What should you do if your organization needs to host an online fundraiser instead of a live one? We’ve got data, inspiration, and some best practices to run virtual events so that all of your fundraising dollars don’t go out the window. The full webinar, Your Pivot to a Virtual Fundraiser, is here. The questions from our Q&A session are below:

VIDEO / LIVE STREAM

Can you include an embedded video with each auction item or just a photo?
With GiveSmart’s online silent auctions, you can embed a YouTube video with each auction item. Other platforms might work differently. 

Does GiveSmart have live streaming capability?
GiveSmart does not have a live streaming video capability, but Churchstreaming.TV does, another product of Community Brands. 

Can you stream a pre-recorded video? 
Yes, viewers can stream videos that were pre-recorded.

We are wanting to make our live stream event public via YouTube and FB with our AV provider.  How does your technology work with non-registered guests?
Non-registered guests can view your GiveSmart campaign site, but if they would like to make a donation or purchase, they will need to register. 

 

SILENT AUCTION 

If we are rescheduling the gala that usually accompanies our auction, should we also move the online auction, or separate them? 
The first step is to identify any items that are time-sensitive. For example, if you have a gift certificate that expires June 1st, 2020 and you’re not rescheduling until October, you’ll need to prioritize maximizing the fundraising revenue for that item right away. Second, you need to determine if items can be deferred to coincide with the theme of any future event(s) you may have or if they should be put to auction now. For example, if your spring event is an art auction and your fall event is a casino night, it might serve you best to auction off any art in an online auction. We recommend you consider all-year-round engagement options to generate interest and revenue 

Can you lead the open of your auction with silent and end it with the live auction feed? Ex: 1 week silent with a 1-hr live at the end
Yes! I would recommend making it very clear in your timeline to guests though that the silent auction will open on x date at x time, and that the live auction will open at date at x time. Then, note that both will close at x date at x time.  

Would we earn more on the silent auction using “buy now” feature or simply open bidding?
We recommend opening bidding because there might be someone who is willing to pay $5, $20 more than the person who opted to “buy now.” We see that bidding yields more revenue than “buy now” but remember, you can always set items to “buy now” items once your auction is closed if they don’t sell. 

What types of auction items or groupings have you seen produce the greatest revenue?
Depending on your location, it depends. Our Ultimate Silent Auction Study breaks it down. 

Where would you suggest handling the pickup of the silent auction winner items (in addition to the swag bags)? would you mail it? that’s $$ or would you have a central location for people to pick up? 
That is totally up to you! We have been seeing organizations do both. The key is just notifying your guests on how they can get their items. We recommend placing that information on your homepage and sending out an email/text message after your fundraising has concluded. If you do plan on shipping items, we recommend adding a surcharge % to each item to make up for the shipping cost. This way you would not have to eat that cost and instead the purchaser/winner would pay for it. On their statement, it can be listed as a shipping charge.  

Is it okay to have “will not sell below this price” requirements for online so live auctions items don’t sell too low?
Yes! If you’re using online fundraising software, you will likely be able to set minimum bidding or buying requirements for each item. 

Is there a recommended length for an extended event? If so, can you please speak to weekends/weekdays as well. 
We recommend about 5-7 days for an extended online auction. If you have it open too long interest usually peaks and then dips down. The 5-7-day window allows guests to bid throughout the week and keep them interested in the auction. We recommend starting and closing the auction either on weekends or sometime in the evening on weekdays. When you make the announcement that the auction is open or about to close you want to make sure guests can bid at that time. You do not want to make those announcements during peak work hours.  

What happens when the event is 6+ weeks away and your auction is 33% there but everyone stops donating items due to the uncertainty of the market?
I would recommend sending communications to your donors that their support and item donations are vital to the success of your fundraising event. If the silent auction isn’t as large as you would’ve liked it to be, you could convert one of your most in-demand items into a raffle prize. That would allow multiple people to purchase raffle tickets for it rather than one person winning it for a certain amount. Depending on what kind of organization you are, you could offer non-physical items such as a front row parking spot at the schoola front-row seat at the next ballet performance, or a free ticket to your 2021 gala.  

