Mobile Bidding Software and Virtual Fundraising
Virtual fundraising forces us to lean into the digital world – that’s the nature of it. This is something to be grateful for, since it makes your life and planning so much easier!
We’ve seamlessly pivoted live events to virtual and hybrid fusion events. In the same vein, software companies have also adapted to the needs that a virtual event presents.
You might be surprised, and you’ll definitely be pleased, when you see just how much software companies can do for you. In fact, you’ll want to hire one today as one of the first steps in planning your own hybrid fusion fundraising event!
We field both simple and complicated questions regularly on this expansive topic. Here’s a comprehensive guide to mobile bidding software and all of the amazing things it can do for you.
First things first: What is it?
In the simplest terms, mobile bidding software is a paperless, cloud-based method allowing users to register, donate, bid and buy directly from their devices, whether it’s a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop or even a SmartTV.
Why do you need it?
If you’re collecting cash donations, you don’t. You can use your website or a donation landing page for that. But anything more requires software. Selling raffle tickets, auction packages, sign-up parties, and registering for virtual events all require mobile bidding software, to store or vault guests’ credit card and contact information. It enables guests and viewers to easily register, participate, place bids, purchase revenue streams and – best of all – DONATE!
Two other nifty features of good bidding software? One: It helps you organize and report data. Data is a great tool to use in planning your next event. Two: It allows you to see and sort donations and bids in real time, so your Dynamic Duo (emcee/host and auctioneer/fundraising ambassador) can recognize and thank people by name from the stage.
How does one software program differ from another?
The main difference is the “look” – what your viewers actually see. Adding pictures and video to the bidding platform or software is important for marketing your auction packages. You’re going to have a better time catching and keeping people’s attention with visuals. Free or less expensive software is limited, both in terms of visuals AND capabilities – i.e., what you see and what you get. Beware of free programs. Just like anything, you get what you pay for. Another thing that varies within software platforms, is how information is shared. Be sure to vet all potential software platforms so you know they offer what you need and want.
Can I set it up myself?
You can – but should you? Mobile bidding software is not especially user-friendly or intuitive for most, especially if you’re only using it once or twice a year. Plus, if things go wrong during your livestream, it’s critical to have someone who not only has razor-sharp tech skills, but is also very familiar with your software program. Unless you’re highly-skilled (or a glutton for punishment), save yourself time and frustration by selecting a company that offers software setup before your event; and will assist you with running it during (or at the very least, can offer support). Ideally, all your org should have to worry about is providing the content and associated imagery. Allow seasoned pros to do what they do best – load content into the mobile bidding software and run it for you. A caveat: We provide ALL of our virtual clients with 5 hours of our mobile bidding guru’s time on all our virtual events.
Can mobile bidding software sell tickets or collect suggested donations, as part of the virtual registration process?
Most good mobile bidding software setups can indeed sell tickets, and a wide range of them – from zero-cost signup/registration only, to suggested donation amounts, to formal ticket prices – all the way up to full table or sponsorship options. Make SURE the software you select has bidding features and is not just a ticketing site, like Ticketmaster or Eventbrite. In a virtual world, you need significantly more from a ticketing system than you do with an in-person event.
Added bonus: You can add suggested donation buttons into mobile bidding software, too, to recoup some of the costs of your virtual event. We see this as a trending practice moving forward.
Can donors update their own contact info when registering?
Depends on the platform, but most allow donors to update their contact and/or credit card information once they log in. This is a bonus for you as it keeps your donor database clean and accurate!
Do folks have to register to watch or participate?
You do need folks to register or sign up to participate and view virtual events, IF you’re streaming your event through the software. Your production or AV company typically handles this part. Most often, they’ll originate the URL prior to event day and test it to make sure everything is copacetic. Then they’ll send YOU the link so you can share it with your donors, supporters and everyone you can possibly think of! (Marketing is key to your hybrid fusion event’s success, remember, so be sure to have a rock-solid plan for that too.) And most orgs WANT guests to register, since they can’t technically donate or bid if they don’t, unless they have a proxy bidder.
