Bidding Adieu to Auction Obstacles
Kansas City Tiger Ball sets fundraising record with silent-auction software.
Alumni volunteers spend untold hours making thousands of details sparkle at a fundraising event such as the Kansas City alumni chapter’s annual Tiger Ball. There are the relationships with businesses and alumni that donate prizes such as vacations and spa packages for live and silent auctions. Not to mention the trappings of an attractive venue, the dinner, the program, the entertainment and emcees to whip up the crowd. But the Tiger Ball shattered its fundraising record April 9 in part because of what took place behind the scenes and beyond the glitz: a web-based mobile bidding program.
The chapter, part of the Mizzou Alumni Association, raised a net profit of $80,000, besting by one-third its previous record, set in 2015, of $60,000. The fruits of volunteers’ labor go toward scholarships that help keep college costs down. All told, the association and its affiliated organizations awarded more than $567,000 in scholarships for 2016–17.
Using software from vendor Gesture, attendees could for the first time bid on silent-auction items with a few taps on their phone touchscreens. “I was worried about how it would work,” says Whitney Miller, JD ’11, an event co-chair. “I kept picturing my dad; every time he downloads a new app, he’s always saying, ‘I can’t remember my password.’ But it worked great.”
The software erased logistical challenges on site, too. For starters, the silent auction of donated items became not only physical but also virtual. “Usually, we lay items out on tables with sheets of paper, people walk around through the crowd, write their bids and move on to the next table,” says co-chair Ashley Hutcheson, BS CiE ’01. This year, the website empowered revelers to tap in bids on, say, a nice bottle of wine and tickets to a Sporting Kansas City soccer match, regardless of whether they ever reached that table.
In previous years, logistical challenges dictated that the silent auction end before the dinner, the program and the big finish of the live auction. That changed, too, Hutcheson says. People could track on their phones all items they’d bid on, as well as a running total of their spending. “So, during the live auction, people who didn’t win items they wanted could spend that money on silent-auction items. When we announced toward the end of the live auction that the silent auction was closing, we saw a crazy increase in bids as people swooped in to win items. So the software really helped maximize silent-auction proceeds this time around.”
And at the end of the evening, online auctioning did away with that anticlimactic half-hour when winning bidders stood in line to pay for their booty. Instead, Miller says, “Payment information loaded into the software earlier let people hit a ‘pay-now’ button.” And then, she says, they hit the dance floor.