3 Tips to Boost Interest

Marketing your nonprofit online auction

Guest post by Sarah Sebastian, Director of Corporate Communications for OneCause

As those in the nonprofit world realize, few things are as effective—or as time consuming—as fundraising events.

Auctions are among our favorites for engaging donors and raising revenue. However, they do require investments of your time and resources to drive results, even when held virtually. 

To make sure you maximize your auction’s ROI, a strong marketing strategy will help your nonprofit reach new donors and foster stronger relationships with supporters.

It also creates positive awareness for your virtual event, and let’s face it, with so many distractions these days, every cause needs a way to stand out! 

In order for your virtual fundraiser to be a success, your online auction needs to be marketed before, during, and even after, to build donor & brand loyalty.

With this in mind, how can your nonprofit get maximum eyes on your online auction and drive engagement? 

We’ve compiled 3 tips to boost interest and rock your next online auction. They are: 

  1. Promote your Auction Across Channels. 
  2. Leverage Mission & Impact Messaging. 
  3. Keep Spreading the Message after your Event. 

Promote Your Auction Across Channels 

With most of your items procured, an item catalog set up, and logistics coming together, you’re in a good position to begin actively promoting your online auction to supporters. 

We recommend a multichannel approach to help your cause reach the widest audience and create momentum for your auction.

The underlying idea with this type of marketing strategy is to use each of your digital outlets to generate more attention, keep your event on supporters’ minds, and steer potential attendees to your registration or mobile bidding pages.

What does a multichannel marketing plan look like? Here’s an example: 

Multichannel Marketing for an auction

Here you can see the various channels drive traffic to your registration page.

Think of it this way—your social media, blog, email, auction catalog, your ambassadors (or peer-to-peer fundraisers), and social media followers work in tandem to promote your event, raise awareness, and create excitement for your auction.

The ultimate goal is to drive users to your event’s registration page so that they’ll convert, or complete your target action of signing up or purchasing a ticket to join the auction.

Note that you don’t have to be present on all channels to successfully promote your online auction. Stretching yourself too thin can harm your marketing strategy by diluting your message and attention. Instead, you should: 

  • Evaluate your donor base and past event performance to determine which channels are most effective at securing sign-ups.
  • Repurpose previous content to promote your online auction and save time along the way. Work smarter not harder!
  • Actively engage with your followers on your chosen channels to drive awareness for your cause and fundraising campaign in a more personal, impactful way.

We typically see social media, email, and direct mail as the top 3 channels of event promotion for fundraisers.  

Optimize Social Media 

Social is the easiest and widest way to push out communications and reinforce your visual online brand.

When it comes to promoting your online auction, involve your supporters as much as possible in your social channels. Follow as many passionate donors who have a strong connection with your organization as you can. Invest the time daily (it doesn’t have to take forever – 30 minutes) to engage with donors you follow and build social engagement.

Additionally, tap into ambassadors, with large networks and social clout in the community to help you expand your online auction’s reach. Many nonprofits also leverage ambassador-led peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns in the lead up to major events like annual galas and auctions. This helps spread even wider awareness and fundraising reach at a grassroots level, and can bring social donors into your auction.

Here are a few tips to use social media to your advantage:

  • Encourage usage of your event hashtag.
  • Highlight top fundraisers and tag them in posts.
  • Regularly check your activity streams and donor walls to highlight successes.
  • Ask supporters to share your content with their networks and increase visibility.
  • Post progress to goals, event updates and celebrate milestones!

Spread Awareness with Email Marketing  

Help spread the word with email marketing. Email blasts and newsletters bring your online auction directly to your supporter’s inbox, making them among the most effective ways to get the word out and send invites and updates quickly. 

When it comes down to it, your email communication should provide relevant information that helps your audience connect to the mission, conveys the impact of their participation, and makes their experience easy. This information should include: 

  •  Your mission
  • Event details (mobile bidding site, featured auction items, event date & time, etc.)
  • Impact statements
  • Links to social media profiles
  • Mobile bidding ‘how-tos’, or other tutorial content

Your supporters should be primed and ready to participate! Just be sure to segment your email lists into key groups like newly-acquired supporters who haven’t attended events before, loyal event attendees, and lapsed supporters who haven’t engaged in a while. This will allow you to send more targeted messages to each group and drive engagement.

Utilize Direct Mail 

If you have the budget, direct mail (postcards, flyers) can also be great ways to grab attention for your event! With so many people at home these days, mail is a creative way to stand out. 

Segmentation is also key for yielding an ROI with direct mail since these materials and postage are more expensive than purely digital methods. Send mailers only to those supporters who you know are likely to engage with them. This might include older donors and those who have previously donated or registered after receiving a mailer. 

Make sure you consider these elements of a direct mail piece & make them fit your mission:   

  • Headline 
  • Design / Brand 
  • Mission Messaging 
  • Call to Action 
  • Sense of Urgency 

Leverage Mission & Impact Messaging 

In the online world, making supporters feel connected is key. Think about it—when we feel connected to things, people and causes, we are more likely to take action (like actively fundraise for your cause). 

How do you inspire this kind of connection and action? Anchor your promotions with your mission, impact, and human images and/or language. Make mission messaging an integral part of your virtual fundraising with these components:  

Digital Storytelling 

Digital storytelling is a powerful tool for nonprofits. It involves leveraging a compelling narrative in a visual experience to put your donors at the heart of the story and make an emotional connection. 