What is the ideal time frame to keep an online auction OPEN while it not going stale but keeping people engaged?
While ultimately it is up to your organization, we see an ideal time being about one week. Sometimes, they are extended for two weeks. One week allows bidders to get excited, start bidding and continue bidding. It also allows those who maybe drag their feet the first few days to get involved. One week is also a good amount of time because it maximizes participation and minimizes boredom 

Given that the country is locking down right now, is this the time to launch an online auction or should one wait a while?
While that is ultimately for your organization to decide based on your needs, we have seen online auctions be very successful. If you choose to postpone your event, your Account Manager and Customer Success Manager can help make that change on our end.  

How do you handle the tax-deductible receipt for silent auction items that are done virtually? 
Our system can generate receipts and tax letters. These are accessed via a downloaded PDF that you can print off and mail (unfortunately they are not sent directly through the system)GiveSmart will automatically calculate the tax-deductible amount if the item has a Fair Market Value listed. 

What is the best platform/service to host a silent auction?
We are biased but…us! More on hosting a silent auction with GiveSmart here. 

Do you open the auction to everyone at the same time or offer VIP/Sneak Peek access?
Most organizations choose to open the auction to everyone at the same time. There is not a way to limit who can see the site. If you want to do a sneak peek look at what the auction will contain, you could have the items’ visibility set to Preview until the auction opens. When it opens, you would want to change the visibility to Live.  

Do most organizations require a fee to enter their online auctions?
Most organizations do not charge fees to participate in their online auctions. With more live events moving online, given the circumstances, some organizations might charge a “ticket price” to emulate their live event. Rarely do we see fees to solely participate in an auction. 

What is your opinion about having a ‘BUY NOW’ option for silent items?  What is the guideline for setting the price?  150% of FMV? 
150% of the FMV is a great amount for a buy it now price. We recommend if you do decide to use the buy it now features that the price should be very high. That is so you don’t potentially lose out on revenue in the case of bidding would have surpassed it. FYI our platform offers an option to either place an auto bid or you can include a buy it now price for that item. If you decide to add a buy it now price on that item, it will automatically disable the auto-bid feature. 

 

PIVOT

We have an event in September-are you seeing cancellations moved to the Fall?
Yes. Organizations are hosting online fundraisers or postponing until the fall. 

What about the ad journal going digital? Do you show it as a book/playbill or just ads? Generally just ads throughout the site. Keep in mind you can get creative with the homepage and showcase videos for your sponsors’ business for example, or even send out a text message highlighting sponsors and their websites if applicable.  

Any thoughts about whether to offer ticket holders refunds, once the event is moved online since we won’t be providing the promised food and bevs?
We’re seeing some of our charity partners ask to keep ticket purchases as donations instead of immediately offering refunds. For many donors, this is money they already planned to spend, so they’re likely willing to allow the organization to keep the donation. 

Would there be any reason or benefit to using an auctioneer for a virtual event? 
Definitely! You can still have them on video drumming up energy about your live auction items and appeal moment.  

 

DONATIONS / FUND-A-NEED / APPEAL 

What’s a good time frame for a call to give? Leave it open for a while or a short time on the evening of?
Guests can make a donation on your site at any time. I would recommend having a specific time that you send out the Make a Donation text template and draw attention to and focus on donations. If you planned on showing a video during the call to give, you can always send the link out to that via text or email through the system.  

Should the Fund A Cause (paddles Up) be held before the live auction or after on a live stream event?
We would suggest doing it before. That way you don’t lose out on people who may have only been waiting to hear about the live auction items. You could always send out another donation text after the live auction for those that may have missed out on their item but still want to give! 

With the stock market taking a dive and many donors losing significant amounts of money, what are your thoughts on perhaps deciding to consider waiting until the market makes a turn?
You can absolutely postpone your event. Guests can donate on your GiveSmart site at any time, so that will still be available to them. 

