneer and emcee
  3. Fill the seats with a crowd of people

Bonus guidance on how to broadcast the virtual live auction:

  • Broadcast tools
  • Auction tools
  • Tips for presenters

Spread the Word

Make the message loud, broad. In the process of planning a brick & mortar fundraiser event, typically you will send multiple messages through multiple channels multiple times. The same overall strategy still applies, however you may want to increase the volume. In the past, you may have used a pretty paper invitation and the one-to-one invitation was successful. Let’s use that still but in a broader way.

Make the message clear and shareable. Give precise details about when and how the online event will occur. Include photos, videos to bring attention to the event. Open permissions on social media to make posts shareable. For more formal sharing with stakeholders provide sample text to copy & paste, provide images that are shareable. Tell the story in pictures and infographics to frame up the narrative.

Here are a few ideas to motivate sharing of your virtual live auction fundraiser:

  • Thank each sharer with a simple gesture such as an emoji on the shared message.
  • When the sharer is appreciated and recognized it really does provide positive feedback and encouragement to share again
  • Reward the most shares with a token of appreciation and verbal adoration
  • Tagging influencers of all sizes
  • Hashtags can be very powerful
  • Emojis and special characters have evolved from fun to actual tools

Tag sponsors, donors, speakers. We hear the term influencer used frequently and tend to think this power is only reserved for those with millions of followers. Untrue. Micro-influencers are all around and reside within your auction audience. Influences are your donors, sponsors, speakers, and bidders. Tag them in messages that are specific and meaningful. Thank a sponsor for their donation and show how their contributions will be a changemaker. In turn, they will want to share and broaden your reach. Do the same with individual auction items, tag the donor, use related hashtags to make the message loud and broad.

If you have not been using hashtags now is the time. Here is the crash course on hashtags. Hashtags are clickable and doing so brings all the like content to the viewer’s screen. Thus it works two ways, connects all the like messages that allows the viewer to see all relevant content instantly. Use a hashtag specifically for the event fundraiser as well as more generic hashtags. Create a hashtag for your event fundraiser and use it every time you post.

An underutilized tool to bring attention to posts and email headlines is the simple icon or emoji. These small images or characters really bring attention to the message and make it stand out from lines and lines of text. Use the same emoji in all messaging to help brand and bring a consistent visual to the online event. An expert in the field worth following is Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina. Andy is an industry expert on content marketing with an emphasis on social media. This article Social Post Checklist: 9 Examples of Engaging Social Media Posts has even more tips.

Lively Auctioneer & Emcee

Virtual live events are the new live event fundraisers. Ordinarily, with an event-based fundraiser, people have paid for an admission ticket so they are motivated to show up. By shifting to an online-only event the financial motivation goes away. How can you replace that motivation with something virtual? Since we are physically distanced right now our circle of communications has narrowed greatly to close friends and family. Offering a broad online party atmosphere event is fun! It breaks up the monotony of daily activity of working & learning to bring together some friendly faces you may not have seen for a while.

Plan the online event with the precision that you would for an in-person event. Create a timeline from pre-event to post-event and all the activity in between. Set the ‘stage’ with any speakers and presenters. Do a rehearsal to ensure each person knows how to use any new services and practice how to handoff and transition throughout the event.

The timing of the event will be different compared to a live event when participants would be mingling, eating, drinking & socializing. Fill the time with purposeful activity and make it lively. The use of a lively auctioneer or emcee is even more important to retain the attention of the audience. Do give this person as much background as possible. At a live event, the speaker can read the audience and take in cues before and during to make the presentations personal. Fill in this void before the event starts by sharing some community stories, successes, anecdotes and maybe even a funny fail.

Music is a great way to both fill the voids and set the tone. Start the event with some really upbeat music just like you would have done when starting a real-life event. Envision the doors opening and the electricity drawing in the crowd. Use music to transition between parts of the presentation and between auction items.

