It’s January — a time of new beginnings. Many volunteers will start working on their 2017 fundraising auctions in earnest.
I offer two pieces of advice, based on my own experiences.
Last October I worked with my team to launch V.4 of my website — the fourth version in 11 years. The website launch went smoothly, in large part because I was working with a great technical team whom I’ve worked with for a few years.
My joy was short-lived.
Though the website functioned as intended, a new software program — a program that was supposed to easily integrate with my website — didn’t work.
Dozens of attempts were made to diagnose the issue. It got so bad that the software company abandoned us, saying “It’s a problem with YOUR website; it’s not our software.”
My website designer was beyond frustrated. She was neglecting her other clients to work 24 x 7 on my problem, spending hours trolling user listserves to seek an answer. Twice she emailed me to say, “I’m gonna try a ‘Hail Mary.'”
Still, the software wouldn’t work.
At this point, I’d invested several thousand dollars into this project and had nothing to show for it. Though I’d expected some installation hiccups, I hadn’t expected this.
In an act of desperation, she advised switching web hosting companies. Some of her colleagues had launched a new hosting business. “They’re smart guys,” she said, “Let’s try it. Maybe this is an issue tied to your website host.”
Overnight my website content propagated into the new host. With high hopes she woke up to re-install the software.
It. Still. Didn’t. Work.
With no one else who could help her (I certainly couldn’t), she pleaded with the web host support desk to help her. Maybe she was overlooking something obvious. Would he do her a personal favor and — pretty please — just take a tiny peek at the backend of our website?
He agreed. In less than a minute, he identified the problem as three short lines of code.
!!!! Three short lines! The code had been auto-installed by the previous web hosting company and conflicted with my new software. When my site was moved to his hosting company, the code moved by default.
He deleted the code. Voila, the new software worked.
Dozens of hours of frustration and hundreds of emails were resolved in less than one minute by a knowledgeable technician.
Though I could be demoralized about the money I’d “wasted” in trying to get it to work, I took satisfaction in knowing that we’ll get more use of this software in Year 2 than Year 1. And Year 3 will be better than Year 2.
I’m taking the long range view and imagining long term gains.
Take this for what it’s worth, but here’s how I see my story relating to your fundraising auction.
1. It’s such a pleasure to work with professionals who know what they are doing.
The technician who took just a few seconds to diagnose my website code is someone I’m thrilled to have hosting my website. I might never speak with him personally, but I know I’ve got someone quick to spot problems, should we run into future issues.
And I adore my tech team who supports my customers when our systems fail because of … well, just because computer sh*t breaks. For no good reason, links break, software hiccups, and logins fail to work — even though they worked just fine yesterday.
Likewise, when you interview vendors for your fundraising auction — be that an audio technician, auctioneer, caterer, or visual production — you’ll find your job becomes infinitely easier when capable professionals are in key positions.
Be wary of letting price be your primary driver in vendor selection. Doing so will almost always mean that you will have to spend significantly more time getting up to speed on all those outsourced areas.
Can you imagine if I’d tried to insert myself into the software problem? I was glad to sit back and let my team member and her crew work the magic. I have no desire to become a software coder. Especially on short notice.
I’ve watched Auction Chairs try to troubleshoot audio problems on-the-spot when the sound failed mid-auction (and the “professional” audio technician had left the area). And I’ve heard stories about groups trying to manage an event when their auctioneer drank too much.
Those aren’t professionals. True professionals make your life infinitely easier.
2. Second, your first auction is never the best auction.
Building Version 1 of my website was much slower than building Version 4 of my website.
When I decided to invest in the software, I expected some problems. I didn’t anticipate as many problems as we had, but I had planned on some. I knew we’d have to learn to work with the system over time.
I know Year 2 will be easier for us. And Year 3 will be even better.
I suggest taking the same long view when working on an auction.
Rarely does everything “come together” in Year 1.
- For existing auctions that are being reworked, I’ve found it’s best not to make enormous changes in Year 1.
Sometimes the only difference between last year and this year are some tweaks in the silent auction and a new auctioneer. Nothing else is changed, in order to allow the group time to assimilate those tweaks.
- For new auctions, there’s simply too much to learn in the first year without tearing your hair out. Priorities must be set.
Yes, it’s possible to have a successful event, but it’s not necessary to have EVERYTHING — games, raffles, a Fund a Need, live auction, silent auction, sponsorship program, etc. (Just because you saw it somewhere else doesn’t mean you need to do it.)
In the first year, having a small successful auction and a streamlined registration and checkout experience is enough. Once that is mastered, a game or raffle could be added … or perhaps adding new twists to the Fund a Need to generate more money.
Keeping it simple is best. Build confidence in the process before adding complexity.
If you take the long view, your auction can grow in Year 2, and moreso in Year 3.
If you’re a 2017 volunteer planning a fundraising auction, I encourage you to consider my experiences as you undertake your role.
It’s a lot of work to plan a benefit auction, but surrounding yourself with professionals and taking the long view can make your job easier and keep your job in perspective.
For personalized help, I invite you to schedule a meeting with me to learn how we support Auction Chairs in their success.