For some nonprofits, the cost of using a mobile bidding platform is not in the budget. Perhaps you are worried that the goal will not justify the expense. No matter which mobile bidding platform that you use, there will always be a cost (the only difference is where you pay it). When executed well, the costs are well below the increased benefits and added revenue.
This article is meant for the charity that isn’t ready to use a mobile bidding platform. When I started ClickBid in 2002 I wanted to help charities raise money. If mobile bidding is not realistic for your event, I’d still like to be helpful. Below are some ideas and links to free tools you can use to get a fully free event. Over 20 years, I’ve seen many charities use these tools at different times and they can work well. Let’s dive in.
For this next section, was thinking something designed like a kanban board that you see in Asana or Trello. To Do, To Doing, Done, Waiting for instance. This is an example.
Like I said, this article is meant to provide you with free tools and strategies to get the auction done well and with the least amount of stress. It’s important to note that with the lack of a central platform, your planning and preparation will likely be increased. Platforms like ClickBid are meant to simplify your auction prep. When using these tools, it’s very important to plan in some extra time for coordination and organization. For that, I recommend Trello. Trello is a free task management platform. You can share a to-do list (Trello calls them “boards”) with multiple people and you can drag and drop items as you move them through your planning phases. It’s a beautiful tool for keeping things organized.
To help you stay on track communicating with your donors, here is a communication strategy checklist that you can modify and add to Trello.
For this next section we talk about cloud based tools that many people can work with at one time. Visually, we should represent different folks working on one thing.
For this article, I’d like to focus on Google tools such as Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, etc. That is what we use at ClickBid and have done so for many years. However, Microsoft also offers tools to nonprofits for free. In addition, Apple has capable tools such as Numbers and Pages.
Regardless of your chosen platform, I highly recommend using cloud based tools that you can share with other team members. Cloud based means that you can edit your documents, typically in a browser, with other people so that everyone has a single source of information. As you progress toward your event, this single source of data is critical to avoiding wasted time and energy.
This section talks about getting the word out as much as possible. Perhaps a megaphone or someone shouting with email messages flying around.
Communicating with your donors is critical to running a successful event. Announcing your auction, ticket sales, new item alerts, parking information, etc will make your donors feel cared for. For this we recommend an email service like MailChimp. With a free entry plan, MailChimp will let you add or import donor email addresses so you can set up regular emails. They also allow you to add first and last names so that you can personalize your emails. Tracking opens, bounces and link clicks helps you see who has engaged with your communications.
If you’re a Gmail user, another tool to help you send personalized emails is YAMM or Yet Another Mail Merge. This free tool plugs directly into any Google Sheets document and allows you to send a personalized email directly from your Gmail account for each recipient in your spreadsheet. It also tracks opens, bounces and more. The message comes directly from you to help avoid spam filters.
Ticket sales in this section is all about getting your donors to commit to coming to your fundraiser. Something perhaps related to a ticket booth, online form, etc.
While there are platforms online that allow you to set up ticket pages, their “free” services often load fees into the individual transactions (in addition to credit card fees). This allows you to accept payments up front but at a cost. If you’re looking for zero fees and are happy to accept payment at-the-door, I recommend viewing your ticket page as a signup form instead.
With a free service like Google Forms, you can have your donors “reserve” their seat(s) at the event and indicate that payments can be made at the event or by mailing in payment. Donors understand and appreciate that you save every expense. For small and more personal events, this added step of receiving payment is completely acceptable. As your events grow in size and attendance, moving to a paid platform that allows a donor to underwrite the costs is recommended. However, early on, Google Forms is perfectly capable of getting the job done right.
For this section it might be worth showing a bunch of boxes (packages) being transformed into a list of items on a spreadsheet.
Procuring auction items is critical to a successful event. It’s also very time consuming. If you have used Google Sheets and Google Docs in previous steps, keep the momentum going. Google Sheets is perfect for managing your auction items. In fact, as a pro tip, create a Google Form that you can email to all your donors, link on your website and on your ticket page that allows a donor to submit an auction item. Send an email using MailChimp asking donors to help you find great items such as wine, spirits, local restaurant gift cards, annual passes to local attractions and more. Be specific as this helps your donors see exactly what you need. You’ll be surprised how much this helps you.
Google Forms will populate the same Google Sheet that you’re using to manage your items. Using an online spreadsheet also lets you share it with other team members so you can spread out the workload. In addition, you’ll use this spreadsheet later when you print bid sheets, display cards and thank you letters.
This next section covers converting your spreadsheet into display pages (one-sheets) for people to use at a physical event. Using mail merge tools to spit out lots of pages is what we’re describing.
A few days before your event, as your item procurement winds down, you can use your auction items Google Sheet and Google Docs to automatically create both your display cards and bid sheets. In fact, you will use merging a lot for your event. Merging is the process of taking data from your Google Sheet and creating a personalized document that can be printed for each item. Check out this fancy tutorial on merging with Google Sheets and Docs .
Display cards provide your guests with the item descriptions, starting bid, market value, etc so that they can bid accordingly. Bid sheets meanwhile focus on collecting written down bids as guests browse your event. When you’re ready to jump into mobile bidding, this will get much easier. For now, Google Sheets and Docs are vital tools. This is where merging comes in handy.
Merging will let you make a bid sheet and display card for each item in your Google Sheets doc. You can then print your documents and put them on display. You only need to design one display card and one bid sheet. The merging process handles the multiple documents with each item’s data. To assist, we have two Google documents available for you to use and a link to a helpful (and free) merging add on. And it wouldn’t be complete without another tutorial from yours truly on how it all works .
This section should illustrate people helping other people at an event. Typically, this is someone seated at a table welcoming guests who arrive at the event.
Two of the most important pieces of your event are check in and check out. Done well, your guests won’t stand in line waiting for you to check them off the list, receive payment, etc. After all, the only line your guests want to stand in is the line at the bar.
When you set up your Sign Up form using Google Forms , you got a complimentary Google Sheet of all the signup data. Print a copy of that data in alphabetical order and that can be used to verify your attendees as they walk in. I recommend using a yellow highlighter and marking names as people come in. It’s fast and easy. The Google Sheet can also be used for notes on meals, table assignments, outstanding payments, etc. This sheet is available to you and your team to manage while guests fill out the public form version on your website.
After the auction is over, you and your team will collect the bid sheets and need to enter the winning bids. Again, the Google Sheet that you have been working on since you started collecting items will be key. Add a few columns on the end of the sheet for the winner’s name, winning amount, email address, etc. From here, you can even have a receipt template in Google Docs that can be merged into printable receipts for guests when they pick up their items. In fact, here’s a template and yet another tutorial.
This section describes how you can use data and fundraising totals on projectors at an event. Everyone is seated in a ballroom and they can see how much has been raised at the event. Tons of celebrating when they hit a goal.
You can also use a tool like Google Slides to build a rotating slideshow of your mission, key auction items and more to keep donors engaged in your event goals. Running a heads and tails donation? Project our free Heads and Tails generator to build the room’s energy.
I have found that the goal of a rotating slideshow is to convey activity and generate action from your guests. Featuring specific items, announcing winners and updating auction totals will drive more excitement.
Once you have completed your event, you will have all the data needed to generate thank you emails, donor letters and more. In addition, since you used Google Sheets for your data, you can more easily prepare for your next auction. You’ll also be miles ahead for a mobile bidding event when it’s time to make the move.
I am always interested in learning more about how charities are raising money. If you’ve done a DIY event and want to share your story, send an email and I’ll share it. It all helps others generate more for their charity!