Here are our top tips for turning your digital storytelling dreams into reality: 

  • Establish your story. Map out your nonprofit’s story, including your constituents, community, and donors. What’s the problem being addressed? Who’s the hero? How do your donors drive your story forward, and why should they care?
  • Consistency. The idea of consistent messaging isn’t new for nonprofits. With the power of multiple channels like social media, email, text messaging, and mobile bidding, it’s more important than ever to present a coherent story that reinforces your brand.
  • Video Quality. Produce a quality video that highlights your nonprofit’s mission and on-the-ground impact, perhaps by highlighting constituents and donors—more on video below.

Digital storytelling is all about laying out an emotionally compelling arc that donors can quickly recognize, respond to, and want to be a part of. A powerful story can unlock engagement, improve the giving experience, and ultimately raise more for your auction.

Impact Videos 

Create compelling messages from those you’ve served and connect your online auction to your mission by bringing your cause to life with video messaging.

Adjust your video strategy to the channels they’ll be posted to or the purposes they’ll serve. For instance, shorter videos highlighting your impact are ideal to post on social media. Longer videos that show the full scope of your event and the impact it will have will work well embedded on your event page or used as part of the virtual program livestream.

Make sure to give your videos a human touch by interviewing:

  • Constituents explaining the impact your nonprofit has had on the community
  • Donors discussing why they believe so passionately in your cause
  • Your nonprofit’s leaders talking about the event and why it matters

These types of videos will turn into marketing gold that can be used long after the event wraps up—a win-win!

Spotlight on Past Auctions 

The most successful events are those able to keep the focus on the impact that fundraising will have on your mission. This applies not only to the night’s agenda, but throughout your multichannel marketing strategy. 

 The more specifically you can demonstrate impact, the more informed and prepared guests will be to give. Highlighting past events and results is a tangible way to show supporters what you’ve been able to accomplish with their help in the past. Try to include these strategies:

  • Highlight your most successful past auctions  
  • Showcase what made them successful 
  • Share personal impact stories 
  • Challenge your donors to go above and beyond for your mission 

Keep Spreading the Message after your Event 

The days and weeks immediately following an event present a huge opportunity for additional fundraising and further donor engagement. As you measure the success of your marketing strategies, devote plenty of time to follow-up, as well.

Post-event marketing is an art in and of itself and, if done right, can build lasting donor relationships. Here are a few things to remember: 

Follow Up with Virtual Attendees 

Fundraiser attendees and donors need to be recognized for their time, support, and actions. Whether through an email, handwritten notes, phone calls, or even a gift, a small token of appreciation and thanks can make a big difference.  

The type of follow-up communication really depends on what an event team is trying to accomplish with the new donors and contacts on their list.

For example, if your goal is to collect feedback to improve next year’s event, follow-up emails also offer an excellent place for attendees to provide feedback via a survey.   

For nonprofit event teams, sending this follow-up communication immediately after an event—or at least within the following few days—is key to forging deeper relationships with donors, particularly those who would be an ideal donor for their organization. The right follow-up helps keep them connected to your mission, demonstrates you care to include them in your efforts outside of the event or giving transactions. The way and frequency with which you communicate with auction donors after your fundraiser truly makes the difference between a one-time attendee and an active, engaged donor. 

Share the Impact of the Auction 

Supporters ultimately give to fundraisers and attend nonprofit events to help further a good cause. Nonprofit event marketers should let these individuals know how well an event performed by sharing the results of a fundraiser.  

Your total revenue raised and projections of what that revenue will accomplish for your mission are all exciting pieces of information that your supporters will be interested to know. 

By arming your supporters with information, facts, and mission impact, you raise awareness and encourage them to help.

  • Share this success with their networks 
  • Drive even more interest for subsequent events 
  • Feel as though they contributed to a truly impactful event 

Media outlets, news teams, and PR companies can help share your success with larger groups, building awareness and visibility for a nonprofit organization as a whole as well as its upcoming events. 

BONUS CONTENT: Your Online Auction Marketing Checklist  

We’ve rounded up the most important items to double-check and confirm with your team while preparing your marketing plan for an online auction:

  • The Online Giving Center and RSVP link has been set up, or a launch date for the site has been determined and ready for an email blast.
  • All social channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) have been established and our social handles appear on all marketing content. 
  • We have ample signage and content promoting our follow-up events. 
  • All of our event promos and invites have been scheduled or mailed. 
  • We have a clear schedule in place for the day of the event. 
  • We have someone assigned to manage social accounts throughout the evening to ensure 100% coverage online. 
  • The follow-up process is in place and ready to go after the event.  
  • Our social media team posted all pictures and videos from the event online, and we’ve tagged attendees whenever possible.  
  • We posted the results of our fundraiser on our website, social pages, and anywhere else audiences can engage with our organization. 

In the digital age, multichannel marketing provides you with an excellent chance to engage with the public and your supporters, builds your brand, and contributes to your fundraising success.

All in all—promotion for your online auction is especially important for any type of virtual nonprofit event since competition for attention in the crowded online space is fierce. By laying out a solid strategy, emphasizing your story and impact, and reinforcing it all with effective follow-up, you’re sure to succeed. 

Use this resource as a way to boost interest in your nonprofit and online auction and see your fundraising results positively reflect the investment in marketing.  

About the author: Sarah Sebastian is the Director of Corporate Communications at OneCause. She’s a marketer and brand geek at heart with eight years of experience in the nonprofit tech space. Outside of work, Sarah can be found reading, hiking, kayaking, volunteering for Florida Access Network, or getting lost in the woods while photographing birds.