What’s a proxy bidder and how does that work?
If any of your guests don’t have a smartphone or computer – not likely, but in the interest of not leaving ANYONE out – you’ll want to use a proxy bidder. If set up ahead of time, the software can automatically place bids for someone who’s not present or not online, per the donor’s instructions. You can also opt to assign these folks a ‘handler’ – someone who’s on the phone with the donor, placing bids or giving gifts in real-time per their request. Whatever you do, NEVER EVER let technology get in the way of potential donations!
What about folks who might not want (or be in a position) to give, yet still want to watch, offer moral support and chat? Are they out of luck?
No – provided you stream to an additional viewing platform, like YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Vimeo, etc. That’s where folks can watch without registering. No one is left out! Another bonus of streaming to one of the other aforementioned platforms? You’ll end up with a permanent recording of your event for posterity. So we recommend you also stream to an additional viewing platform, like one of the ones we just mentioned, even if you’re streaming through software.
Can mobile bidding software handle an online auction, a virtual live auction AND a live in-person auction?
Yes, yes, and when it’s safe and legal, YES! Mobile bidding software is nimble. Want to kick off your online auction one week early, and roll it into your live Virtual Gala (VG) the next? Done. Good software will organize the items you’ve procured, too. For example, SchoolAuction.net has an option where packages are grouped according to Online Only, Online to Virtual, and Virtual Only. They recently added an update that enables you to switch from online to live, in-person bidding. We tip our caps to Roger and company for their innovative spirit!
If offering a live or online auction, can donations and bidding be seen and/or displayed to viewers live?
Depends on the software. Some solutions are functional and simple, covering basic needs like mobile bidding and donations. But they don’t have those little extras – like that dynamic giving thermometer, that everyone loves to watch rise! Some are far more comprehensive, with features you may never use, even if you knew how. Ask questions and decide how much you want to pay, because there’s a wide range. More on that later.
What is peer-to-peer fundraising? Can software help?
We predict it’s the future of fundraising, and absolutely, software can help! Peer-to-peer fundraising is a multi-tiered approach to crowdfunding, where individuals can create personal fundraising pages for your cause’s behalf. This can send revenue back to your organization as a whole, or to a specific campaign or event.
Peer-to-Peer fundraising campaigns are increasing in popularity in this new virtual world. There typically is a fee but some are free (very limited, however). One Cause and Classy both offer more comprehensive platforms. Both have amazing support teams and help you set up your initial event. Give Lively also has a simple and free version. There are several different ways to conduct them – one is similar to crowdfunding, but with multiple pages. You start your own and encourage your friends and supporters to start THEIR own, as well. More and more people hear about it, and ideally, more and more people give.
Social media is your best friend when conducting a peer-to-peer campaign. Use it to drum up competition and encourage donors to engage with each other. Team fundraising goals are great motivators, as is incentivizing the campaign with prizes to create excitement. Ask your software pros which format is best for you. Peer-to-peer fundraisers are getting more popular these days, and for good reason – they help grow your fan base and expose more potential donors/supporters to your cause. We don’t think their popularity will decrease any time soon. That’s why we refer to peer-to-peer campaigns as the future of fundraising.
What are best practices for handling pre-committed gifts? Should we enter those dollars before we start the live stream, or wait until it’s underway?
If you’re using a giving thermometer, most orgs choose to include all revenue streams as part of the thermometer’s totals. But it’s up to you! It’s more common to start with the sponsor dollars already counted, so you’re not starting at zero. Then add in pre-committed gifts, with your Dynamic Duo (emcee/host and auctioneer/fundraising ambassador) announcing them live from the virtual (or in-person) stage. That way, everyone gets to see the thermometer rise dynamically. Not only is it fun and exciting to watch, our data suggests that this type of visual giving begets more virtual giving!
