I worked a fundraising gala this weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, MA and the nonprofit used mobile bidding in its silent auction.
Because it’s on my mind, today I’m addressing three conversations that often arise about mobile bidding.
1. “Mobile bidding” isn’t synonymous to “nonprofit auction software.”
I know, the jargon is confusing.
Better to say that mobile bidding is a feature of some nonprofit auction software platforms.
Referring to them as the same thing is a bit like suggesting frosting is the same as a cake. In actuality, you need cake to have frosting.
(Bad analogy, but you get the idea.)
For instance, one of my client’s uses GreaterGiving software. For two years, my client used the feature of mobile bidding. They are discussing the idea of not using it next year. It’s optional.
There are over 35 nonprofit auction software platforms.
Some software vendors don’t even offer mobile bidding as a feature.
Another way of saying it: Mobile bidding requires software, but (most) software doesn’t require mobile bidding.
2. Is mobile bidding the best way to run a silent auction?
Whether mobile bidding is a great idea for your silent auction depends on the type of fundraising gala you hold, your risk level, and other factors.
Sometimes I encourage it.
Multi-day conferences, multi-floor venues, and events with large guest counts or item counts come to mind.
Also, fundraising auctions suffering from a lack of support / volunteers in the registration and checkout process are helped by mobile bidding.
But mobile bidding isn’t required for a successful gala.
One of my nonprofit clients has two younger co-chairs. They prefer not to use mobile bidding.
“Our husbands are on their phones enough,” they said, “we don’t want to go to a social function and give them a reason to walk around with phones in hand.”
And sometimes people don’t want to risk technology failure at the auction. They opt for unsexy paper bid sheets.
Make the decision after taking into consideration your fundraising event’s strengths and weaknesses.
3. Will mobile bidding raise more money in the silent auction?
If your sales rep insists you’ll raise more money when you use mobile bidding, ask for that in writing with a money-back guarantee.
Actually, I’d recommend paying the extra fee to have their staff run the system for you at the gala, so they can’t say you didn’t know what you were doing when those big numbers don’t materialize.
In March 2019, I received an email from Dawn, the Executive Director for a San Antonio, TX nonprofit.
“Maybe everyone is already on the software bandwagon – but an article about the costs vs benefits of going the software way would be helpful! I see everyone looking at their phones everywhere I go! Do we really want an event where everyone feels they must stare at their phones – and not interact with each other — in order to win the silent auction item of their dreams!??”
She surprised me with this:
” … I still am not 100% sure about moving from old-fashioned bid sheets (where guests mingle and look for items) vs putting everything on their phone (I hate looking at the tops of people’s heads!).
But the companies all insist you’ll get 30% higher returns if you allow mobile bidding!! Ugh!”
When mobile bidding was introduced a decade ago, I heard that 30% number a lot. One vendor promoted a 50% improvement.
In recent years, I’d thought the mobile bidding sales reps had backed off those aggressive claims.
Here’s what I think: Nonprofit auction software has these benefits.
- It saves you time. – Critical
- It reduces effort over time. — Especially helpful as you pass the auction baton to new people
- It can increase your happiness (i.e. feel more organized / in control). Don’t discount this. Auctions are stressful; happiness matters.
As we’ve already covered, mobile bidding is a feature of some software programs.
In my mind, mobile bidding has these benefits:
- It saves you time. – Important!
- It reduces / avoids effort onsite. – Critical!
- It’s fun.
- You can gain praise (“Aren’t you cool, using high tech tools!” or “Thanks for letting me bid from my house, since I couldn’t attend the event this year!”)
But I’d not say that one of the reliable benefits is that mobile bidding raises you more money.
In fact, based on my clients data, well-run silent auctions that switch from paper bid sheets to mobile bidding don’t see a financial increase. Results show a flat line or a slight decrease.
“Well-run” is the key descriptor. Many nonprofits simply aren’t running tight silent auctions.
- They have too many items for the crowd size.
- The items offered are weighted towards unpopular items, like services.
- Bid sheets are sloppy, using odd increments, layouts, and design. (This is proliferated by the poorly structured — but free! — bid sheets promoted online.)
- They close the silent auction incorrectly.
- The onsite set up is bad.
- And on and on ….
Sometimes the first significant change a nonprofit makes to improve its silent auction is to buy software and use the mobile bidding feature.
With this virgin investment, other things start to change, too.
Specifically, the nonprofit team begins to get educated.
- They watch trainings offered by the vendor
- They listen to their auction consultant
- They make adjustments
- And VOILA! — they raise more money
Was the overall financial gain due to the mobile bidding feature?
Or was the financial gain due to other elements, such as — for the first time ever — using better bidding increments, better layouts, changing the closings, and so forth?
Based on my experience with clients who had well-run silent auctions and then made a switch, I know it’s the overall tightening of the silent auction that helped the bottom line finances.
The mobile bidding feature was one of many changes — some subtle, some not. Mobile biddings specific benefits were what I mention above (e.g. save time, avoid effort), but not “raise more money.”
What’s your take?
Post any comments below.