Power of the paddle is still a real thing. The live auction awakens bidders and brings them to the edge of their seats. This time the edge of seats are physically distanced but still, there is a togetherness when a virtual live event pulls it all together. The auctioneer is the live conduit and the thrill of the get is still palpable. When the auctioneer energizes the crowd then turns on the auction, bids start flying. People can be persuaded: hosts encourage and move the bidders to raise the paddle over and over. Think, there is a reason home shopping networks have been around for years, and you have a major advantage! Your auction fundraiser isn’t just about selling it’s about caring for your beloved cause and making a difference. It’s about staying connected for a greater good, it’s about community, health, and wellness.

Fill the Online Live Auction Seats with a Crowd

Give people a reason to spend time in your company. Past bidders and supporters are aware of how important the cause is and have already felt the power to participate. Remind them that the needs are still there, and share how past donations were used. Bring the emotional and heartfelt story to life to bring the audience to the virtual event. Also, make it fun and meaningful. Include music, pre-recorded entertainment and impact video. Engage viewers in the chat box by asking questions to encourage live interaction. Live entertainment, live speakers and getting to seeing favorite community leaders is a huge draw as well.

When your plan is in place: show and tell everyone! When doing an in-person event you may have used images or videos of the venue as an enticement. Now do a short snippet of video with the keynote speaker or auctioneer in an energized almost infomercial. Make people believe this is a do-not-miss event. This event is appointment viewing and will not be available after the event. Don’t be afraid to send many reminders. A day before, the morning of, an hour before and the final minutes countdown.

A little extra incentive to show up and a double extra to bring a friend can help too.

  • What will trigger your audience to make it a point to join?
  • Do a small raffle drawing and include anyone that is in your viewing audience
  • Provide a special promise to recognize those in a public way at a future gathering after the COVID-19 cloud is lifted
  • Make a promise that those that spent time with you at the virtual event get a little something at the future gathering
  • If you are a school what incentive can you give the parents that is valuable to the student for today or a future tomorrow? No homework pass, lead the virtual pledge, extra playground time for elementary school, pick your lunch table for middle school, better parking for high school students
  • If you are a community group is there a future event that is coveted, tether it to the virtual live auction event
  • If you are an animal group is there a special meet & greet with the animals, caregivers, backroom tour that would be incentivizing
  • If you are a theatre or arts & culture VIP or early or extended access to a future event

Brainstorm with your auction team and find one or a few activities that will prompt people to share the information AND show up to the virtual event. When you decide which priceless experience to offer, make it official & special. Advertise that you will be well documenting and providing a very valuable certificate of appreciation and participation post-event. Make it exclusive to drive attention and attendance.

Tools for Broadcast

Make it easy to connect. TV and radio both have places in our lives. Therefore live streaming video and audio are both viable options for a live online auction event. As the COVID-19 confinement is extended more people are making online communication tools part of their day. Students are probably slightly ahead of the curve here, followed by businesses and community and social groups. Although social media has and always will be part of our lives it tends to be one person on their own device. Luckily there are lots of tools available to choose from to make the in-person live event an online live event. These tools are services that connect participants in a virtual gathering place to share time and space. You can make these as public or private as you wish to either enhance participation or make it exclusive.

Using social media for livestreams is an option. Low to no barrier to entry, no fees for Facebook Live. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube all have livestream options. If your crowd already hangs out on these and follows you they will get a notification when the live stream begins. The familiarity of the service can serve as a backdrop to encourage participation. Friendly reminder: using social media to stream it is important to understand the privacy options.

Facebook Live lets you livestream events, performances, and gatherings on Facebook. Viewers can watch from a phone, computer or connected TV. You can go live on Facebook from a profile, Page, group or event.
The privacy setting of the group determines who will be able to see your live video. Learn more about Facebook group privacy.

Facebook Live

To go live in a Facebook group:
From your News Feed, click Groups in the left menu and select the group you’d like to go live in.
Click Live Video at the top of the group.
In the left menu, select whether you'd like to Go Live Now or Schedule a Live Video for a future time and date.
Add a title and description to your post. Here you can also tag friends, check in to a location, or add a feeling or activity.
Click Go Live in the bottom left.

