Introduction: How to Run an Online Charity Auction
I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 at eighteen. Ever since, I’ve wanted to create something to give back to people that are struggling with this disease.
Last summer I found out that I’d be battling cancer again, now living in a different country, away from most of my family and friends. I’ve received so much support from my community of online friends and artists, with so many people offering to help any way they can.
The reality is that cancer is expensive, but it didn’t feel right to me to post a sad story with a donate button. Instead, I asked friends and artists for help. I was amazed that over 40 very talented artists wanted to contribute. While the main goal is to raise funds, it’s just as important to make sure the artists see their work featured to a wide audience and for bidders to get a good value for the art that they’re purchasing.
Today, I’m launching Macrocosm on Facebook, my online art auction to raise funds to help ease the financial burden for my family as we fight this disease.
In this instructable, I’ll guide you through the steps on how to make your own online auction. I did this with a lot of help from my family and friends, but don’t worry if you think your network is small, you might be surprised at how much goodness people actually have when they see a way to help.
Step 1: Find a Cause
Even (especially) if you’re not ill, it feels good to give back. The important thing is to have passion about your cause and be able to clearly communicate why you’re raising funds. You probably already have a cause in mind, but if not, there’s no shortage of underrepresented causes that need help. Take a look at the world around you and find something you want to change.
Step 2: Contact Friends and Artists
It’s crucial that your friends and family know about your project. You never know what connections they might have, and it’s good to spread the word around your community. Don’t be shy about talking to people about your auction. You’ll be impressed by the amount of artists in your community that are willing to help by giving their time or art.
Keep lists for everything. I use Trello to keep me organized, but you can use whatever works for you. You’ll want to build a list of names, contact information, and how they’re willing to help. If you’re accepting physical pieces as donations, you’ll want to keep a list of all the items, complete with pictures, descriptions, dimensions, weights, and their estimated values.
Step 3: Branding: Finding the Voice for Your Project
Once you’ve found your cause and have a list of people that are willing to help, it’s time to find the voice of your auction. You can either reach out to brand designers, or you can do it yourself. The goal here is to research your cause, figure out how to tell your story, identify your heroes, and provide a clear way for people to get involved.
In my case, I knew is I wanted to celebrate life and make people happy through art, so I started developing a concept related to life, our universe, and our ancient human beliefs that make us (at least, most of us) want to help each other.
Now that you have a narrative for your project, you should be able to come up with a name that summarizes it well. This is a good time to brainstorm with friends and family, as most people will be able to tell you when a name feels right, and it makes people feel good to be involved. Remember, you’re not on your own as you’re developing the voice for your project. You already have a list of people that are willing to help, and it won’t take them more than a few minutes to give you feedback about how your project makes them feel.
In my case, “Macrocosm” represents that we’re all going through life together, and that’s something that we should celebrate with art.
After choosing a name, make sure to buy a domain to use for your website and email. I love that “.gives” is now available because it feels right for these types of projects and because it’s relatively new, lots of short “.gives” domain names are available. I got macrocosm.gives at namecheap.com, and the cost is around $20 a year. Namecheap also works well because they give you email forwarding for free, so it only took a few minutes to setup email@example.com.
Step 4: Pre-launch: Getting Organized With Your Contributors
A “pre-launch” is useful for this type of project, because you need to let contributors know what the project is about and how they can help before it really goes public.
For Macrocosm’s pre-launch I wrote a Medium post (a platform that I’ve found very useful and easy to use) that explained what Macrocosm is and why it exists and shared it with my community.
I also launched the website macrocosm.gives with a little background about my story. A friend helped me with this part, but you can use services like Squarespace to get a good looking website up for cheap.
You have two goals at this point: establish a communication channel with your group of contributors and document what they plan to contribute.
I made a secret Facebook group for my contributors so I could update my contributors with what’s going on. This was effective for me, especially because my contributors are all active on Facebook and are located all over the Americas. You could also do it with email, on a bulletin board, or even in person, depending on where your community is most active.
Clearly communicate that you need high resolution photos and a data sheet that contains the type of art, who will do the shipping, a suggested starting bid, description, dimensions, and weight.
Set a deadline and requirements for your contributors. I know it feels awkward to give donors a deadline and requirements, but it’s actually much easier for people to contribute when they know exactly what is expected from them.
Step 5: Promotion: Press Kit and Social Networks
You’ll need to create a small and simple “press kit”. As you can see from Macrocosm’s press kit, it’s just a summary text of what the project is about, how it works, and a set of images for people to promote the event.
The goal here is to make it very easy for the press to report on your project. Remember that the media, at all levels from international press down to small bloggers, receive a huge amount of stories every day. You need to make yours simple to write about. Provide a press-release style summary, high quality images, and links to your contributors personal sites.
Also set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an Instagram account, and any other social networks that your community uses. People have different preferences about how they like to be updated, so it’s worth it to be on all the social networks that are relevant to your community.
At this point, you’ve made it easy for anyone to publish a story and stay updated about your project. Now is the time to reach out to bloggers and traditional media about your project. Research people that are active online and involved in your cause or similar causes. You never know who might publish a story about your project.
For me, my strongest social network has been Facebook, and I’ve found scheduling posts to be very helpful. You can also schedule tweets with Tweetdeck, and on Instagram posts through schedugr.am. As a general rule, noon is a good time to make posts and announcements.
I’ve learned that you don’t need to spend a ton of time online. You can achieve more by getting organized, responding to messages, and scheduling several posts in advance. Block out time every day specifically for this. We’re all used to spending way too much time reading and replying on social media, but you’d be surprised at how quickly you can get a series of good messages out if you schedule several at a time. Make sure to reply to all messages within 24 hours, or people might lose interest.
Step 6: Launch!
To launch an auction it is important to set guidelines and rules. For example, our maximum bid is $2000 USD because we want to keep it affordable. Anyone can bid by leaving a comment, and I’ve asked that bids are in whole-dollar increments to keep things simple. We also set a deadline: the auction will run starting today until the 18th at midnight Pacific Time (be specific with time zones!). To keep things simple for bidders, domestic shipping is included in the price of the bid, so make sure your minimum bids include the estimated price of shipping.
Now that you have your auction defined and have some interest, it’s time to launch. Make a Facebook gallery with all of the photos of the items for auction, along with their descriptions and open it to the public. Let everyone know that the auction is now live via social media, contact anyone that’s previously published you one more time, and try to relax while you watch the bidding begin.
Step 7: Post-launch: Assigning Winners, Collecting Payment, and Shipping
When the auction closes, you’ll need to go through the Facebook album comments and figure out who won which pieces. Update your notes for the winners. Send out notifications letting them know that they’ve won and collect payment using whichever payment services you prefer.
Once you’ve received payment, update your notes again, and get the pieces shipped with tracking numbers. Supply the tracking numbers to the winning bidders, and thank them for participating. For items that are particularly expensive or irreplaceable, don’t forget shipping insurance.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
I hope this helps you have a better understanding on what it takes to put together an online auction. Feel free to comment or give feedback if I missed anything! I’m also available via email if you want more advice on this subject at firstname.lastname@example.org. And of course, please take a look at my auction in progress and bid if you see something that you like :)