TrustYou Annual Charity Auction: How We Transitioned to an Online Fundraiser
Seven years ago during a company-wide event, we had a conversation about values. One value that became apparent for employees working at TrustYou was to give back to their communities through volunteering and fundraising. Many employees shared this as a personal value but most agreed they hadn’t always prioritized it in their lives. They also felt that by taking part in something as a team would be a good bonding experience and improve the company culture. Shortly thereafter, a small team in our Munich office came up with the idea of a charity auction, and thus our first Call to Auction event was born! The auction has been an important way for our Munich colleagues to get together each year, have fun, and work on something together that is important to them outside of their jobs. Even amid Covid-19 and stay-at-home measures, we didn’t want to give it up. But how do you take a complicated event like an auction, and turn it into a successful online event?
Facts & Figures
In total, from 2015-2021, TrustYou employees have:
- personally donated ~250 items to auction off
- raised over 12,000€
- donated to over 40 charities around the world
Some of the charities we have contributed to include:
Auctions of the Past
For comparison’s sake, let’s first look at what our past auctions were like before 2020. Originally, this was a physical event organized by a small team in our Munich office. But make no mistake, this was a collaborative effort which took a lot of teamwork from the attendees as well. Munich employees were invited to donate items for the auction and bring them into the office. Each item was carefully photographed by the auction team and placed into a slideshow presentation with a nice description. The slideshow cut down on the hassle of trying to organize and display items physically during the event.
Every year we were overwhelmed by the creativity, resourcefulness, and generosity of our teammates when their donated items began to arrive. There were no guidelines around what could be donated, but the idea was to find something you already owned or could make, rather than go out and buy something.
Contributions over the years have included handmade items such as home-brewed beers, original artwork, and baked goods—like the Brazilian Chocolate Carrot Cake made by Paula (Director of Accounting), which on its own has raised around 725€ and is now known as “a slice of heaven”. Some people donated vouchers for services they could provide such as a bike repair course, a beer-tasting tour of Munich, or a 3-course meal at their home. And of course, there were functional items such as board games, home decor, sports equipment, and books—some second-hand, and some never used. Some items seemed rather unexciting (ahem, utilitarian), but still fetched quite a lot of cash out of sheer novelty—like the famed “empty, plastic red box”. I’m pretty sure this was a last minute donation idea that the owner never expected would go for much. But every year, the box would get a new owner who could place their name on it and feel some TrustYou pride. Oftentimes these donated items gave us a glimpse into the lives of our colleagues and we all learned something new about each other and our interests.
On auction day in the Munich office (in pre-Covid times), we all finished our work day, grabbed a complimentary beer from the office fridge, and headed to the open space area. Here we were each given a small flag with our bidding ID on it so that the winners could easily be tracked, and to give it a more authentic auction feeling. TrustYou kindly sponsored a light meal that everyone could enjoy while while we found our seats and waited for the event to begin.
Our MC, Michi “The Man with the Hammer” (Director of Client Success) and talented colleague Katharina (Marketing Director), started the evening with a surprise performance. Showing off their rapping and singing skills respectively, they performed a different well-known song each year with custom lyrics related to life at TrustYou and our auction event. This got everyone properly excited for the evening.
There is a feeling of controlled chaos as peoples’ competitive sides come out in a friendly battle to place the highest bid and be the most generous donor.
MICHI "THE MAN WITH THE HAMMER", DIRECTOR OF CLIENT SUCCESS
Michi then switched from entertainer to auction MC and started announcing the items and calling out bids. People began raising their little flags and the battle began for the highest bid. Michi describes the vibe of the event... “There is a feeling of controlled chaos as peoples’ competitive sides come out in a friendly battle to place the highest bid and be the most generous donor. You have little time to think when you are in the zone trying to win. It’s one time in the year that you can feel good when you go over budget.” When the item was won, the gavel came down, and everything was neatly documented in a spreadsheet.
In the early years we all voted on a charity to donate to together. Later we decided to let everyone choose their own favorite charity and just show proof of payment in order to pick up the item they won. Since everything had been meticulously documented, this was an easy process. Each year we tested, learned, and tweaked the event to make it slightly more fun and slightly more organized.
Giving back generally brings people a feeling of happiness and purpose. Sharing this feeling with teammates is likely why this event has become one of our most popular and loved events at the Munich office. It has proven to be a great team-building event that brings everyone together through a shared purpose.
And Then Covid Happened...
The easy thing to do would have been to cancel or postpone this event, but everyone was craving some social interaction. In addition, Covid gave many people a sense of not having control of what is going on in the world. Fundraising for our communities helped give us a little bit of power back by helping others in whatever way we could. So we decided to turn it into an online event and continue the tradition.
There are many fancy (and expensive) platforms out there for conducting online auctions. But we wanted to utilize resources we already had so that money could be put towards what is most important, the charities. We already used GoToMeeting for webinars and town halls so we decided to go with what was familiar. This could easily be done with Zoom or Google Meet as well. It turned out to be more simple than we had thought. Aside from adding a GoToMeeting link to the invite and having a test run ahead of time, pre-event planning stayed mostly the same.
On the day of the event, the live music performance from Michi and Katharina was now pre-recorded and shared via Slack as a promotion tool to get people psyched for the evening.
After work, people gathered from their homes in the GoToMeeting—some were joined by family members, others with pets, and many with a refreshment in hand— ready to relax and have fun. Going virtual didn't affect the comedic stylings of our MC. He hosted the event with as many laughs as usual while another organizer shared their screen with the slideshow of auction items and descriptions. Instead of numbered flags, bidders simply entered their price in the group chat for all to see. Another organizer then recorded these numbers in a spreadsheet as usual. A bonus of the group chat was the hilarious commentary from the bidders as they discussed the items and battled it out for the winning bid—this let us see a side of our colleagues that you don’t normally see in a work environment.
Post-event organization stayed the same. Winners made payments to their charity of choice, provided proof, and organized pickup of their items.
Better or worse?
The silver lining to Covid affecting our event is that it's more successful online! We raised more money in the past two years than in most of the years that the auction was in a physical space. While it's not completely clear if a virtual event was the reason for that, we can be certain about one thing—the event is more inclusive, which is an important TrustYou value. By going virtual we were able to invite all teammates from around the globe to participate. The only caveat is that items won by colleagues in a different location need to be shipped. But it’s a small price to pay to have everyone involved. Of course, meeting in person is usually preferred for team events. But this showed us that in some cases it's to our benefit—and to the benefit of the receiving charities—to expand our reach by making it more accessible to all.
With so many people and industries—like the Hotel industry—being hit hard and struggling during Covid, we were more aware than ever that we wanted to spread a little joy, take care of each other, and give back to our communities. The 7th annual TrustYou Auction turned out to be a perfect way to do that.