Instagram Live

To go live on Instagram
You can share a live video to connect with your followers in real time for up to one hour. Once a live video has ended, it's no longer visible in the app, unless you share a replay of it to your story.

  1. Tap camera icon in the top left of Feed or swipe right from anywhere in Feed.
  2. Scroll to Live at the bottom of the screen, then tap.
  3. The number of viewers appears at the top of the screen and comments appear at the bottom.
  4. You can add a comment by tapping Comment at the bottom of the screen.
  5. Tap a comment and tap Pin Comment to pin it so that viewers can see it more easily.
  6. When you're done, tap End in the top right then tap to confirm. From there, you can tap in the top left to save it to your camera roll, or share it to your story.
    Other Instagram Live notes: Keep in mind that when you save your live video to your camera roll, only the video is saved, and not things like comments, likes and viewers. It may take a minute for your live video to save to your phone, especially for longer videos.

More formal live stream options may be a better solution for your audience. When researching vendors they may all seem similar till you dig into the details on both features and pricing for those features. Pricing may vary based on the number of presenters, seats at the virtual venue, length of time for the event, file storage, pre-event and meeting space.
Considerations in choosing a vendor:

  • Is it just a meeting or will you want to present some formal slides and video
  • Do you want a ‘lobby’ or do you want people to just enter the main meeting room
  • How many presenter seats will you require
  • How many participant seats will you require
  • If you will be presenting do you prefer to screen share or upload and present
  • Most seem to offer monthly pricing however do be specific when inquiring if you will be using the service for a one-time event
  • Demo the product as if you were using it in the event setting if possible.

The meeting, chat video communication services options are plentiful. You are looking for web conferencing software. This software enables organizations to conduct interactive conferences and meetings via the Internet. Sounds a little stiff but the industry is mostly built around business although it is rapidly adapting right now to be inclusive of all types of uses.

Also related that you may bump into while searching is:

  • Collaboration Software
  • Meeting Software
  • Screen Sharing Software
  • Live Streaming Software
  • Remote Work Software

Here are a handful to help jumpstart your research:

Google Products

Google is one leader offering this informational article: Event marketing considerations for pivoting from live to virtual gatherings. They describe platform and broadcast options as well as an overview of their tools highlighting Hangouts Meet Livestream and YouTube Livestream

Zoom

Zoom is a catchy name that has quickly risen to general awareness. It is a meeting service with additional add-ons for webinar type presentations. Their website states their solutions include: meetings, chat, room & workplaces, video webinars.

GoTo Meeting

Go To Meeting was one of the early to market providers in the web conference space. Their website solutions include online meetings, webinars and telephone conferences.

LiveStorm

Livestorm meetings, chats, and webinar services are basic. As of March 2020 during COVID-19: Livestorm helps companies continue their operations remotely for free. Learn more on their blog.

Ring Central

Ring Central core product is team meetings, chats, and collaboration. You can make your video meetings highly productive by sharing content, presentations, and files in local storage or directly from Dropbox™ and Google Drive™. Add on features for webinars are available.

ClickMeeting

We here at Auctria use ClickMeeting for our webinars. The reason we chose this vendor is because we use the lobby to help people before the event begins & presentation format. In addition, we can play video, have multiple co-presenters and turn on and off audio and video for participants.

Review Sites

Word of mouth is a great way to learn about a product. Capterra and G2 are two review sites for Software as a Service (SaaS). They are more than just reviews though. Both are online catalogs of SaaS comparing and contrasting platforms.

Auctria Helps Convert Live Auction to Virtual Live Auction

Auctria virtual live auctions make the fundraising part of this easy. We have created a new feature set exclusively made for online live auction and event fundraising. Power of the paddle stays with the bidder making them part of the action. Watching other bidders take action begets more bidders to participate. Live auction action can still take place even though bidders are sheltered-in-place.

Auctria features for the virtual live auction are designed to be used as a bidding tool while the auctioneer, event speakers are live streaming their content. More on that below.