How do you suggest virtually handling the donation appeal if you were going to show a video at your event?
You can send out the link to the video you planned on showing at the event via text or email through the system. 

Using GiveSmart technology, can we utilize the text prompt during a ‘live’ virtual event as a part of the Appeal?
Definitely! Texting donors is a great way to keep them engaged in real-time. We also recommend sending out texts in advance so that they’re prepared for the time of the appeal. Perhaps they can even set a calendar reminder 😉  

Do your texting tools track direct dollar donations from the donors as well as pledges? And if pledges how does the follow-up work?
Yes. All donations and pledges that come in through GiveSmart, whether online or via text, are recorded within the admin’s Reporting section of their Dashboard. 

As a third-party company – are our donors donating to GiveSmart and then you, in turn, donate to our organization or are the donations received 100% ours and all donor information is ours?
When you use GiveSmart, you sync our payment processor directly to your organization’s bank account. This puts the funds directly into your account. 100% of donations received are yours, and all donor information is yours.  

Can you use the donation display on your organization’s website to show the amount of donation during your digital event?
Yes! You can find the link to that display by going to the Displays tab and clicking the blue text under the donations display that says “Share link”. You can email or text that links out to guests through the system letting them know that they can watch in live time how much money youorganization is raising.  

Does it make sense to open a fund-a-need auction early to some of your higher, VIP, guaranteed donors, this way when opened to everyone, there is already a base and that might encourage more participation, to see that funds are coming in?
Yes! We always recommend having secured donations (or plantssee episode 11) when conducting a fund-a-need or appeal. When donors see that others are giving it encourages them to also participate.  

At what point during a virtual event do you make the virtual ask?
Guests can make a donation on your GiveSmart site at any point. Most organizations are highlighting the virtual ask on the day that the auction is closing. 

How do you encourage the more mature donors to donate virtual? They usually send in checks!
You can still connect with donors in a virtual way, over video, email, social media, or text, and encourage them to send their donations as checks. Be sure to provide clear instructions on who to make it out to and where to send it, if your usual location has been changed during this time. 

Does GiveSmart have a social proof feature – like a live donation tally?
Yes, there are live donation displays. 

Can donors make a pledge through your platform?
Yes, see how it works here. 

 

SPONSORS 

How do you suggest we manage sponsor opportunities given that we have to move to online so we won’t be able to offer sponsor banners or route signage? 
Your GiveSmart site can promote sponsor logos in multiple places. Logos can be added to your homepage and they can also be added to your items pageWe have two different levels of ads that can be created and those are Premium and Standard. Premium ads show up first and more often than standard ads. You can also send out specific email/text message notifications highlighting your sponsors “Thank you to our Gold Level Sponsor [name].”  

Our event is the largest fund and friend-raiser – how can we ask our sponsors to help spread the word since many of their guests would have been key new donors at a high level?
You’ll have a unique website link that you can ask your sponsors to help share far and wide! Create fun social media posts that they can pass along to their friends and family. Since there’s no app needed to download, everyone can quickly and easily access the site!  

How to best engage large donors who are less comfortable with technology in a virtual fundraiser?
Offer to set up a call with them before the fundraiser to make sure they know who to access the website and/or live stream. You can also provide them with direct contact from your organization that they can call/text that evening if they have questions!  

For sponsors who have already committed to the actual event, do you have any suggestions for reaching out to them about the change? Have you seen any sponsors back out?
Let them know that you’ll be able to promote them in more creative ways virtually and will likely have even more eyes on their business! You can offer to send a text message to all participants thanking them and linking them to a business website. Be sure to also make use of the sponsor ads on the GiveSmart platform. 

 

VIRTUAL EVENTS 

Would you send a gift to entice people to participate virtually?
If this has worked for you in the past, and it’s within your budget to do so this year, then go for it! Consider finances and how you’ll distribute these gifts, if your team is working remotely.  

