Electronic auction bidding debuts on area gala scene

Imagine what it would be like to walk into a familiar gala, head for the silent-auction displays and then find no bid sheets.

No pens. No competing bids.

Through the magic of electronic bidding and assigned preprogrammed cards, partygoers to Naples’ important charity benefits are discovering it’s a new age, surprisingly easy to adapt to, and they are soon hooked on the technology.

If three successive, well-subscribed seasonal galas are indicative, the advent of electronic silent-auction bidding will predictably increase come October, and extend through an early Easter 2012 when seasonal residents flock north.

Quick to jump on the techie bandwagon this past season, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Seacrest Country Day School and the Florida Gulf Coast University Resort & Hospitality Management Program were the first hereabouts to latch onto the inevitable future in primarily managing silent auctions.

All told, there must be at least 100 silent auctions of all sizes conducted in Southwest Florida, and comprising thousands of individual items and packages.

Fees for electronic auction bidding cover equipment use, including shipment costs and onsite professional assistance in preparing for, setting up and guiding the process through final reconciliation of all accounts.

Kathleen Maloney, officer manager of the JDRF, Sarasota-based Florida Suncoast Chapter, was enthusiastic in endorsing the BidPal System, which was used on a trial basis for five JDRF galas throughout the U.S.

“We were looking for an innovative way to streamline the silent auction at our mid-February Hope Gala — the Sunset Ball, while providing a ‘wow’ factor for guests. Using handheld devices much like an iPhone enabled them to bid on favored items without continually hovering over display tables. Volunteers were able to help the technologically disadvantaged, thus making the whole process fun and entertaining” for the crowd at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, she said.

Maloney compared the 2010 gala, the Aqua Ball, where 84 percent of all items sold returned 74 percent of estimated values. The 2011 fundraiser received 87 percent of sales and a return of 119 percent.

“Even with fewer items, the auction grossed $10,000 more than in 2010,” she observed. Maloney feels that while costs of implementing the new process may be expensive, increased sales may override that cost.

The Seacrest Gala for Treasures to benefit Seacrest Country Day School in Naples had opted for a different system produced by IML, a British-based subsidiary of the Australian Computershare Group.

With the IML system, guests are issued pre-programmed pledge cards containing their names and/or individual codes. They insert their cards into devices held by roving volunteers to make desired donations immediately visible on the hand-held, electronic devices. Combined totals of all guest pledges are then projected on large display screens.

At some of the fundraisers hosted at the Javits Center in NYC, each guest is not only issued a card but a bidding device as well.

“We were anxious to try electronic bidding at this year’s gala. As with any new technology, there’s a learning curve but the bidding machines generated a lot of excitement,” said Seacrest CFO Helen Ruisi. “Certainly from the business standpoint, electronic bidding makes reconciling the entire auction the instant it’s closed and preparing invoices a snap.

“I believe that this is the wave of the future since many already have an iPhone, Blackberry or similar portable device,” she added. “The main challenge will be to refine the technology to the point that user interface is seamless.”

Sherie Brezina, who heads up FGCU’s Resort & Hospitality Management Program, gave the student body full credit for proposing electronic bidding for the early April Wanderlust travel auction and managing it as well.

The auction was staged in the two-story Sugden Hall and extending throughout both floors, and the small, portable BidPal devices were conveniently placed so guests could place and update bids wherever, whenever without returning to the ground floor auction display room.

“Electronic bidding is a great way to capture attendees who prefer to mingle and talk with friends while enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, rather than crowding around silent auction tables and bucking lines to update written bids,” said Scott Robertson, who handled the event’s live auction.

Debby Roth, relationship marketing manager for Greater Giving, a national organization for nonprofits fundraising guidance, also listed Qtego and AES (Auction & Event Solutions) Auctions as two more players in a growing market of these electronic bidding devices.

Automated electronic bidding isn’t generally compatible with live auctioneering except for coordinated, continuous posting of rising bids on large display screens.

As even mechanized bidding companies may agree, there is no match for energizing auctioneers who deftly “work” the crowd into a frenzy of contagious, competitive bidding.

www.aesauctions.com,

toll free: (866) 360-2020

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