Online auction donor stewardship.

After Close-Out: 5 Steps for After Your Online Auction Ends

Mckenna Bailey

This post was contributed by Kelly Velasquez-Hague who brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause.

As nonprofits move more and more of their fundraising and outreach operations online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding new ways to engage audiences virtually is of top concern. Virtual events are quickly becoming the new norm for many organizations.

Although the shifts have been seismic, there’s still a lot to be hopeful about! In many ways, the growing necessity of online strategies and virtual events makes it easier than ever for nonprofits to stay responsive and engaged with their supporters. 

Engaging multichannel digital strategies go a very long way to keep your mission front of mind for donors. Hosting virtual events tends to be a much more cost-effective option than traditional in-person events. The right tactics will pay off in strengthened relationships over time, regardless of the specific developments we see over the coming months.

At OneCause, one of the most effective ways we’ve seen nonprofits branch out into virtual fundraising is by hosting online charity auctions. 

These events are great for engaging audiences digitally while still keeping it tangibly anchored with physical auction items and packages. This makes a motivating combination for donors excited to get involved without leaving their homes. Plus, online auction software and mobile bidding tools can significantly streamline your management tasks and the donor experience.

However, when making the move to any type of virtual event, it’s critical that nothing gets lost in translation. Post-event follow-up is a great example.

If you allow important stewardship activities to fall through the cracks, you risk negating the long-term benefits that all your digital engagement would otherwise generate. For events like online auctions that require plenty of planning, you can’t risk losing out in this way. Let’s walk through 5 post-event steps to follow for an online auction and why they matter:

  1. Immediately follow up and begin shipping items.
  2. Review your auction’s performance.
  3. Identify key participants and bidders.
  4. Conduct personal follow-up as needed.
  5. Share updates and opportunities.

The best practices in these steps can be applied to a wide range of online engagement techniques and virtual events. Strong close-out and follow-up protocols are crucial for strengthening the donor relationships that will sustain your nonprofit during periods of disruption. 

1. Immediately follow up and begin shipping items.

Immediately following up with donors and bidders who won items during your online auction is a must. Confirmations, receipts, and thank-yous are important for both expressing your gratitude and for record-keeping purposes. 

Working with dedicated software that allows you to automate this process is definitely recommended. To seriously streamline the check-out and confirmation process, encourage your online auction participants to register their payment methods early, ideally when they first register for the event itself. This reduces the amount of payment follow-up required from your team and it creates a more seamless experience for bidders.

Next, as soon as your online auction ends, begin the process of packaging and shipping the items that bidders won. Again, auction software simplifies this process by centralizing bidder contact information and addresses. 

Prepare for this step ahead of time as much as possible by having packaging materials ready to go. Quickly shipping items to their winners without any mix-ups is probably the most direct way you can express your gratitude for their participation. 

If your team is working together remotely, delegate specific tasks like gathering items, packing them, and attaching shipping information. Keep clear records of where each item is stored, so you can easily assemble and collect items as needed post-auction. Remember, you’ll need to assign responsibility for packaging and shipping as needed. 

The need to package and ship your items is one of the main differences between planning a traditional silent auction and an online auction, so being prepared is definitely a good idea.

2. Review your auction’s performance.

Once you’ve handled shipping your auction items, take time to review how your online auction performed. It’s important to get a gauge to compare your online fundraising to previous in-person fundraising efforts. 

Look through your bidding, registration, and online engagement data to answer questions like:

  • What was the total revenue generated?
  • What was your cost per dollar raised based on your initial budget for the event?
  • Which item generated the most revenue? The least revenue?
  • Which item received the most bids? The least bids?
  • What was the “turnout” for the online auction? How many bidders?
  • What was the average donation or auction revenue per bidder?
  • How many new donors or first-time participants did you attract?
  • Which social channels attracted registrants who ended up generating the most revenue?

These are a few common examples, but think about the specific key performance indicators or success metrics that you set when you planned the online auction. How are you defining success for this event? By those metrics, was the event successful?

Digging through your data post-event is an important way to yield plenty of useful insights for improving your auctions. Consider these ways to create even more value with your data:

  • Review your pricing choices. How you price your auction items plays a direct role in determining its final revenue. Use the OneCause guide to silent auction item pricing for a refresher, and use your data to note improvements for your next auction.
  • Map out your donor or bidder journey. By understanding how your participants heard about your online auction and then interacted with it, you can learn a lot about what successfully attracts and engages them. Journey mapping is an effective way to continually improve your fundraising and marketing strategies, especially in digital environments that generate plenty of engagement data. Post-event surveys can be very helpful with this task, as well.

