IML Wireless deviceWhat would happen if you could take the benefits of instant bidding and excitement of online auctions like eBay and apply them to a live event?

That’s exactly what the wireless keypads from IML do.

The portability of the devices mean that attendees can make bids on auction items from anywhere at the event.  They don’t need to leave their seats to keep bidding.  All of this encourages more bids and can make a difference in funds raised at an event.

The technology can be used at event with an attendance of 100 to over 1000; it’s very flexible.  With this system you can forget the hassle of paper bidsheets too.

I met Ray Hansen earlier this year and got a demo of the devices.  I was instantly intrigued by what kind of impact this could have on fundraising events.  Since then the potential has been proven to me through some of the amazing charity events they’ve worked on.  Here are just a few:

  • The Museum for African Art used the technology for the first time at their 25th Anniversary Gala. David Bowen, whose company produces the event every year, said, “Our guests really enjoyed the interactivity that the IML devices created, especially at dinner.  And our check-out has never been so smooth…for our guests or our staff. “
  • Public radio station WFUV used the devices to run the auction at their 2nd Annual Spring Gala.  This photo shows one of the beautiful table displays along with the IML wireless devices right on the table, ready to take bids.
  • The American Cancer Society in Chicago raised more this year at their Discovery Ball than last year.
  • The Robin Hood Foundation used just the pledge management aspect of the technology to raise $72 million (yes, million!) to help the needy in New York City.

Recently I spoke with Ray by phone for an in-depth interview.  The complete audio with text transcript is included in Secrets of the Charity Auction Experts.  Here’s a 6 minute audio clip (with text version below) that gives you a great preview.

Sandra: Especially with your background and having that concern for non profits and the funds raised, what are some of the focus with this technology, some of the uses of it and some of the benefits?

Ray Hansen: The idea is behind the overall technology and I’ll focus it on where are we seeing successes. The idea is that you’re going to get as many people participating in the bidding process as possible. You also have the ability to extend the silent auction for a much longer period of time than you normally would, just on a logistical front. Inside the dinners, presentation you can keep that silent auction running, people can still be bidding on items. They don’t have to get up from their seats; they don’t have to leave the bar; they don’t have to leave their social area; they can still talk to people. The whole time they can be getting updates about their silent auction items and bidding and continuing to bid on them.

We’ve seen a number of areas that have benefited from this. From everyone from museums to private schools, public schools, every type of event that’s out there would benefit from using the system. It’s really a diverse group of people or silent auctions or gala events that would benefit from using our system.

Sandra: Great, so I’m just thinking about if I was at one of these events, basically it’s a hand held device and it looks a little bit bigger than a cell phone and you don’t have one per person do you? It’s maybe one per table, or how does that work?

Ray Hansen: We’re really flexible with that. Generally we say one device for every two people. Everyone who comes in will have their registration list beforehand and we will burn them a bidding card, so at registration they’ll get their bidding card and they can walk up to any device that’s set out on the dinner table; set out at the silent auction area, really anywhere and plug their bidding card into the device and really start bidding away.

Sandra: How do they know what items are up for the auction?

Ray Hansen: There’s a couple of different ways. We still encourage for table top displays of the silent auction items so that if people still want to see and touch the items and get the full descriptions; where our system plugs in similar to a PowerPoint laptop, will plug into any of the audio visual components that are in the room, whether it’s a big screen, plasma screen what have you and then we create these movies essentially that have the silent auction items scrolling through and it gives some really important information.

First it tells you how much money has currently been raised in the silent auction. It also tells you per item what’s the highest bid and who has the highest bid on that silent auction?

Sandra: Okay, so on the screen it will scroll to, say there’s a car, and so it will have the description, it will have the item number and then what the top bid is. Someone will pick up the device and put in their card and then what do they do from there?

Ray Hansen: From there they would enter the lot number and then they would press the enter key and then a brief description of the item would show up on the little LCD screen and would also tell what the highest bid is and now if there’s bidding commenced it will tell you what the next bid has to be based on those bid increments. The person will hit the enter button again and put their bid in and send the bid.

Sandra: Right and is it wireless, automatic.

Ray Hansen: Completely wireless. It’s updated instantly. Both on the device and on the display screens. I will say that on the display screen though, these screens are completely customisable, so if you wanted to display ten lot items at one time, it’s easy for us to do that and then in addition if you want to just highlight one specific lot silent auction item, it’s very easy for us to do that as well.

Sandra: Okay, so when you and I were talking earlier, you described how this automatic feature and the fact the silent auction organisers can get instant feedback, they know exactly how much has been raised. What items have gotten a bid and what items haven’t and so you told me a little bit about how that information can be used to then further more bidding. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Ray Hansen: I will. First of all, our technology it is, it’s technology right. There’s always going to be that need for…that yin and the yang between man versus machine. Our people are there watching the silent auction update live and we always encourage for there to be an open dialogue and open communication between our onsite people and those who are Mc-ing or of course the host of the evening. That way if we see a bidding war break out, we can highlight that to the MC; we can put it up on screen. He can bring attention to it and conversely if things are going bad in the silent auction or the goals aren’t being reached, we have that information right in front of us so that we can communicate that to the MC, so he can get back in front of the donors and start helping to pull some of that money out of their pockets and get it back in the silent auction or the life pledge.

Sandra: So you’re not leaving the funds raised to chance. You know minute by minute how it’s going.

Ray Hansen: Yes, literally second by second updates and there’s none of this at the end of the auction where you’re tallying up the highest bids and the disappointment. At least while you’ve invested so much money in the silent auction getting the people there; sending out all the invitations, all the effort that you’ve put into this, at least it gives you that actual item right then and there, so at least you have a chance to get an attempt to pull some more money out of people.

The complete 30 minute audio interview and transcript are included in the Secrets of the Charity Auction Experts seminar series.

Posted on 02 June 2009

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