This year’s auction goes virtual


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hornbuckle

AND WE’RE LIVE: Livestreaming the live portion of the virtual auction, Scott Melvin, Executive Director of Performing Arts, stands in front of the camera thanking this year’s sponsors. Though the format was different from past events, head organizers like Jennifer Hornbuckle noticed how contributors like Melvin helped it run as swimmingly as it did despite the initial worry. “Mr. Melvin did an incredible job,” Hornbuckle said. “He was a superstar. It was kinda like a TV show where you’re preparing for so long and you’re like, ‘he can’t mess it up’ in the moment. And then you think everything’s going to run smoothly, and something happens. But it was great and Mr. Melvin is such a professional. So he was able to make everything work.”

Differing from past school auctions, this years’ Virtual Auction was a week-long event consisting of several different types of auctions. Usually, about 500 guests attend the auction in the Meruelo Athletic Center, which was decorated to look like a ballroom. This year, there were three separate auctions which included the online silent auction, which opened a week before the auction officially started, another online silent auction on the official day, and virtual one hour auction hosted via livestream.

Though many hands went into planning, conducting, and managing the auction, Jennifer Hornbuckle, Director of Admissions Marketing & Special Events was in charge of planning and executing all aspects of the event from the content and timeline to the baskets and the decor. Hornbuckle said that the entire Advancement Office worked hard to ensure a successful auction to benefit the entire school, even with the restriction of it being online this year.

“Our school auction is the only event that benefits all students monetarily,” Hornbuckle said. “It’s not just for athletics. It’s not just for performing arts. This is across-the-board, every student benefits from it. So all the money raised is going straight into school programs for [students]. The TV screens in [the] classrooms, finishing, updating all those and different projects around the school.”

Despite the challenges presented by the auction going virtual, it was still a measurable success, raising about $265,000 which surpassed the goal that was set. However, the setup was different than previous years, especially the actual auctioning portion itself.

“This year with it being virtual, obviously, we were a little nervous about it,” Hornbuckle said. “Mr. Melvin was our emcee, and he was on an iMac… we had a little stage setup for him. And we basically did an hour live stream event where we went over our live auction items. They actually opened to [everyone] the Wednesday before, so people were bidding on those and then showcased those.”

The auction’s online state did not come without benefits, though. With the entire auction being virtual, that meant anyone from around the world could tune in and bid, which opened up and expanded opportunities internationally – something they plan on keeping to some degree in future auction events.

“What was neat is people could have their own auction watch parties,” Hornbuckle said. “There were a lot of little parties happening at people’s houses…and for a lot of our sponsors, we actually provided them with drinks, charcuterie boards, dessert, balloons, and centerpieces… I just sent off a package to a Virginia alumni who was there bidding and I sent off a blanket that was purchased by an alumni member in San Francisco. It’s really neat to see people all over. But it also helped the bidding platform being online and from your phone.”

Hornbuckle described how in order to register all a donor had to do was text “monarchs” after getting their ticket which allowed them to receive updates on bidding and to share an item with other people.

Another integral staff member who worked on the event, Erica Adams, Vice President of Advancement, said that the differences actually helped in the expense category.

“Instead of it costing quite a bit to put the event on, it was just a fraction of that – we saved money in the ‘making it look nice’ area,” Adams said. “We were able to get alumni from all over the United States to get involved because they could bid on the event a week prior without having to be here in person.”

Like Hornbuckle, Adams believes that some portions of the virtual auction will carry over to the future in-person auctions. Taking what they have learned, they can create a more inclusive and innovative event.

“We will always keep the silent auction online for going forward and give more people the opportunity to participate,” Adams said. “It didn’t have the same feel, it had a different feel. But I think it was equally as exciting. We had done it some years before, but it really was not to this extent, it was very minor, and it would open the morning of the event. This was a whole week beforehand. And we kept adding items all week and featured them on social media, which was a big draw. So kind of going to take the best aspects… [to] get the best of both worlds.”

Working on more behind the scenes aspects of the auction, Melinda Craft, Administrative Assistant, saw the auction as a lot of work trying to adjust it to an online format. The adjustment required everyone involved to put in more work to make sure everything went smoothly, especially in the item display region.

“It was a lot of legwork on the front end,” Craft said. “Preparing for the virtual auction, I think the biggest difference is we had to make all of our online items look amazing. And that’s why we spend a lot of time taking photos to showcase the items online, because normally we’d have an in-person event where you’d be able to physically see all of the items. And they’d be done up in nice, pretty baskets. But when you have an online event, you can only rely on the photos that you see online.”

Families around the world were able to join the event from the safety of their homes with the auction now being online, which allowed for more people to take part. To Craft, this was a large improvement and expansion.

“It was a big expansion compared to other years where you would be constrained to just California,” Craft said. “Even my family participated. My mom is in New York, my sister is in Chicago and my other sister’s in Colorado. And they all tuned in and they all bid on items…It definitely had a different feel. But I would say the excitement was just as much. It was very cool to hear everyone after the events say what a great time they had, being at home, being able to just sit back and enjoy it with their friends. It was different, but it was equally successful. And I think everyone had a great time and I heard nothing but positive remarks.”

Even though the unavoidable obstacles the school was faced with over the year brought a new form of difficulty, we were still able to carry on with many traditions and events in new and creative ways. To everyone involved in the auction, having to improvise and think of innovative ideas gave them a refreshed way to hold the Virtual Auction.