How To Measure the Effectiveness of an Online Silent Auction System

If your organization has taken AMT Lab's advice and implemented an online silent auction system, have you measured it's effectiveness and ascertained the value it has added to your event?

  The silent auction table at the Incredible Acura Art Event, photograph courtesy of Stephan Cooke ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/aheram/3691107780 ).

The silent auction table at the Incredible Acura Art Event, photograph courtesy of Stephan Cooke (https://www.flickr.com/photos/aheram/3691107780).

Kate Martin, former AMT Lab contributor, described the ways that an organization could potentially raise more money through a silent auction system. In addition, Martin also discussed how competitiveness of bids can be increased and and how the platform allows organizations to engage those not physically present. These activities can be evaluated in order for an organization to understand its return on investment.

One organization that has leveraged this technology is the Society for Contemporary Craft. They host an annual open house in early spring with light appetizers, craft workshops, and a silent auction. Last year, I had the opportunity to implement and evaluate an online silent auction system for this event. The result of the silent auction, along with two years years of previous data, has provided me the chance to analyze based on these three dimensions: 

  1. The amount raised
  2. Increased competitiveness
  3. The extended reach that an online system provides. 

Amount Raised

Looking at the amount raised is relatively straightforward. In 2016, SCC was able to raise 16% more than the previous year. However that was mostly due to a much larger number of items and isn’t instantly comparable to previous years. In the previous two years, SCC sold about 85% of the silent auction items, but in 2016 only sold 81% of the items. 

 Data courtesy of Society for Contemporary Craft

Data courtesy of Society for Contemporary Craft

Increased Competitiveness

Increased competitiveness in silent auctions can be measured easily by looking the total number of bids. Text notifications, a feature of the online silent systems used at SCC, allowed us to measure this dimension. All bidders were notified through a text message about each item when a new bid was placed on it. The individual who was then outbid could raise their own bid with just one text, replicating the rapid fire bidding of a live auction.

Most organizations do not record the number of bids from year to year; however, at Society for Contemporary Craft, we did have data regarding the retail value and the final auction price. By creating a ratio with these two numbers, we can evaluate how the online silent auction system affects the engagement of bidders. 

Silent Auction Fa16 Table 2

As an example, the chart above looks at two different fictional items. Each item has a retail value of $60 however the vase was sold for $100 and the bowl for $40. The ratio reflects this difference and demonstrates that there was higher competition for the vase, then for the bowl. (It is important to note that the starting price of each item for SCC was a set percentage of the retail value). Additionally, you can plot the retail value and the final auction price on a scatter plot as demonstrated below:

 Data courtesy of Society for Contemporary Craft

Data courtesy of Society for Contemporary Craft

In all three years, only a few items achieved a ratio of greater than 1. Therefore, the scatter plots are inconclusive about whether the online system increased the competitiveness of the auction. 

Reach

While evaluation of monetary data points did not point towards a sustainable value add, the consideration of reach provides space for the organization to continue to experiment with the system. Here, it is important to consider the situational context of the Society for Contemporary Craft’s silent auction. Nearly all items are pieces of craft art contributed by artists who have benefited from the organization at some point in their career. While the capacity for individuals who are not physically present at an event to bid on items is a selling feature, it is perhaps limited by the unique nature of the items and the need to be physical present with the art itself. For the SCC, the six additional bidders who participated in the auction but did not actually attend the event provided a small value add.

The majority of the intangible value added was the increased capacity of the organization to market and promote the artists’ work. Since photos of all items were uploaded to a micro site, the organization was able to communicate better with its supporters. Additionally, this visual communication was more appealing to the artists and was helpful in encouraging them to donate to the auction.

 

SCC has the capacity to invest in technology over the long term and will be using the same silent auction system next year. The organization feels that may take time for supporters to become accustomed to the silent auction system and to become competitive using the system. Critical to evaluating the success is how closely the investment in an online silent auction enhances your organization’s mission. Realistic expectations, the ability to experiment, and alignment to your mission are key with any investment in technology. Online silent auction systems are no different.