We’ve all been there—a gala benefit auction in a downtown hotel that turns into a four-hour-long marathon with four silent closings, 54 items in the live segment, a “Best of the Live” raffle, a 50/50 raffle, centerpieces for sale, a dessert dash, and a “Raise the Paddle.” Oh, and don’t forget a four-course dinner with wine and champagne flowing out of fountains.
Needless to say, an event of this size requires hundreds of hours to set up, a professional coordinator to run it, and dozens of volunteers. After several years of this, it comes time for the Executive Board, Auction Chair, and Volunteer Coordinator to finally say, “Never again!”
Shorten Your Event
The current trend in benefit auctions is to trim just about everything back. The live portion of these auctions rarely surpasses 20 items, and many organizations have gone to a “mini-live” segment of ten items or fewer. The silent auction has shrunk to maybe 60 items total with only two closings.
Now, there are at most only two raffles, usually one with a fairly high buy-in (anywhere from $50 to $100), and one that is more reasonable (around $5 to $10). Gone is the mandatory formal wear, unlimited free drinks, and dancing until midnight. Almost gone are the venerable dessert dashes, wine pulls, centerpiece auctions, and sign-up sheets for parties and activities.
Contemporary planning now calls for a shorter event with a few lively, more-inclusive activities, with the emphasis placed where it really belongs—on the special appeal. All of this calls for less space, less preparation, and fewer volunteers.
Software-Based Auction and Event Tools
There is no doubt that registration, credit card processing, and checkout is a laborious task that used to require many volunteers. Nowadays, your organization can lease or purchase auction software that can cut your workload in half. Applications such as Auctria, Auction Maestro Pro, Auction-Tracker, ReadySetAuction, GiveSmart, and Greater Giving are easy to research online and can be licensed for one year or purchased for a lifetime. Some, such as Auctria, are priced especially for smaller auctions.
Furthermore, the new wave of auction software no longer comes in a box, but exists entirely in the cloud, so that various volunteers can access the site from their own computers. For example, Procurement Chair can load items and descriptions onto the site, while the Live Auction Chair can re-number them or change their order at another time or from a different place.
The beauty of auction software is that once the items and their photos are in the database, you can utilize the program to create the catalog, the live auction PowerPoint, the placards for the silent auction and the bid forms, all easily and efficiently. Most auction software also assists you in putting your auction online so that it starts building interest and even collecting bids for weeks in advance.
Mobile Auctions and Checkout
Finally, companies such as GiveSmart with mobile auction software help bidders view items and bid remotely on their phones even if they are not in the room. The night of your event, guests can monitor their phones for text messages letting them know when another bidder has raised their bid and asking how they’d like to respond. No more running from table to table to check the bidding.
If you don’t have a cell phone or are unsure how to use one, “personal shoppers” are typically available at events for assistance. Since the bidding is electronic, registration and checkout are extremely efficient and all you need is a name and phone number. It doesn’t get much easier than that!