Can you speak to the events that are 6 weeks to 2 months out? We have no ticket sales yet and not a lot of auction items. How can we build a virtual event from scratch? 
Position it in a way that you are excited to be able to open the event up to a broader audience this year going virtual. Use social media to keep supporters in the know and encourage them to get their family & friends involvedYou don’t need a ton of auction items to be successful, instead, focus on your mission moment and perhaps think about packaging the items you do have to be more enticing and impactful. Don’t forget that if you have 1-2 really great items, you can use them for an online raffle as well! 

Do you have any examples of virtual events that don’t include a silent auction?
You can view our customers’ success stories here! 

We had to cancel a happy hour event due to the virus, so I’m wondering how the virtual happy hour works, as that might be helpful!
There are a lot of video chat options that allow people to join in on calls, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, etc. This way, everyone can call in, drink in hand, and cheers across the screen. 

What is your argument for hosting a virtual live auction rather than postponing an event for a more personal experience?
This is dependent on your organization’s needs right now. Some are okay to wait until the fall, others need funds now to keep their services going through the spring and summer.  

We considered offering e-gift cards or e-gift certificates to still provide the meal on us while they join us. Thoughts?
That sounds like a great idea! It’s a great way to get people to join in on the feeling of community and sharing a meal from their respective homes. Additionally, you could encourage everyone to use the gift card on the original event day, reminding them of the event, and then encourage them to participate in an online auction or donation appeal, whichever you had planned. 

If you’re doing a virtual live auction, how do you “loop” in/utilize your auctioneer?  
You can find examples of that in here. 

What is your thought on informing silent auction donors that your event will be virtual and do we give them an option to pull their gift?
We recommend informing donors on the status of your event. If you’re moving to a virtual event, it’s a great opportunity to ask the donor to share your virtual auction with their network to increase the bidding participation even further! You could give them the option to pull their gift, but we recommend hanging onto donations unless of course, they ask for it back.  

 

READ  How to secure corporate sponsorships

RAFFLES 

*As always, with raffles, please check with your local laws and regulations whether they are legal.* 

Can you touch more on a raffle? How can we raise raffle funds offline? 
On the GiveSmart platform, you can set up a raffle item with your price points and quantity available (if limited). When a donor purchases a raffle ticket, they are assigned an electronic number. When you’re ready to pull the winner you can simply use a random number generator, and then reference our raffle report to see the name associated. You can then call out the winner live as well as send them a text message through the platform letting them know they’ve won!  

We already decided to cancel our event but want to move forward with our raffle. As I am requesting raffle items in my community, I receive a lot of declines. Theater tickets, movie parties, concerts – all the popular items will not be appealing to our audience in times like these. What do you suggest we should request for? 
You could request gift certificates without expiration dates. For example, Billy Joel might not be playing at Madison Square Garden this month, but Ticketmaster will eventually be selling concert tickets again, so a gift card for Ticketmaster might be a better move than Billy Joel tickets. 

We usually do a Chinese Auction (put your tickets in the jar for the raffle items you are most interested in) – can this be done on-line?  How?
Sure! You can create a different raffle item for each prize that you would’ve had. Or better yet, consider combining some of the prizes and upping the price of the raffle ticket purchase. You could even create a few special packages and limit the number of tickets sold. For example, sell 50 raffle tickets at $50 each. Donors like the odds of knowing they have a 1 in 50 chance of winning so they are willing to spend the extra dollars!  

How can we still do a wine pull virtually? 
Wine pulls can be purchased online as an instant buy item. This type of item has a specific selling price and a specific amount available. The item will close when you sell out. In the item description, you can include information about how their bottle will be randomly selected and how you plan on distributing the bottles (shipping or available for pick up at a later date). 