Added bonus: Your Dynamic Duo can acknowledge and thank donors in real time. Gratitude ALSO begets giving!
Speaking of sponsor dollars, how are sponsorships handled virtually?
Sponsorships can be sold during registration, just like at in-person events. If you’re selling them via your mobile bidding platform, set up a page dedicated to sponsorship sales. The good news? Sponsor logos can be easily uploaded and featured during your virtual event (or pre or post show). The no-so-good news? Credit card fees. If you’re not selling sponsorships, you can still display their logos in several locations within your software. This will please you sponsors – the more exposure, the better!
Who closes out live auction items during our live stream?
Most organizations designate a staff member or volunteer to watch the livestream and close out packages as they are sold in real-time. You can close them out manually, or you can assign items a closing time. If your software or fundraising partners are handling the back end (which we highly recommend), they can do this for you – just tell them what you want and sit back while they make it happen.
When an item is sold, is the donor’s card charged automatically?
Depends on the software you’re using. For example, guests check themselves out when using SchoolAuction.net. Greater Giving, however, processes all credit cards at once, after you’ve determined the sales are accurate. It also depends on how the sale or event is initially set up, so this is a great thing to confirm before event day.
Who provides the helpline on event day? Can we get that?
Most organizations hire a professional to handle this. With all due respect to interns and volunteers, you do not want them in charge here. This person needs to know your mobile bidding software backwards and forwards (plus tricks to make the virtual user experience easier), plus be well-versed in ALL of the technology you’re using. In addition, they need to easily articulate all of this to folks who may be technologically-challenged. Our partnership with local (woman owned!) business, Event Savvy, allows us to provide these services for all of our clients.
How do we sell raffle tickets virtually?
First and foremost, check your state and local laws to be sure you can sell raffle tickets in an online environment. Next step – make the raffle tickets a package, just like auction items, and sell them as a “signup.” Make sure it’s clear how many are available and when exactly the winner will be drawn. Then sharpen your marketing/promotion tools and sell, sell, sell!
Can we include meals or delivered items as part of registration?
Yes, and you have lots of options for doing so! You can opt to include dinner or upgrade options to your traditional registration page. Create a package for guests to purchase on the bidding page or set up a link for guests to work directly with the catering company, so you don’t need to serve as a middle person. Easy peasy! You just need to decide which option will work best for your org and your event. But, support for small businesses and restaurants during this time is very well received both by donors and by the business community at large. It’s a win win!
How do mobile bidding platforms differ from in-person event software?
Remember live, in-person events? Remember bid paddles? (We do!) Guests place bids by raising them. The winning bidder numbers are recorded on paper, then manually entered into the event software at the registration table. The software package will be set up for event day data-entry, but there’s still a delay in reporting revenue and recording winning names.
Contrarily, mobile bidding platforms track data immediately, digitally. All bidders receive alerts in real-time via text or email. Bidders know RIGHT AWAY if they’re being outbid OR if they won! They can pay and close out accounts on the spot. Setup for mobile bidding software is more labor-intensive on the front end, but on the back end, it’s much, MUCH faster.
Pro Tip: Use beautiful pictures and pithy descriptions to accompany online auction items and raffle tickets for sale (like the ones that appear in the catalogue at in-person events). Often orgs don’t bother to load these words and pictures into the software, but they can and should as it leads to increased revenue. It’s a fact! And we have the data to back it up.
What can I expect to spend on software?
Depends on what you’re after. Some software companies offer nonprofits a basic package for free. Some more robust programs cost up to $5,000. Most fall somewhere between those two numbers. Some are one-time use only; some offer subscriptions where you can use their services all year long, or use it for unlimited events. This might be a good option if you’re planning to host multiple events in a calendar year. And some software companies will reduce those prices if you agree to a multi-year contract. So be sure to ask!
How are the fees and fee structure determined?
