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How to Turn Your Auction Attendees into Loyal Donors

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If your organization is hosting an auction as part of your annual giving campaign (or anytime, for that matter), you’re going to have an excellent opportunity to grow your donor base!

Because your event attendees have already demonstrated their interest in your organization by registering for your event, they’ll be some of your organization’s best prospects.

Don’t let this opportunity go to waste! As you’re planning your charity auction, you should also be planning out a stewardship strategy to cultivate these event attendees into donors.

You might be wondering: how is it done, exactly?

Well, we’re about to tell you! From event registration to follow-up, we’ve laid out 5 steps for transforming one-time guests into loyal, recurring contributors:

  1. Track data from the beginning.
  2. Start your outreach early.
  3. Emphasize the cause.
  4. Collect as much information as possible.
  5. Follow up after the event.

Once we’re finished, you should have a whole new base of amazing donors on your side to help your organization make a difference.

1. Track data from the beginning.

 

In order to successfully convert event attendees into donors, you need to think about your stewardship strategies from the very beginning of the process.

The process will start the minute attendees register for the event. Prepare yourself for stewardship as well as you possibly can by tracking attendee data from the start.

Tracking attendee data is so important because it will help your organization get to know your prospects and develop individualized outreach strategies.

When you focus on forming deeper, more personal relationships with each of your prospects, they’ll feel valued, and thus, be much more likely to become contributors to your organization.

If you’re using event-planning software, the data-tracking process should be fairly simple.

Attendees will submit their RSVPs through the event registration form on your online event site. Since this form links up to your software, the data they submit will automatically be recorded in the platform.

You should then export this data and import it into your nonprofit CRM to start creating constituent profiles for your event attendees. If your event-planning software is integrated with your CRM, you’re ahead of the game! The data will automatically be recorded in your database, so you can skip this step.

By recording the data you receive in your donor database, it will be much easier to manage and consult this data throughout the event planning process.

Depending on which information fields you’ve included in your event registration form, you might be able to start forming individualized outreach strategies.

However, in most cases, your form probably won’t give you too many insights beyond your attendees’ name and contact information. At the very least, you’ll have enough information to start reaching out to your prospects, which is a great first step!

The more data that you obtain from your donors, the more likely you’ll be able to cultivate relationships with these donors after the event. While collecting the information from an event registration form into your CRM is important, it’s also crucial to track whenever someone from your staff interacts with a donor.

By briefly describing the interaction in the donor’s profile, your entire staff will have a timeline of past interactions. When you reach out to a donor, you won’t have to waste time repeating information that’s already been given.

Additionally, by linking up new data with your donor profiles, you’ll be able to see which guests are first-time attendees and which have interacted with your organization before.

Each of these groups will warrant different outreach strategies, so start thinking about how you can target each to start cultivating them into donors.

The bottom line: Great stewardship takes preparation. Set yourself up for success by recording the new event attendee data you receive in your donor database as soon as this data comes in.

Bonus: For more on nonprofit donor databases, check out Neon’s definitive guide.

2. Start your outreach early.

 

When it comes to donor stewardship, it’s never too early to start reaching out!

Now that you have some basic information about your attendees, you should begin getting in touch with them.

Many event planning software platforms will allow you to automate receipts after attendees submit their RSVPs through your event registration forms. This will let attendees know that you’ve successfully received their registrations and that they’re signed up for the auction.

Your outreach shouldn’t just stop here, however.

When attendees register for your auction, you should send them a more personalized follow-up email, thanking them for signing up for your event and providing them with further opportunities to engage with your organization.

For this strategy to be most effective, split your list out into two groups: first-time attendees and attendees who have previously interacted with your organization.

The follow-up email to first-time attendees should welcome them to your nonprofit’s family and give them more information about your organization and mission.

You should also include a call-to-action (CTA) that provides another opportunity to interact with your organization.

However, since these attendees are just now interacting with your organization for the first time, make sure that your CTA doesn’t ask them for too much. For example, an appropriate CTA might be to learn more about your organization by subscribing to your email newsletter or following your social media pages.

For attendees who have previously interacted with your organization, your follow-up email should specifically reference their previous interaction with your organization (if you have this information on file) and thank them for their continued support.

Here your call-to-action can ask for a little more. For example, if you’re reaching out to someone who has attended many of your past fundraising events, you could see if they want to participate in your auction more actively by becoming a volunteer.

Following up with your auction attendees soon after they register for your event will let them know your organization is paying attention and appreciates their support.

Furthermore, giving them additional opportunities to interact with your organization will help you begin establishing relationships with them beyond the context of the event.

