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Behind the Scenes of a Charity Auction – Installment 1

Most people assume that is like every other auction software company, a bunch of programmers who have never run an auction.  “They don’t get us”, you are probably thinking.  Well, you would be wrong.  You see,’s foundation is that of a frustrated auction manager who needed software to handle the day to day bidding and in 1995 when we started, there weren’t any products like available to purchase so when life gave us lemons, we made Lemon Meringue Pie (visionaries see more than just lemonade).

So to keep our hands in the game, you can find us taking part in various auction events, whether it is going on-site to a PBS station broadcast, volunteering for our children’s school auction or helping a local charity run an online auction.  And that is what brings us to this series of articles.  This year, I am sitting on the auction committee for Special Olympics – Florida’s Island Hop event.  I want to give you an insight into the discussions that we have as a committee so you can see our thought processes and apply the decision making that we do with the auction to how you are running your auction.

What is the auction profile?

Island Hop is a gala held at a local hotel/resort.  The theme is, as you might expect, Islandy (yes that is a word, trust me).  Great food, open bar, island music, and a travel auction.  The goal this year is 125 auction items all of which are travel.

What is the auction format?

Currently, the auction will consist of 100% of the auction items showing up online with about half available for online winning, half in pre-bid mode and 10-12 marquis items as live called at the event with pre-bidding online.  This format was chosen because as many charities experience, there was the fear that if everything was online nobody would come to the event.  I say currently because we are actively pursuing local computer rental, repair and sales companies to get a donation of 10 iPads/tablets for roving bid waiters on the night of the event.  Should we be able to secure those tablets, our goal is to close all but the live items online simultaneously at the event and at home, meaning that home bidders will have just as much of a chance to win as people at the event.

When are you launching your web site?

We are launching the site on July 15 even though the event isn’t until October 22.  Why you ask?  Because it helps our item team show these resorts what kind of exposure they can get by donating to the event.  Within a few days of them supplying us with the information, it will be front and center for the world to see and review even though bidding won’t start for months.  More to come on our strategy surrounding those items.

What other tricks are up your sleeve?

Though not a programmer by trade, I have been in the online industry for too many years not to have some skills and I dabble in the latest, greatest trends in the marketplace.  In an effort to make ‘the ask’ even easier, I helped Special Olympics Florida adapt their event web site to be mobile ready and we are utilizing QR codes on ‘the ask’ documentation to show the donors even more about the event and how / why they want to participate.  It is a great way to separate your ‘ask’ from the hundreds of others that the donor receives each week.

We meet roughly 1 time per month as we are getting closer to the event.  As our event progresses, I will post more insights into the decisions we make, our successes and our failures.  Some donors are offering the same donation as they did last year when there wasn’t an online component to the auction so we will get to show you exact returns and growth from adding the online component.  Stay Tuned.

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