Great question. Make sure you ask about costs and hidden fees before you commit, because it varies. You can opt for a yearly subscription, where you can expect to pay about 2.5%-3.5% of revenue earned, in addition to your subscription fee. Some software companies add an additional “per transaction” fee. And many consider credit card processing fees as a separate expense – so be sure to KNOW what you’re getting into. Some give you the option of passing that cost on to the donor. Some don’t. The overall credit card processing fee is usually based on the number of dollars you’re processing. A general rule of thumb: The more money processed, the lower the CC fees.
You’re almost ready to make a decision, reach out and hire a software company! But before you do, you and your team should answer the following six questions:
1. Do you intend to host an online auction only, or are you planning a live Virtual Gala or fundraising event?
Online Auction – Goals: Promote and display details for auction packages for online bidding, sell raffle tickets, collect donations
Virtual Gala or Fundraising Event – Goals: Support a live streamed event with a fundraising pro featuring, promoting and selling live auction items in real time. Bidders at home watch the stream and place bids before, during, and sometimes after the hybrid fusion fundraiser.
2. What revenue streams do you want?
Will you sell auction items? Raffle tickets? Sign-up parties or events? Will you offer a special appeal (paddle raise, donation-ask)?
3. Do you want donor names recognized live?
If you are planning for an “ask” only model (no auction items), will you recognize your donors in real time, or offer that dynamic giving thermometer, or both?
4. Do you or your donors care if they’re watching and bidding on the same device, or would they prefer to bid and view on separate devices?
5. Do you want to include a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign?
6. Do you want guests to be able to interact during the program via a chat feature?
Who are reputable mobile bidding software companies to vet?
Now that you’ve answered the questions about what you want and need, you’re ready for referrals! A few of our favorites are listed below, as well as the most frequently-used software by nonprofits in our market. Do keep in mind, it’s NOT an exhaustive list – if it were, we’d be here all day! (Quick caveat: We take zero commissions or kickbacks for referrals from any software companies, including the ones listed below.)
Offers comprehensive software – an all-in-one virtual option, with ALL the features you need to host a virtual event. This includes viewing the livestream within the software, eliminating the need for two devices (one to watch on; one to bid from). SchoolAuction.net also allows you to choose your own VISA processor. That’ll help you minimize your costs. This is a fantastic all-in-one solution at a very reasonable price.
Greater Giving offers many of the same functions as SchoolAuction.net – at a more premium price. However, GG does offer more tools you can customize yourself, if you want. You will pay more, but you’ll wind up with more extensive reporting capabilities – though be prepared to be tied to GG’s VISA processor. Some argue GG offers a better visual look overall. That’s subjective, so we invite you to do your own research and decide for yourself!
Your go-to option for extremely tight budgets. It’s free for nonprofits – there’s no annual fee or subscription required – however, there are fees assessed from your deposit amounts. Give Lively accepts cash donations and provides peer-to-peer fundraising features. But the platform is limited in most other capabilities. You won’t have many visual options if you choose this route.
This one is a very comprehensive platform that can host a full virtual event, peer-to-peer fundraising or a race (in-person and virtual races). One Cause can handle any sort of fundraising you want to do with video hosting. The peer-to-peer platform, with social media sharing features, makes it easy to increase donations. It also provides a lot of additional features you won’t find with other software companies. But don’t forget, those features will cost you!
Other notable (yet not as widely adopted) mobile bidding software companies that get our endorsement for virtual events:
Trellis, Give Smart, Event.Gives, Auctria, Bidding Owl, Bidding for Good and Paybee.
Software and the Guest Experience: What Guests Love and What They Hate
We want to leave you with some valuable feedback we’ve received from our donors regarding their experiences with software. Here are the common rants and raves.