The bottom line: Following up with your auction attendees soon after they register will start your stewardship off on the right foot. Begin building relationships with your attendees by providing them with initial engagement opportunities.

3. Emphasize the cause.

 

Because you’ll have the all-too-rare opportunity to interact with your supporters face to face, the actual auction should be where a majority of your stewardship takes place.

During your auction, you should highlight the charitable aspect of the event by emphasizing the cause.

Why, exactly? While some guests will attend your event for the main purpose of supporting your organization, let’s face it—many will be in attendance in the hopes of winning one of your auction items.

Emphasizing the cause brings your organization and mission to the forefront of the event. It will equate bidding with charitable giving, reminding guests that their bids are, in fact, donations to your organization.

Hopefully, hearing about your organization and all of the great work you’re doing will inspire some attendees to support your organization further. At the very least, emphasizing the cause ensures that guests are aware of your mission and can take further action if they so choose.

You can emphasize your cause in two main ways: in your auction program and during a live appeal.

Let’s touch briefly on each strategy.

1. In your auction program.

Your auction program will essentially be the Playbill of your auction.

While the information included in your program will vary depending on if you’re hosting a live auction or a silent one, the main purpose of the auction program is to:

  1. Give guests a schedule for the night.
  2. Acknowledge sponsors and other pivotal contributors.
  3. Highlight popular auction items.

As its purpose is to orient guests with your event, your auction program can also be an excellent place to emphasize your organization and cause.

Include a short blurb about your nonprofit, your cause, and what you’re doing to help in a prominent place, such as at the top of the schedule for the night.

It’s also smart to include exactly what you’ll be putting the auction proceeds toward. People often feel more comfortable donating when they know exactly how their contributions are going to be used, so this can potentially help you win more donations.

2. During your live appeal.

Even better than reading about why your cause is important is hearing about it directly from someone at your organization.

During their auctions, many nonprofits choose to make a live appeal. At some point during the event, the auctioneer or emcee will ask the audience to make donations to help your organization reach a fundraising goal by the end of the event.

Because your organization is asking for donations outright, the live appeal can be an excellent opportunity to bring your cause to the forefront.

Directly before or after the appeal, have a staff member from your nonprofit tell your organization’s story. It should include a brief introduction to your organization and cause, what you’re doing to help, and for what purpose you’re requesting donations.

Since many of your guests will be first-time attendees, this strategy will allow them to put a face to your organization.

Being able to put a face to your organization will help attendees relate to you more personally. This will really start your organization off on the right foot when it comes to building the deeper relationships with your attendees that will transform them into longtime supporters.

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The bottom line: Emphasizing your cause puts attendees in a giving mindset and makes them more aware of your organization. Hopefully, by hearing about your mission, many will be compelled to start giving outside of the event!

4. Collect as much information as possible.

 

The key to building supporter relationships is getting to know your supporters!

Take advantage of the face-to-face opportunity to interact with prospective donors by collecting as much information about them as possible.

Not only will this help you start building a personal rapport with attendees, but it will also help you personalize your outreach down the line.

How you collect information will vary slightly based on the type of auction you’re hosting, so let’s explore each: live auctions and silent auctions.

1. Live auctions

During a live auction, the auctioneer will be auctioning off items, taking bids, and overall running the show.

Because they’re essentially live performances, the downside of a live auction is that they leave little room for socializing.

However, you’ll likely have the advantage of a seating chart on your side, which will give your organization an ideal chance to talk to the prospects you really want to target.

Plan your seating chart so that each staff member in attendance is at a table with at least one important prospect you’d like to cultivate.

Have your staff really focus in on these prospects and make note of any important information they receive that can help you personalize your outreach down the line.

Using your staff to divide and conquer will allow you to get to know multiple prospects without having to remember a ton of information and running the risk that you’ll mix up details about each one. And, you’ll be able to get to know each prospect more deeply than if one person were trying to talk to every prospect.

2. Silent auctions

Silent auctions are less structured and usually more casual.

During a silent auction, people will be walking around to browse your items and place bids. While there will be an emcee present to make announcements and keep the event on track, the event won’t be as “hosted” as a live auction.

This means, while your organization will have more time to mingle with guests, you won’t have as much control over positioning yourself to talk to the prospects you want to target.

However, the ability to walk around more freely can work to your advantage.

Throughout the auction, your staff members will have plenty of opportunity to strike up conversations with guests. Because there’s no seating chart, conversations should be more organic, and each staff member can talk to more attendees.

