UPDATE: The telecourse mentioned has passed, but the content below is still valid.
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What’s missing from the silent auction table in this photo?
There are no bid sheets.
You see four items and no bid sheets.
Your silent auction can now “go digital” through the use of handheld bidding devices. There are a few companies offering this technology and each has its own approach.
At this auction, guests were handed an electronic device (it was the size of a cell phone) when they registered. They carried it with them and when they wanted to bid, they entered the item number and pressed a button to record their bid.
The wireless network allowed them to bid wherever they were … in front of the item, sitting at their table, or in the bathroom.
The devices were used in the silent auction and cash appeal. They weren’t used for the live auction, and generally aren’t.
(For you tech-y readers: I’ve worked one benefit auction in which we did have live internet bidding. That auction used software made for commercial auctions, not benefit auctions. The technology exists for you to use internet bidding in your benefit auction, but most groups don’t use it.)
I wanted to give my thoughts on the advantages of these devices as a preview to Thursday’s FREE technology call.
1. Ease of bidding
By far, the biggest advantage is how easy it is to bid.
Venues aren’t often ideal for silent auctions. They might be ill-sized or too small, making it difficult for your guests to easily see all the items. If you have 600 guests and 100 items all squeezed into an oddly shaped space, the devices make it easy to bid without leaving your group conversation.
My experience has been that guests still like to walk around and look at each item displayed upon arrival, but once they’ve seen it, they don’t go back. They typically place their first bid during their initial walk-around. Thereafter, they bid from wherever they happen to be, using their handheld bidding device.
If your silent auction is crowded (lots of people with no room to maneuver), this technology is a definite plus.
2. Men love them.
Not to say that women don’t like them, but the marked difference here is with the men.
Silent auctions have traditionally been the domain of women, but give a male one of these, and — as one guest told me — “He’s hogging it like it’s our television remote.”
My thought: Can you hand out two per couple, so both partners have a shot at bidding? (Some companies will let you do this. Others aren’t easily set up to accommodate it.)
3. Streamlined appearance on the silent auction tables
As you can tell from the photo, your silent auction tables will look sleek. Without the added clutter of bid sheets and pens, your tables appear clean.
4. Instant gratification of benefit auction results
Because the bids are recorded instantly, you (the non-profit) can immediately get a sense for how well you are doing. No longer do you need to walk around and look at bid sheets; you can monitor your system.
5. Less conflict (maybe).
At some silent auctions, guests will jockey to place final bids on items as the tables close. With these devices, silent auction tables are closed electronically, on schedule. The system “shuts off” at a given time.
If the tables are scheduled to close at 8:30 PM and the guest’s last bid isn’t in the system by 8:30 PM, that guest loses the item because they failed to place their bid in time. It’s hard to argue with a computer.
(That said, we here at Red Apple Auctions have a unique way of closing our silent auction tables that eliminated this type of confusion. So although this point would not be a perk for our clients, it might be a perk for you.)
6. You might make more money.
Here’s my take: If you’ve never worked with an auction consultant who has given you insight on how to properly run your silent auction, you’ll likely have an increase. But if you’ve been making changes along the way and working with an innovative auctioneer or consultant, you likely will not see a net improvement.
For instance, a Texas reader wrote to me that her silent auction was markedly down after using electronic devices.
And one auction I worked, the appeal was down from last year by several thousand dollars, though the yields in the silent auction were modestly higher.
Another client couldn’t justify the change, considering the strong silent auction yields she already got. “I don’t think I’ll gain more than what the system will cost,” she said.
So …. are they right for you?
It depends on your goals. The devices look slicker than a whistle! But you’ll need to make a decision based on what you’re trying to achieve. If “raising more money” isn’t the primary reason to use the devices, you’ll likely be happy.
What about using these devices to make fund-a-need go much faster? It seems that a bidder could simply click the device which would then record his/her name at a certain level of giving so that a real time “thermometer” could rise in a minute or two, giving instant results and donor recognition on a screen in front o f the audience – skip all that tedious reading out of each bidder’s number and all the resulting loss in auction momentum. What do you think, Sherry?
Sherry Truhlar says
You’re right, Ann, it does go faster. That’s true!
Unfortunately, it raises less — consistently about 1/2, from our experience. (And I’m not the only benefit auctioneer to see these results.) Without the public accountability of raising one’s hand — and having everyone at your table SEE you raise your hand at a given level — it seems what people punch into their device is much less than what they typically donate in a slow “manual” system.
In addition, I’ve learned that people want to be recognized for giving. If I look into someone’s eye and personally thank them, it’s more meaningful than having their name (or worse, just an overall total) flash onto a screen.
No one seems to have figured out a way to get around this issue. (I haven’t!)
We used an electronic device for our silent auction last year with around 300 guests. We did make more money, but they are expensive-we tried to get sponsorship to cover the cost as the devices have the ability for company logos and scrolling ads. I do strongly agree with Sherry that a strong advantage is that the device allowed people to bid in other locations. My husband and his friend were still bidding on silent auction items while sitting for dinner. With the help of our volunteers and the device company representatives, we easily retrieved all the devices by the end of the night.
Sherry Truhlar says
Great input, Karen.
I spoke yesterday in St. Louis about these devices and shared some additional pros and cons I’ve been hearing. Maybe it’s time for me to write another article. 🙂
lexi z. says
we just used one of these devices for our silent auction. although revenue generated was more than last year, after paying for the device, we netted the same amount. the average age of our guests was 48 and people did not have an easy time figuring out the devices. we were led to believe that almost anyone-young, old, etc.-could figure these out in two minutes. not true. we will probably try them again but ask for more staff training and vendor interaction with guests.
Sherry Truhlar says
Thanks for sharing your experience, Lexi.
Although you didn’t (factoring in cost) raise more money, I’m guessing that you must have seen other advantages, if you want to use them again. Perhaps check-out was easier? Or maybe it allowed your guests to bid in other locations (like when they are sitting at their gala table)? I especially like this latter advantage.
Sandy Rees says
I think it’s a great idea! I helped with a silent auction a couple of years ago and we had volunteers running to check bid sheets. We could have made LOTS more if we’d had electronic bidding.
Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE says
While I can see great benefits in the technology…
Always the one for details, I’m wondering what the extra cost of these might be for use at the event. Especially if the room is many hundreds of people…
Also wondering how many walk away.
But I could see the devices also having the pictures and descriptions so that I didn’t have to fight my way to the table at all.
Bunnie Riedel says
I love it! However, I wonder how this plays among older crowds, even people my age?
Sherry Truhlar says
Text technology does exist, though it’s got it’s own challenges to consider (too long for me to expand on here) and therefore isn’t as widespread.
These devices aren’t used in live auctions (not generally, anyway) and are reserved for silent auctions and appeals.
That said, *commercial* auctions often use internet bidding in conjunction with live bid auctions.
But the motive of commercial auctions and benefit auctions is different. Thus, I’m not sure that internet bidding will ever be widely incorporated into charity auctions.
Roger Carr says
I love the concept of using these wireless devices for a silent auction (of course I am a guy). However, I have participated in charity auctions led by world-class auctioneers. They (and their teams) were able to work up the crowd and make real-time bidding true entertainment, resulting in extremely high winning bids. I can’t imagine the use of these kind of devices would meet or exceed the results of these live auctions.
Karen – I agree with you about the use of smartphones. The technology must be just around the corner. Great cell coverage would have to be an important criteria for location selection.
What an interesting twist to live/silent auctions. I wonder, how far off is the technology where guests can access via their smartphones?