Reviewing your auction’s performance at both general and granular levels is an important way to keep improving your strategies over time. Dedicate some time specifically to the task because the payoff can be significant over the long-run!

3. Identify key participants and bidders.

This step builds on the data analysis tips listed above. Take an even closer look at your data to generate new insights at the individual level. If possible, identify participants who fit one or more of these characteristics:

  • Placed more bids than the average participant
  • Gave additional donations aside from bids
  • Placed larger-than-average bids on your larger items
  • Won larger items or multiple items 
  • Engaged heavily with your automated marketing and social media posts
  • Served as an ambassador to attract more registrants or promote your auction

By identifying the individuals who went above and beyond to support your cause or expressed particular interest in the event, you can better guide your stewardship efforts going forward.

Ideally, you’ll be able to integrate your auction software with your CRM or database. This should make it much simpler to segment your participants according to different engagement metrics. Then, save these segments to specifically target in later messaging for future events. Not only will all of the individuals described above require extra thanks, but communicating with them based on their proven interests will increase the chance that you retain their support, too. Who won your biggest items at the auction? Be sure to personally invite them next year!

Try looking for new prospecting insights when possible, as well. Although soliciting major gifts might not be on your radar right after a virtual event, this is still a great opportunity to see if your auction’s big spenders might be able or willing to make a larger gift. Identifying individuals who are motivated enough to participate in your auction and have a donor-advised fund or other philanthropic markers is never a bad idea for your nonprofit’s future reference.

Key participants and bidders could make prospective major donors, but there are plenty of other reasons to focus on stewardship, too. Growing your relationships with donors is more important than ever today for boosting retention and solidifying your base of support.

4. Conduct personal follow-up as needed.

To build off of the segments of key participants and bidders you identified in the previous step, pull out those who could use personal follow-up. Personally getting in touch to express your gratitude, ask questions, or offer new opportunities is never a bad idea. 

For instance, if a participant was especially engaged with your auction on social media, ask them to serve as an ambassador for your next online auction. Not only will this individual be more likely to be excited about the opportunity, but the personal outreach will go a very long way to retain their support over time. That ambassador will likely stick around for quite a while. 

Or, you might personally reach out to your highest bidders for help strengthening your auction catalog for next year. Find out what types of items were most exciting for them and if they have any ideas for other items that would appeal to donors like them. This is a small task that can yield significant benefits down the line for other events you host. Plus, it shows the bidders that you’re responsive and engaged.

Building long-lasting relationships with supporters (especially in a digital-only environment) requires personal engagement whenever possible. Always stay on the lookout for ways to deepen your relationships!

5. Share more updates and opportunities.

Turning back to your entire base of support, remember to share updates about your online auction. Was it a success? How much did you raise? Take one last opportunity to thank everyone who was involved. You might also shout-out your top volunteers and bidders who won your largest items (with their permission). 

An effective way to handle this step is with email automation. Even simple marketing automations and email campaigns can have major retention benefits. By offering increasingly interesting information, opportunities, and calls-to-action, you can funnel your supporters towards deeper engagement with your nonprofit.

For example, create a quick email automation stream with a final thank-you/updates message, followed by additional updates and opportunities to get involved. You’ll just need to determine what your goal is for the email stream, like:

  • Registering for another event
  • Starting a P2P campaign on your site
  • Setting up a recurring donation
  • Signing up for your newsletter

Your goal can be any form of further engagement, not necessarily making a donation. When someone opens your first email, the second message is triggered to send after a set amount of time. Direct readers towards your goal as they continue to engage with your messages.

Your follow-up messaging is also a great opportunity to promote corporate philanthropy options that many donors might not be aware of. Matching gift programs, for instance, tend to be underutilized by donors and nonprofits alike, so simply asking readers to check their eligibility for a match is an easy first step to start raising more. Review re:Charity’s full guide to corporate philanthropy to learn more.

As digital engagement becomes more central than ever to nonprofit operations, it’s essential that no elements of your event stewardship strategy fall through the cracks. When taking an auction online, for instance, devote time to post-event follow-up based on the steps above.

Follow-up and stewardship are important investments in your nonprofit’s future, particularly as the sector faces unprecedented levels of disruption and change. You can never go wrong with expressing your gratitude and taking extra steps to better appeal to your supporters.

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