That being the case, it can be helpful to have your staff collect attendees’ business cards and make note of any important information on the back. This will help you keep track of the information you receive while also keeping interactions natural.

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Whether you’re hosting a live auction or a silent one, make sure to record all of the information you collect during the auction in your donor database while it’s fresh on your mind.

This will organize your information so it’s easy to consult when developing individualized outreach strategies later.

The bottom line: Getting to know your prospects and building deeper relationships with them will lead to higher conversion rates and more valuable donor relationships. Set yourself up for success by collecting as much information about attendees as possible during the auction.

Bonus: Need some help planning your silent auction? Check out OneCause’s guide!

5. Follow up after the event.

 

When it comes to turning your auction attendees into loyal donors, the follow-up might be the most important part.

Following up with donors will cement the in-person relationships you started building during the auction and continue them outside of the context of the event.

However, not all follow-ups are equally effective. For the best chance of converting attendees into donors, you’ll want to include the following things:

1. A sincere thanks.

Saying thanks is an integral part of the stewardship process.

Not only is it just common courtesy, but saying thanks is also one of the easiest ways to make your supporters feel valued.

While you should thank attendees before they leave the auction, you should also follow up with a more personalized thank-you note to each, even if they didn’t make a monetary contribution outside of purchasing tickets.

In your letter, thank each guest sincerely for taking the time to attend. Use any information you collected during the event let guests know you were paying attention and value them as individuals.

To those who did donate, make sure to equate their contributions with charitable giving. In the context of an auction, when gifts are made through bidding on items, it can be all-too-easy for donors to forget that their purchases are also donations.

Remind them that their money is going to further a good cause to inspire them to keep giving!

2. An update.

Donors don’t just want to know how their personal contributions will help; they also want to know how their contribution added up to help you achieve your overall goal.

In your follow-up, make sure to include an event update that tells supporters exactly how much you raised from the auction and where this money is going.

Your attendees want to know that their gifts are making a difference. When they can see that their contributions will play a part in helping your organization make change on a larger scale, hopefully they’ll be compelled to keep on (or start!) giving.

3. Additional engagement opportunities.

The guests that enjoyed your auction will likely want to keep engaging with your organization, but they won’t know how to do it if you don’t tell them!

Including additional engagement opportunities in your follow-up will allow those who connect with your organization and cause to continue interacting with you.

Even more importantly, providing further opportunities for interaction will be the only way you can actively continue to deepen attendee relationships and successfully convert them into recurring donors.

The only rule here is to avoid making an ask. Although attendees gave in another setting, they still made donations, so asking for more money at this point can be alienating.

You can provide donors with other engagement opportunities, such as:

  • Fundraising events. If you have any other upcoming fundraising events, you can ask supporters to attend them as well. For instance, if your supporters attended a charity auction, suggest they register for your marathon as this event will offer a contrasting experience.
  • Membership programs. For the most loyal attendees that have supported your cause multiple times, you can ask them to join your membership program where they’ll receive perks and more ways to engage with your organization.
  • Volunteer opportunities. By asking donors to volunteer at the next event, donors can give their time rather than their dollars. Plus, working with your staff and the communities or people you serve will help them connect to your cause even more.

One excellent (and easy!) engagement opportunity is to send out a survey.

The advantages of distributing a survey are twofold: your guests will love to feel like their opinions are valued, and your organization can gain more insights into how you can better both your auctions and stewardship directly from the source.

If you’re looking for a more active engagement opportunity to offer guests initially, one rule of thumb is to meet them where they are.

To clarify, your guests chose to support your organization by attending an event. That being the case, some might prefer or might only feel comfortable contributing in an event setting.

Start your outreach by seeing if they’d like to get involved by volunteering, serving on an event committee, or even hosting their own mini fundraising event!

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With these three things included in your follow up, you will have set the stage for continuing your relationships with attendees and building on them further.

If they’re inspired by your cause, there’s no reason why your guests shouldn’t become loyal donors!

The bottom line: Make sure to thoroughly follow up with your auction attendees by including a thank-you, an event update, and a further opportunity to interact with your organization. This will be your best chance of extending the relationships you made outside of the event!


The key to converting your auction attendees into loyal donors will be practicing good stewardship before, after, and during your event.

For the best chance of success, you’ll want to get to know your guests as well as possible so you can target them with the most personalized outreach strategies in the future.

When your guests feel personally valued by your organization, you’ll have the best chance of transforming them from one-time attendees into donors who give for years to come!

Rock your next auction! Take your event fundraising to the next level by requesting a free demo of our world class mobile bidding and online auction software.  Click for a demo!
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