This year I got recruited to join the planning committee for a gala event to support performing arts at my son's high school. This event is the school's biggest fundraiser of the year and features a student-led variety show, games, and a silent auction.
As tech lead, one of my responsibilities was to choose, set up, and run the online auction software. Some of the options we considered were:
- GiveSmartGreater Giving
- One Cause
To be honest, any one of these could probably have met our needs at a decent price. They tend to share a common set of core features, including the following:
- Create a simple event web page with event registration, sponsor acknowledgment, and digital auction
- List auction items in an online catalog with the option to bid or buy outright (e.g. for logo merchandise)
- Allow guests to bid and pay through a mobile device with the option to auto-raise bids up to a maximum set by the user
- Send email to guests/bidders
- Let users print bid sheets, check-in lists, name tags, and receipts
Features that Set Online Auction Software Apart
Some of the points of differentiation are CRM integration, live streaming, seat assignment, and payment processing. Some systems require users to download an app, while others allow bidding via mobile web. Some platforms also lack the option to duplicate and/or carry-over data from prior events.
And finally, there is a good deal of variation in the level and method of support available, including phone support on the day of the event.
Your own selection criteria will depend upon your particular needs. Based on our own, we ended up choosing SchoolAuction.net.
I'll share a few of the features that led to our decision—not as an endorsement of this specific platform, which may or may not be the best fit for you, but as a way to help you think about the attributes that might be important when choosing software.
Overall we thought SchoolAuction.net had a nice combination of features and price and a front-end user interface we liked. Unlike some of the other platforms, it didn't allow us to use our existing payment processor; we needed to set up an account with WePay, which was easy.
The back-end user interface was fairly easy to learn, and the vendor had strong documentation and support, including day-of support via phone. When I had questions, a human usually replied within 10 minutes and resolved the issue within a day or less.
The customer success materials are helpful, with best-practice videos and documents, plus emails going out at intervals to remind the administrator to complete event preparation and follow-up steps.
How Much Does Online Auction Software Cost?
With most tools in this area, expect to pay a software licensing fee plus a credit card processing fee. A few platforms charge a simple (higher) percentage of donations or a per-guest charge with no software licensing fee.
We paid $1,500 for 12 months on SchoolAuction.net. During that period we can run as many events as we want. This was on the low end of options we considered, which peaked at around $2,700 per year. WePay charged 3.25 percent plus 30 cents per transaction.
Selecting Software Step-by-Step
My advice for choosing auction software is the same as for any kind of software. Start with an understanding of your needs, including features that are nice to have but not essential. Watch some demos and do a test drive if possible.
Then, once you commit to a product, learn how it works and customize it to your needs and preferences. And most importantly, don't count on software to magically make your auction a success—it's a great tool, but it only works when combined with a great strategy.
Want to learn more? Our upcoming three-part training series, Digital Fundraising in 2022, is an excellent opportunity to take a closer look at all aspects of your online fundraising strategy and learn some new tricks to help you increase online donations.
Karen is a speaker, trainer, writer, and consultant with expertise in technology leadership and innovation, nonprofit software, and digital strategy. As Tech Impact’s Managing Director of Education and Outreach, she leads the a team of researchers, presenters, and writers who create technology information resources designed to help nonprofit leaders put their vision into action.
Photos of the online auction event featured in this blog post are credited to Isabella Nutella for SWPAC.