The event we plan to host has themed baskets where people can buy raffle tickets and then decide how many ticket they want to put on each item. So maybe 20 tickets could go on one item or maybe they want to put 1 ticket on each item.  Is that possible for us to do online?
Sure! You can create a different raffle item for each prize that you would’ve had. You can also consider combining some of the prizes and upping the price of the raffle ticket purchase. You could even create a few special packages and limit the number of tickets sold. For example, sell 50 raffle tickets at $50 each. Donors like the odds of knowing they have a 1 in 50 chance of winning so they are willing to spend the extra dollars! 

 

GENERAL FUNDRAISING 

Should we encourage people to sign up early?
Yes! It’s always a good idea to lock in what you can in advance. However, keep in mind how early because you don’t want it to be so early that people forget or lose interest. 

Do you have any examples of social media plans to promote an online-only event?
This webinar covers it! 

If we make less money on our auction, we may want to do a jog-a-thon. Does your system have the capability for each child at our school to have a web page where their friends and family can pay $ for each lap they run?
GiveSmart does not offer peer-to-peer fundraising pages, but our friends at GiveGab do! 

What is your advice to convert to more “year-round” fundraising?
This webinar covers it!  

Someone purchased our 2020 VIP table at last year’s event. Should I ask if they will be our VIP next year or consider refunding them their donation? Offer them a different VIP experience this year if we decide to go virtual?
Depending on what the VIP experience is, perhaps you could offer to honor that experience next year. Or, you could offer something virtual. Either way, you should lead with letting them know how important those funds are and inquire about whether you can keep that donation, instead of offering a refund right off the bat. If it’s money they’ve already accounted for being gone, they’ll probably be open to you keeping the donation to keep your mission in motion during these times. 

Our event is only half full. Is there a GIVESMART feature that allows for an upload of the entire donor invite list?
Yes, you can upload guest lists into GiveSmart’s platform. View our Import Users from a Guest List guide. 

Our event had been scheduled for April 17.  Should we do the virtual auction for the week before that date, or pick a new week in the future?
If everything for your auction is ready to go, you could open your auction the week before April 17th, and close it on the 17th. This way, your event (and the date) is still fresh in donors’ minds, therefore, making them more likely to participate. 

My organization has had to shut its facility, which is usually free to the public and relies on daily donations for operational dollars. Any suggestions for communicating the need to replace these funds?
Depending on what your facility is, we are seeing some organizations provide virtual tours in exchange for a donation. In exchange for donations, perhaps you can offer online classes or workshops. 

Are you concerned about connectivity with the platform with so many events going virtual for longer amounts of time?
We are not. With all events powered on GiveSmart, live or virtual, we could potentially have hundreds of events running at the same time. 

I am a charity auctioneer and I love your technology.  How can I best promote your technology along with a live stream auction?
Depending on the live stream technology you’re using, you can promote a GiveSmart site in the caption of your video, so that it’s a clickable link. You can also say something along the lines of “to make a donation, head to foundationname.givesmart.com.” Whichever route you choose, be sure to direct donors to the specific site of the organization you’re fundraising with. 

Have you ever seen an item with a set number of slots be given a VIP / Early Access Experience?
For example, a dinner with the principal where the first 12 people who pay $500 each win. The VIP Experience for an early open time with an increased price gives them an earlier shot to “win” one of those seats.
Yes! Sign-up parties are popular, especially at school fundraisers. You can open them early if you’d like, or you can open them throughout the normal duration of the auction as well. 

 

GIVESMART’S PRICING 

> If you’re currently a GiveSmart customer, please reach out to your Account Manager to discuss.
> If you’re a new customer, we’re happy to discuss, schedule a time to chat with us here.
> GiveSmart’s pricing is a flat fee, we do not take a percentage of the funds that your organization raises. The fee is broken down between tech and service fees. The service fees are contingent upon event size and staff needs.

Related Resources:
Checklist: pivoting to a virtual fundraising event
Customer Success Stories
Webinar: Your Pivot to a Virtual Fundraiser
Nonprofit Pivot Success: The Series
Webinar: Implementing Recurring Giving Strategies
Webinar: Year-Round Giving
Webinar: Promoting and Marketing Your Fundraising Campaigns

Kelsey Woodworth