Virtual Live Auction

The Live Auction Online features are designed to give the auction control to the auction administrator. The screens that show on the bidders device are literally directed by the administration focusing the attention on the current live auction item and providing a quick tap for bidding. The auctioneer in conjunction with the administrator determines exactly when to open and close the bidding.

In practice, when the auctioneer is selling and hyping the live auction item the bidder has ONLY that auction item on their bidder screen. The activity in the live stream and on the bidding platform are aligned for less distraction and more bidding. As a bidder does place a bid they will receive immediate notification that they are the top bidder. If they are outbid an outbid notification will then appear. The bidding activity is promoted two ways: 1) by the auctioneer and in the livestream, 2) on screen notifications.

Paddle Raise

Keep the paddle raise! In the past we find the paddle raise portion of the fundraiser can bring in an average of 30%-40% of the proceeds. With Auctria’s dedicated auction online feature set a paddle raise can be conducted. Same process as the live auction, the administrator makes visible on the bidder screens a paddle raise page. Instead of physically raising the paddles the bidder taps on the donation amount. This information is immediately relayed to the admin screens should the live presenter want to publicly recognize the contribution. Consider using some lower denominations to encourage a larger volume of bids. Whatever your lowest amount was in the past consider adding another increment at 50-75% lower. If the donations amounts seem too high, with the financial worry that many are facing right now, they may be more apt to give a lower amount if offered. Your beloved cause will benefit from multiple lower amounts than no donation at all. Give them a reason to say yes!

Tips for the Broadcast

Converting the live auction to an online auction event may put a different set of people on the stage.

Tips for technical services. Test all hardware and software with the people that will be using it. Note any glitches and how you resolved the issue. Best to use a stand-alone USB microphone. Next best easiest option would be the built-in microphone on the computer although they tend to be lower quality. An alternative is earbuds with a built in. Gaming headsets with microphone attached are also readily available. Test your wifi in the same location where you will be using it during the event. If possible, attach the ethernet cable from the router or box to the computer and do not use wifi. Mute any other applications that may cause a potential distraction or interruption. Try not to be near any extraneous noise making devices ie fan, loud a/c ducts of barking dogs, & turn off your ring doorbell if broadcasting from home.

Tips for speakers. Prepare the speaker with extra knowledge about the charity and auction items. Always speak clearly so the audience can hear all the details. Let the audience hear every word you are saying. Have a beverage nearby to clear your throat. Hot tip: if you are running out of breath, slow down! Practice in advance.

Tips for teams. Orchestrate the overall broadcast including the open & close. Introduce all speakers and set the agenda for the audience. Only one person at a time should be talking. To prevent battling speakers mute all mics while another person is speaking. When the next speaker is invited to talk, use a keyword to indicate you are ‘handing off the mic’ to the next person. Don’t be afraid to tell a teammate that an audio adjustment is necessary. Use the private chat to any necessary internal conversations.

  • Be enthusiastic
  • Be energetic
  • Be in tune with the crowd
  • Have fun!

During this time of uncertainty advertising, in general, has almost ceased. Charities and philanthropic fundraising is the one industry that has permission to continue their charge.
Pivoting to an online auction and event fundraiser is acceptable. Auction fundraising events are supposed to be fun and social events. COVID-19 is casting a dark shadow on large gatherings but the fundraiser can still go on, though it may take a different form. Canceling may cause an inaccurate picture in donors mind thinking “hmm, guess they have all the funds they need, no need to give anymore”. Unless you have every need met, no waiting list, and are fully funded with endowments for multiple upcoming years it is imperative to stay in front of the potential donors. Do as such in a delicate manner with an opportunity to hang-out with a fun and lively online auction event.

Be very open with all stakeholders about the need to continue to raise funds. This includes sponsors, donors and bidders. Staying the course shows commitment to the cause and stability right now is a great sign of strength. By staying strong constituents can feel confident that funds are going to serve the needs now, in the near future as well as long term. Keep the momentum. We know it has taken many hours of dedicated effort to put together an in-person fundraising event. Don’t let it go to waste! Convert, don’t cancel.