Cars that drive themselves? Netflix on a cell phone? Who would have believed this would ever be possible?

Technology and the Benefit Auction

Technology moves ahead at a shocking pace. The auction world is not immune from these advances. Online auctions allow auctioneers to reach an almost infinite audience. Wireless clerking has replaced the “bid runners” who delivered recording sheets to the clerk during live auctions. Smart phones with cameras can catalog an auction is one third the time it once took with log sheet on a clipboard. Auctioneers have embraced technology. The National Auctioneers Association offers classes and designations with entire curriculum built around technology. An NAA Facebook group allows auctioneers to exchange and share the latest discoveries.

Charity and benefit auctions now have technology solutions that offer a much better patron experience while generating higher returns. Mobile bidding has replaced paper bid sheets at most charity events and has forever transformed the silent auction. No longer are party patrons forced to crowd around the silent auction tables, hovering over a paper bid sheet for those items they hope to take home. Silent auction item display can be tiered and placed along walls and the absence of paper bid sheets means the display takes up less room. One of the greatest benefits of mobile bidding is that guests are now free to roam about and engage in conversations without the need to check their bids. Many of the latest auction event software solutions feature online ticket sale modules and allow guests to check out at the end of the night without standing in a line to pay their tab. Certainly, the benefits of technology are many.

Psychology and the Benefit Auction

All technology has limitations. Driverless cars still need drivers. Autopilots can fly and land airplanes, but pilots still occupy the cockpit. While benefit auction software has greatly improved the patron experience there are certain areas where it falls very short. It falls flat, actually. There is a certain psychological factor numbered bid paddles carry that mobile bidding can’t replace. Assigning a bidder number to a guest creates ownership. No one else has that number. That number is very special. At times, it is guarded. At other times, it is held high on proud display. That number represents that guest’s connection to the auction, to the event, to the cause. This isn’t technology, it’s psychology.

The Benefit Auctioneer Impact

Software vendors try to convince event planners that their software can replace bidder numbers. Some have gone as far as to say that auctioneers are, “living in the Stone Age.” Do not believe them. Software can greatly improve the guest experience and can increase bidding in silent auctions but it can’t replace the trained and practiced fundraising auctioneer. Winning bidders like to enjoy their moment in the spotlight when the auctioneer says, “Sold! And the bidder number is….” Winning bidders do not want to be immediately targeted by a staff member with a tablet device.

Nowhere is this psychological impact more greatly felt than during the paddle call. A well polished benefit auctioneer can present a special appeal that creates an obligation to respond. When two guests at a table have raised their bid numbers to respond to the plea the third and fourth are usually not far behind. Isn’t that peer pressure? Exactly. The whole purpose of a fundraising event is to raise money for a cause. Peer pressure is part of it; part of the whole social obligation that leads people to yield to their compassion and emotion and answer the call. The difference between hoisting a bid number high in the air and gently tapping on a smart phone is as far apart as the east is from the west. Further, a live special appeal allows a benefit auctioneer to seek out the money left in the room, marked by previous unsuccessful bids. The experienced auctioneer knows that mobile bidding technology can help him clean up the bits and pieces at the very end, but that donor recognition through the recognition of bidder numbers still produces better returns. Embrace technology, but never disregard the human element only possible with a professional benefit auctioneer.

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