by Brad Iverson-Long of Idaho Business Review
Kristi Saucerman started Auction Frogs as a way to take nonprofit organizations. silent auctions online. The company creates custom online auctions, receiving a flat fee or a 9 percent share of auction proceeds, and the auctions are open even to people who do not attend an event.
Auction Frogs has eight employees and offices in Hidden Springs. Saucerman said the company is adding two more employees this summer to keep up with consistent demand. The software and event company got its start with nonprofits Saucerman was volunteering for: Hidden Springs Charter School and the Junior League of Boise. It was incorporated in 2008 and now has more than 100 nonprofits as clients.
Idaho Business Review spoke with Saucerman about how the company started and her future plans. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What.s the problem that Auction Frogs is trying to solve?
I started the business as a mom who was a volunteer for organizations and did the same task over and over for organizations. They had the same problem: not enough time to bid on items and not enough people or wallets in the room. . You get all those items in a room, you hope for people to show up, and at the end of the event, you.re done, but it.s a meager outcome a lot of times because there wasn.t enough people or time.
I continued to do the same process and thought, .There has got to be an easier way.. I looked at options, but nothing fit my needs as the organizer, the parent, the bidder or the volunteer. Everything was expensive . you raise money because you don.t have a lot of money. All the other options required a lot of money upfront.
I thought, .I can do this,. so I did it. I created the program that took exactly what I needed: the ability to put a silent auction item online to open it up to bidding for a larger audience, instead of people that just show up at an event.
We raised so much more money for that effort, and it was such an accomplishment.
How did you turn that idea into a full-fledged company?
It was meant to be a hobby, but it scaled so quickly over the years and created demand. I met with the BSU TECenter and got together with Rick Ritter (with Idaho TechConnect), and I started to learn how to run a business. I had a proven model and program that works, but what do I do with it? I got an attorney, pieced together a team, and here we are, six years in . every year it continues to grow organically.
How is your site different from eBay?
We really work with organizations to list their auction items in a confined platform that looks like them. It.s branded to them. Everything about their listings, their website is all about them. The idea is for them to be able to share it on social media and with their friends and constituents. We.re not sharing their database. When you go on eBay, you.re in their database. This is a custom website that allows them to sell their items to their constituency.
It.s an event-management tool for their fundraiser, and it.s meant to promote to the community their fundraiser. It.s not a collection of items; we.re driving their constituency to fund this cause.
If groups were to host an event and have a fundraiser and silent auction, they have to pay a lot of money for advertising, marketing, ticketing, meals and putting the event together to hope people show up. Their costs go to overhead to renting a space, and they can.t afford that. By having an online auction, their audience grows and it builds their supportive network.
What.s your growth plan for Auction Frogs?
We.ll continue to grow with the growth of our business, and we.ll continue to scale our business and bring on more people to support that growth just as much as it takes.
We.ve managed to double in size without needing investment money, and I think that.s impressive.
Have you thought about seeking outside funding?
It is a lifestyle business, which is different from building a business to conquer the world. We like helping organizations and can do that one at a time by growing slowly.
I just have the business to support our lifestyle. It.s not something I.m trying to build to sell or scale it. Generally, when you talk to investors, they ask if it.s a lifestyle business or if you.re building it to scale. Well, we plug along and take care of what needs to be taken care of. I.m not trying to bring in investment money or conquer the world. I.m trying to do a really good job of what we do.
What is a stumbling block for many nonprofits?
A lot of times nonprofit organizations struggled with getting people to an event. Getting donations is never an issue, because so many businesses are looking to promote themselves within an organization. A lot of times, it.s just getting enough people to fill the seats. When you have auction donations, you need to have demand at the physical events. The online auction element is a huge solution, because it.s a different audience than those attending the event. Oftentimes, they.ll decrease the amount of silent auctions to bid on and increase the amount of items online, which become two separate fundraisers.
And where do you see nonprofits doing well?
Organizations are doing really well with social media and putting themselves out there to different audiences outside of their email databases. I find that they.re reaching out to larger audiences through social media, creating more connections and creating stories. It.s really helping to impact the number of members that are joining an organization or supporting them. I find that they.re doing that really well.
When it.s online, they.re getting a lot of new supporters and business donors. It.s a different audience that they.re able to get in front of. The end user is more sophisticated with how to use Facebook to support organizations on their own and interacting and having dialogue with people through social media.
Do you have a busy season for fundraising events?
It.s actually cyclical with the school year. We have a spring fundraising season and a fall season. For us, we get really busy from mid-January to mid-May. Then, we get busy from mid-August to mid-December. Parents are most likely in town during the school year, as opposed to the summer and holiday months. The holiday months, they.re obviously busy. During the summer, it.s harder to get attendance to show up at an event.