Online auctions (and online "pre-bidding" prior to a Gala) take considerable energy and publicity to drive traffic to your site and should not be undertaken on a whim. Without a targeted effort, ancillary online auctions often fail to deliver the desired level of revenue (and this is doubly true for stand alone online auctions). Here are some tips and tools for promoting your event.
1. Talk it up well in advance of bidding. Take every opportunity (newsletters, posters, meeting announcements etc.) to let your supporters know that an online auction/online pre-bidding is on the calendar and feature teaser items as they are added to the auction.
2. Make it easy for people to access your site. Import a spreadsheet of all potential bidders into your event site so you can take advantage of the new Invitation to Bid tool. Email invitations can be sent to any/all selected users with a valid email. The emailed invitation contains a token/link that recipients can click to access your site, choose an online handle and start browsing/bidding.
You also want to provide a link directly to your Online Catalog in every electronic communication for anyone that didn't receive an invitation. In printed materials - direct people to the main website for your organization (and place a link directly to your Online Catalog on the homepage).
3. Once you've driven traffic to your site - let them bid! Think carefully about whether a "preview" period helps or hinders your fundraising effort. If your event is truly an auction - and items are sold to the highest bidder - there is no upside to coaxing someone to your site, then blocking them from bidding. If you are selling coveted, fixed price items on a first-come, first-served basis, there may be an argument for allowing a preview period prior to launch - but even then, rewarding the early birds may be more effective at driving traffic to your site than promoting a "preview period".
4. Use carrots to coax supporters to your site:
- Offer coveted fixed price items (such as tickets to special event or commemorative artwork), especially if there is limited quantity. Compel your supporters to come to the site to buy something they don't want to miss out on and hopefully they'll find three more things they can't live without.
- Seed your online catalog with desirable items. Avoid the strategy of placing items that "won't do well" in the gala auction in an online auction. They won't do well in an online auction either and you'll be fostering the perception that the online auction is the dumping ground for items that didn't "make the cut".
- Offer incentives (especially if an online auction is new to your community). Coffee gift cards to the first 10 people to place a bid and offer a few nice prizes to: the person who places the most bids, buys the most items, spends the most money etc. It may seem extravagant, especially for small events, but it's an investment that usually pays off. If you think $200 worth of prizes may prompt 20 more people to place bids, then it's well worth doing.
5. Once underway, make sure your Online Auction/pre-bidding period isn't forgotten. Plan a creative campaign to remind your supporters that an EVENT is in progress. Plant Burma Shave-type signs in lawns near a school, create your own series of memes for the event and share one daily on social media, feature specific items and/or stories of fierce bidding. And make sure you have enabled the outbid notifications in your settings.
6. Use the second Invitation to Bid template to nudge supporters that haven't joined the fun yet. The "Promote Bidding" template functions exactly the same as the Invite to Bid, but allows you to tailor a message to folks that aren't already participating. You can filter Users by those who have not yet chosen an Online Handle and/or those who haven't placed a bid yet.
7. Remember, like all successful events, Online Auctions build over time. The energy you invest this year will advance your starting line and threshold for future years.