Rant: A Complicated Process
Without a doubt, the single biggest barrier to participation (and subsequently, donations) you can put in front of guests is a complicated or multi-step sign-in or registration process. It’s imperative you make it as easy as possible for guests to take part in your fundraising event. The more steps they have to take, the more likely it is they’ll throw up their hands and say forget it! Guests do not want to spend a ton of time trying to figure out how to sign up for mobile bidding. For everyone to join in the fun, provide clear, consistent and simple explanations about the process. Include screenshots, graphics and imagery when you can. Bottom line, make it as simple as you possibly can for your guests to watch, participate, and DONATE. Once your live stream team has established the URL for your show, share it far and wide. Blast it on your website’s landing page. Plaster your social pages with fun details about what folks can expect. Again, our trusty Marketing & Communications calendar is a great resource for this task. It even contains sample copy you can use as is or modify to fit your org’s language. Send out emails and invitations to join. You never want to hear ANYONE say they didn’t know about it. Marketing is one of your MANY keys to success in the virtual world.
Rave: The Giving Thermometer+Gratitude
There’s something special about the dynamically rising giving thermometer – that visual representation of your fundraising success. Sure, it appeals to our senses of sight and sound, but it goes deeper than that. There’s a psychology to it, as well. It enhances the culture of teamwork and community, which is an intrinsic part of your virtual event. It also conveys a sense of urgency and places the onus squarely with your viewers, which encourages giving. Showing your donors appreciation, both visually and verbally, also encourages giving. Select a platform that can display donor names in real time, so you can acknowledge them during the virtual gala. If you have guests who’ve agreed to donate before the event (pre-commits), make sure they understand how and when to enter that cash donation during the show. Or you can opt to do this on their behalf – another boost for your giving thermometer!
Rant: Being in the Dark
We hear feedback from guests about how much they appreciate knowing what’s coming up next in the live stream. We hear that being unaware of what will or won’t be included in the show – really, just being in the dark in general – is a major source of anxiety and frustration. Two things NOBODY needs more of right now (or ever), right?! Fortunately there’s a fairly painless solution: Educate them with preshow PowerPoint slides, outlining the content that’s coming up. Another benefit to preshow slides is that folks know they’re in the right place. If you include music and or video content, which we recommend, they’ll know they’re not experiencing any audio issues, either. Countdown clocks to the live show are a fun addition, as well.
Rave: Live Chat and Social Shoutouts
The chat feature is one of our favorite things. Seriously. When we first started doing VGs, we sort of figured the chat would be a fun afterthought. But we quickly realized it had WAY more potential than that. In the big picture, the chat helps us recreate some of the intimacy that’s missing when we’re not able to gather in person. It’s also just plain FUN! We’ve been amazed at some of the organic conversations that have popped up during the chat, often org-related and mission-focused. But sometimes people just want to share what they’re eating and/or drinking, or what they plan to bid on, or who they plan to OUTBID. No matter what the topic is, discussing it in the chat always increases the energy and enjoyment of your entire production. Same goes for social media engagement. Encourage them to take pictures of themselves at home, enjoying the show, then post them to their social media pages and tag the org they’re supporting. It benefits everyone.
Rave: Great Visual
In addition to marketing, another key to success with hybrid fusion events involves what people see on their screens. The almighty VISUALS! And we’re not just talking about videos and pictures. You need beautiful full-screen and lower-third graphics, attention-grabbing PowerPoint slides – pretty much anything your Dynamic Duo (emcee and auctioneer) is saying can be reinforced by some sort of visual. Reach out – we’d love to help with this part!
Are you feeling like a mobile bidding software expert, yet? Not quite? That’s okay! You don’t have to compete with the tech experts, or have encyclopedic knowledge of the software solution you decide on. Let the experts handle it, while you focus on raising money, donor development, marketing – all that fun stuff! Because no doubt about it, software is a complicated business, even if you’re using it in its most basic form. Furthermore, technology is daunting to many of us and it’s human nature to fear what you don’t understand. But hopefully this comprehensive guide gave you a little more understanding of mobile bidding software and all the great things it can do for you. Have more questions? Contact us!