5 Tips for Building Donor Relationships at School Auctions
Successful school auctions require significant planning, thoughtful execution, and effective follow-through. Since they can be so involved, how do you measure their ROI? Of course, you’ll track your fundraising goals, but another underused metric can help supercharge your efforts: donor relationships.
School auctions help you increase both the quality and quantity of your donor relationships to facilitate future support, improve donor loyalty, and build sustainable engagement habits.
Think about how you foster these relationships before, during, and following your auction. To help you get started, we’ve listed our top recommendations for making the most of your school auction. Let’s jump in!
1. Research Auction Attendees in Advance
To tailor your outreach approach, research potential attendees in advance to determine who you should prioritize inviting and engaging with. Reference your data and be sure to invite previous attendees with:
- Previous giving history: Has this individual given to your school or any other charitable organization in the past?
- Previous engagement: Have they attended or volunteered at previous fundraisers or other school events?
- Relevant connections: Are they still connected to your school in some way? Aim to target supporters who have either recently graduated or still have children enrolled.
Pay special attention to your most recent audience data that dates back about two years. Using this data, you can identify your high-impact donors and tailor your outreach and auction format to engage them. For example, you might recognize their impact from the previous year and ask them if they have any auction items they would like to see at this upcoming auction.
2. Pay Attention to Business Affiliations
While researching individuals to invite to your auction, note their business affiliations. These connections will help you uncover valuable insights into other opportunities for potential guests to contribute to your school.
Here are a few opportunities business affiliations can present:
- Auction item procurement: You may have donors that work for or run companies with products or services that are appropriate auction items. The best way to ask a company to donate an auction item is with an effective procurement letter sent to the right contact. Even if your donor won’t be the ultimate decision maker, they can likely help you identify the correct person to contact.
- Sponsorships: Donors may work for companies that have corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs or grant initiatives that align with your school’s mission. You can leverage these connections to initiate conversations for partnerships that could benefit both parties.
- Matching gifts: Several companies have matching gift programs that match their employees’ donations at a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio, which would double your supporters’ impact. By identifying your donors’ business affiliations, you can encourage them to use tools like advanced matching gift autosubmission to streamline the giving process.
- Expanded networks: Even if a donor’s employer may not have CSR objectives that align with your school’s initiatives, they might have professional contacts that they can introduce you to that can help your school in other ways.
Reference these business affiliations when preparing a live auction. For instance, you might create a seating chart with two (friendly) business competitors side by side to increase healthy competition.
3. Create a Pre-Event Buzz
Leading up to your school auction, lay the groundwork for building lasting donor relationships that engage your community. Doing this will open the door to opportunities for long-term connections. To increase anticipation before your auction, consider:
- Sending out personalized invites: After narrowing your prospective attendees, craft personalized invitations that clearly communicate your auction’s purpose and why an attendee’s presence will be valued. For instance, you might mention that this year’s auction will fund your school’s athletic department and invite alumni who were student-athletes to enjoy a night of friendly auction competition.
- Posting social media promotions: Post updates leading up to your auction on social media. You might spotlight a few enticing items like an inclusive weekend getaway or concert tickets, or you could recognize a sponsor to thank them before your event begins.
- Sharing testimonials from previous events: Dive into your school’s fundraising history to share moments that helped you achieve success. Was there a new theater program or building addition in the last couple of years? Recognize your previous successes and remind your attendees that you can’t do it without them.
- Planning an attention-grabbing email marketing campaign: Write a series of well-crafted emails sharing regular updates, countdowns, and exclusive sneak peeks to potential participants and registered attendees. Encourage your recipients to forward these communications to their personal networks to reach more supporters and increase the hype surrounding your auction.
According to SchoolAuction.net, pre-auction event planning and promotion can define your auction’s success as promotion is the first step in inviting donors into a productive relationship. In other words, effective event promotion will widen your reach which can positively impact your donor acquisition efforts.
For best results, stick to posting on channels that your alumni and other potential guests are already active on. For instance, many schools have active Facebook groups you can leverage to get the word out about your upcoming auction.
4. Leverage auction software
During the auction, have your team mix and mingle with guests freely. That means you should avoid spending time supervising check-in, check-out, and other bidding procedures. To streamline auction logistics, use comprehensive auction software.
Use software that offers the following features to streamline your event:
- Item procurement tracking: Keep track of item requests and results and send receipts within one centralized system.
- Multiple ways to give: Text-to-give and recurring giving options are a must to make donating during your fundraiser flexible and accessible.
- Mobile bidding: Use software to get rid of paper bidding sheets and allow attendees to bid using their phones.
- Speedy checkout: Look for an auction software provider with an easy-to-use self-checkout feature that lets guests quickly review their cart and checkout from their phone using a secure credit card processor.
These features are essential for providing an unforgettable guest experience. You might consider partnering with an auction provider whose software is also format flexible, so you can easily transition in-person auctions to hybrid or online formats. Built-in gamification features like countdowns and outbid notifications are also useful tools for enhancing the bidding experience and spurring friendly competition.
5. Engage Donors Beyond the Auction
Your work is not over after the auction! Engage your auction guests and communicate that your school is willing to go the extra mile even after securing support. To make your guests feel valued, follow these best practices:
- Send post-auction surveys: Ask for feedback following your auction. Doing this will help you improve future fundraising efforts by taking note of what worked well. It also indicates that your school values your guests’ opinions and is making an effort to prioritize their satisfaction.
- Share impact reports: Donors want to know how their contributions helped your school reach its fundraising goals. Use your school’s newsletter to include how their donations helped your school purchase new athletic equipment, build out your arts program, or improve a department’s educational materials.
- Express gratitude and offer recognition: Send personalized appreciation notes to donors thanking them for their participation. With their permission, you can also publicly recognize individuals who made a large impact.
Your recognition and gratitude efforts will vary according to the donor. For instance, you might mention major sponsors in your newsletter updates, call them personally on the phone to express gratitude, or plan an appreciation event to celebrate their generosity.
By considering which donors to invite, how you’ll invite them, and how you’ll engage them, you can set the stage for long-term relationships. Use tools like prospect research and auction software to plan and execute your auction. That way, you can expand your network and streamline your event. To your fundraising success!
About the Author
Roger Devine is a co-founder of Northworld, the developer and distributor of the award-winning SchoolAuction.net auction-management software. Before starting the company, Roger worked for many years in software, website development, and publishing. He's chaired at least 30 auctions over the past 20 years (one loses count after a while), has served terms on the boards of several area non-profits, loves all dogs on the planet, and lives in Portland, OR.
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