Gala Auctions with Pre-Event Online Bidding are in-person events where (all or a selection of) silent items are opened for online bidding prior to the gala and closed during the gala. The high online bid serves as the starting gala bid for these items.
This is a popular event style for organizations who wish to make events more inclusive by opening up access to people outside of the local community. It works best for organizations, such as alumni groups, with enough local supporters to fill an in-person gala and enough geographically dispersed (but active) supporters to justify the additional work/expense of online pre-bidding.
Best Practices and Tips
Make sure your online silent auction doesn’t cannibalize attendance at your in-person event. If people can bid from the comfort of home, you need to make it worth their while to book a sitter, buy a ticket, dress up, and attend your event in person. For this reason, your Live bidding items and your entertainment for the gala really need to shine. And you need to promote the heck out of your gala event.
Consider offering pre-bidding on only a small selection of silent items, and make sure your supporters know that more silent items will be offered at your event. This increases the incentive for people to attend in person.
Set Buy Now prices on a selection of your online silent items so that online-only bidders have a chance of “winning” these by paying a premium to end bidding early. Buy now prices should be set at least 150% of FMV, and you should carefully review them before launching bidding to make sure they make sense for each item.
Choose your bidding style carefully:
- If you plan to switch to paper bidding at your gala, this will halt online bidding on your Silent items. Which means people must attend in order to have a chance of winning your Silent items. If you’ll finish Silent bidding on paper, be sure to use Quick bids as your online bidding style. Max bids do not transfer to paper bidding.
- If you plan to use mobile bidding for Silent items at your gala, you can use either Max or Quick bids. Be sure to assess the connectivity at your event venue to make sure it can support mobile bidding by the number of attendees you expect to have. See other best practices for mobile bidding here.
Things to Consider or Avoid
Be aware that this event style often fails to deliver the desired results, and can even backfire by decreasing attendance at your in-person event, simply redistributing the same bids and/or resulting in unanticipated shipping and packaging costs.
If a non-local bidder wins the item, will your organization pay for shipping and packaging? If not, make sure bidders are aware of additional shipping costs.
Do not attempt to sell your bidders pre-bidding access as a VIP perk. Bidders gain zero advantage from being the first to bid. The bids that really count are the ones that are placed right before or at closing time.
Make sure your organization has enough geographically dispersed supporters to warrant pre-bidding. Don’t assume that just because you’ve held this type of event before, it makes sense to do so again. Assess how effective pre-bidding has actually been for your organization:
- Look at your previous pre-bidding event(s): How many items were awarded to the high online bidder? If you offered an online paddle raise, how much was donated by online bidders (those without bidder numbers)? This information will give you an idea of how much extra revenue the online pre-bidding generated.
- Check to see how many bids were placed by online-only bidders (those without bidder numbers). This will give you an idea of how much extra participation online pre-bidding generated.
- Check the list of online-only bidders and their addresses to assess whether online pre-bidding offered non-local bidders the ability to participate, or merely shifted local participation away from your gala event.
If you aren’t confident that your organization has enough geographically-dispersed supporters to warrant pre-bidding, consider creating online fundraising campaigns (wishlists, sponsor a ____, sustaining donations, etc). These are all fun ways for people to support your cause, without the pitfalls of decreasing participation in your gala event.