How do you simulate the thrilling, contagious energy of an in-person, live appeal when some guests are behind a screen?
Even with groundbreaking advances in technology and streaming, virtual events still bring an inherent distance between the action and the viewers. And great live auctions depend on the energy in the room, a spirit of generosity in supporting a good cause, and skillful orchestration by an auctioneer.
So how do you replicate that energy in an event where some or all guests are watching from home—and keep everyone watching the stream all the way through?
Live vs. Silent Auctions in Virtual Events
Not every virtual event requires a live auction to make money. Nonprofit organizers are relying more and more on online “silent” auctions, opening the auction long before the event to encourage early bidding, and sometimes closing them a few days after the event to get those final bids. Without the traditional structure of a live, in-person benefit gala with a catered ballroom dinner, the line between “live” and “silent” matters less than it did.
If you don’t have the budget to produce a gorgeous live auction and stream it, but your auction contains a few high-value, signature items that warrant a high-stakes bidding war, feature them on the screen during the event stream with exciting commentary from a host or emcee. Make a fun video demonstrating the value of the auction items to get people excited, and shout out the winners on the stream.
Hybridizing Your Live Auction
In a “hybrid” charity event, which combines a virtual audience with an in-person audience, holding a high-energy live auction wraps up the night with a bit of thrill for everyone present and watching from home. Live auctions are a great way to put the spotlight on big, exciting auction packages and turn them into a destination and event of their own.
If you plan to stream a formal live auction, limit the number of auction items. A traditional live auction typically features around 10-12 items, and when every guest is there in person—eating dinner and drinking with friends—it’s easier to hold their attention.
But with some guests sitting behind a device screen, it’s critical to put the live auction spotlight on a smaller group of items so that the segment doesn’t go on too long. Keep it light, funny, and break up the broadcast in ways that will engage the remote audience as well as in-person guests. Make sure to announce bids placed by remote guests to keep the competitive energy going.
TIP: Make it a destination! If you choose to use a live auction in a hybrid or purely virtual event, hype it up. Advertise what will be on auction on social media and official event communications, and remind guests they can only bid on these exclusive items if they attend the event. Offer a raffle prize or other incentive to keep remote guests tuned in all the way through the auction, and announce the winner at the end!
A Big Bucks Fund-A-Need is EMOTIONAL
For a successful donation appeal (sometimes called a “paddle raise” or “Fund-A-Need”), nonprofits need an emotional connection between the audience and the cause to inspire generosity and giving. Curate an atmosphere where donors feed on one another’s charitable energy and throw in a little competition, and raise big money.
Some staples from successful live appeals do transfer over to the virtual sphere. Open the appeal with an emotional, moving video that drives home the importance of the mission. This pre-recorded video should have high production value, with a clearly stated need that will drive the evening’s fundraising efforts. Say exactly what you do, why it matters, and outline how the night’s proceeds will make that mission possible.
The live stream should feature the need prominently throughout the appeal to remind bidders of the goal. Post a progress meter displaying the current fundraising total leading up to the goal, and visually demonstrate every donation getting closer to achieving the mission. Recognize both remote and live donors on the stream to feed the competitive energy—seeing friends and strangers raising their paddles to donate, more and more guests will get involved. And be sure to hire a professional auctioneer to guide the flow and keep the fun going.
Fun ideas for virtual or hybrid live appeals:
- Give remote attendees the opportunity to make a large donation in exchange for 10 seconds on the shared screen for a joke, skit, or simply an announcement. Foster camaraderie between the two groups, or encourage some good-natured competition and ribbing.
- Make it a competition between remote and in-person bidders to see who can raise more for the cause.