Hosting Hybrid Auctions: A How-To for Nonprofits


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As the world opens up to in-person fundraising experiences once again, some organizations have fully embraced the return to traditional fundraising methods and events. However, for many nonprofit organizations, virtual fundraising will continue to be a part of their fundraising strategy for years to come. Luckily, there is a compromise for those who want to give their supporters options when it comes to showing their support: hybrid events

Among these fundraising events, auctions have become a popular option for nonprofits to pursue hosting in a hybrid format. With advanced auction software and livestreaming options, it’s easy to entertain and empower your supporters to bid or take part in your auction from anywhere with their mobile devices and an internet connection. 

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What is a hybrid auction? 

A hybrid auction is an auction format that has both an in-person component and a virtual component. Usually, some of your guests will be in-person at an event space while others can stay home or bid on the go from their mobile devices or computers. This generally requires that your organization invests in online auction software where people can place their bids online. 

Why should you consider hosting hybrid auctions? 

While some of your bidders may enjoy a traditional auction experience at an event space, other bidders may prefer to support your organization in a more casual setting at home. A hybrid auction ensures that you can give all of your supporters an enjoyable auction experience based on their personal preferences and comfort levels. 

Hybrid auctions are also a great way to engage supporters who may not be local. Due to the partially virtual nature of a hybrid auction, location no longer becomes an issue for supporters who live farther away or are simply unable to travel to an in-person event. Instead, they can log on and participate in your event from anywhere to donate or bid on their favorite auction items. 

Having a virtual component to your auction can also help you lower your overhead costs for a traditionally pricey event format. While you may have needed to rent a larger event space to host all of your bidders for an in-person event, the number of your in-person event attendees will not be as large with a hybrid event. You also won’t need to spend as much money on food, staging, and other production costs with a smaller in-person attendance. Of course, there will be additional costs for livestreaming equipment and possibly other perks you want to provide to your virtual guests, but overall, a hybrid auction is a cost-saving event compared to a fully in-person auction.  

How to host a hybrid auction 

  1. Consider logistics
  2. Choose an auction platform
  3. Build your auction website
  4. Market your hybrid auction
  5. Host your hybrid auction
  6. Thank your donors
  7. Recap your auction

Consider logistics 

With a hybrid auction, there are a few logistics you need to keep in mind as you begin planning. You’ll be hosting two different auction experiences: an in-person auction and a hybrid auction. This means you’ll need to find an event space for your in-person guests to gather. If you’ll be providing entertainment throughout the night for your in-person bidders, you might want to look into livestreaming options and other virtual tools so your virtual bidders won’t miss out on any of the fun you have planned. 

Just like with any other auction, you’ll also need to source auction items that will interest your supporters. Consider your audience when sourcing auction items and possible auction items that are relevant to your organization’s mission. If you know you have sports lovers in your donor base, signed memorabilia or tickets to a major sporting event could be hot ticket items that will bring in lots of bidders. If your organization is dedicated to animal welfare, putting together baskets with pet toys or certificates for grooming appointments would be excellent options to interest pet owners who support your mission. 

Choose an auction platform

For a hybrid auction, you’ll need to research and choose an online auction platform so all of your guests can place bids. It’s best to find a platform that supports both mobile and web-based bidding. This gives your guests the option to either bid from their phones, which will likely be the preferred option for in-person guests, or to bid from their laptops or computers, which many of your virtual bidders at home might prefer. 

A few other important features to look for when choosing between auction platforms is the ability to send push notifications to your bidders and the ability for your guests to place a maximum bid. This will enhance your guests’ auction experience and give them the best chance possible to win the items they’re invested in. 

Build your auction website

To host your auction, you’ll need to create an auction website. When you’re building your auction website, it’s most convenient for you to create it as a one-stop-shop for all of your auction guests—whether they’re in-person or virtual—to visit when they register for your auction and begin bidding. 

For your in-person guests, make sure to display your typical event information, including where the in-person portion of your auction will be taking place and what time the event will be. For your virtual guests, place your auction livestream link in a place that’s easy to find and provide them with any instructions they’ll need about how to participate in your auction online. Providing a full schedule of the night on your website will ensure that all your guests are on the same page about what to expect from your auction. Make it clear when bidding opens and closes so that your auction guests are aware when they can begin placing bids no matter where they are. 

It’s highly possible that some of your supporters haven’t taken part in a hybrid auction before. You’ll probably field plenty of questions in the weeks leading up to your event about how online bidding works or how to access your livestream. To avoid spending too much of your time answering the same questions repeatedly, create an FAQ section on your website for your auction bidders to reference when they have a common question. 

For those who don’t have experience with online bidding, post a video or a short guide to online bidding so your supporters can familiarize themselves with the bidding interface before your event begins. It can also be helpful to give them information about how to check out once the bidding closes and how they can collect their prizes, especially for winning bidders that are virtual. 

Market your hybrid auction

The key to hosting a successful auction is a successful marketing plan. A multi-channel marketing approach will ensure that you reach a wide audience when spreading the word about your hybrid auction. Use email, social media, direct mail, and any other communications channels to reach out to your donors and invite them to your event. And thanks to the virtual component of your auction, you don’t need to limit your marketing to solely local supporters and donors. 

In the weeks leading up to your auction event, tease auction items in your marketing communications to your supporters. Post videos and images of some of your big-ticket, attention-grabbing items on your social media profiles and in your promotional emails. This can help drive event registrations and increase excitement for your event.  

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Host your hybrid auction

Once the prep work has been completed and you’ve collected all your event registrations, it’s time for the auction to begin. While you’ll probably have entertainment options to keep your guests engaged throughout the night of your event, add gamification tools to your event arsenal for another way to engage both in-person and virtual bidders. Fundraising goal thermometers and a live donation feed are both ways of keeping your supporters informed about fundraising progress throughout the auction and can also help drive donations. 

Throughout the night, send out push notifications to your bidders to inform them about important information like when bidding opens, when bidding is about to close, and once bidding has completed. Set up automatic push notifications to alert auction guests when they’ve been outbid so they can place a new bid on items they really want. 

Thank your donors

Once bidding has closed and your winners have picked up their auction items, your work isn’t done yet. The best way to increase your donor retention rate and make your auction event sustainable is to thank your supporters for attending your event or making a gift. Your supporters will feel like their gift and support is making a positive impact on your organization and your mission. 

It’s important to come up with creative ways to thank top donors and sponsors of your event. Send out handwritten thank-you cards and acknowledge them by name in your yearly reports or newsletters. This will help make them feel appreciated and will make them more likely to donate or work with your organization again. 

Recap your auction

Whether this is your first hybrid event or your hundredth, looking back on your auction is the best way to find ways to improve your event-planning strategy. Consider areas in which your event performance was lacking and celebrate your successes. When you’re planning future hybrid events, you can take special care to improve your planning in areas where your hybrid auction didn’t do well and try to emulate any elements of your hybrid auction that were successful. 

Final thoughts 

Hosting a hybrid auction is a great option for organizations looking to continue taking advantage of the convenience and ease of virtual events while also returning to the excitement and engagement of in-person fundraising events. By giving your supporters the flexibility to support your organization in whichever way is most comfortable for them, you might see your auction’s participation rates rise and raise even more money! 

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