Bird sanctuary's online auction takes flight

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Timing, they say, is everything. This turned out to be true for The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association, which doubled results on its annual online auction this year after moving the event to a later date on the calendar.

The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association is a wildlife sanctuary for birds of prey that sits atop the Appalachian Mountains. Three years ago, the nonprofit held its first online auction as a way to build out its annual gala dinner, which includes a silent auction.

"There's a group of people from our membership [who] wouldn't attend an event like a gala dinner," said Mary Linkevich, information and grants manager at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association, Kempton, PA.

While the organization saw an increase in the amount of revenue brought in by the auction from the first time it added the online element, it has been tweaking the process over the past few years, and really hit the jackpot this year.

One element of the online auction that has been improved through trial and error is the type of merchandise that is featured.

"We've found that certain items work better than others online," Linkevich said. For example, while the silent auction at the gala dinner includes work by local artists and potters, these items are too difficult to capture in a photograph that would look good online. Instead, the association now offers a series of packages such as a guided walk around Hawk Mountain or a morning with a trained expert banding humming birds.

The nonprofit uses online auction software from CMarket, Cambridge, MA.

In addition, the association has started including information about the online auction in all of its communications with members, including putting an ad in its calendar of events that comes out once a year.

However, the change that perhaps has had the biggest impact on this year's results was the association's decision to move the online auction from the end of February to the end of June. As a result, information about the auction was up on its Web site, www.hawkmountain.org, during a time when the site naturally gets more traffic as tourists begin to plan their vacations to the region, Linkevich said.

It seems to have worked. This year, the online auction brought in more than twice the amount of revenue than it did the previous year, she added.

The auction also brought in a handful of high-level new members.

The grants manager's goal is to continue to improve upon its online auction by adding more items, spending more time on the descriptions and more. "We will improve upon it every year," she said.

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