Silent auctions are a great way to raise money, but require a lot of coordinated effort. These tips for running a silent auction will help you procure more items, liven up your event, get everything setup right, make it run smoothly, and maximize your results.
Procuring Silent Auction Items
- Your Group – Start with the family, friends, and employers of your group members by having everyone ask for donated items. Here are some tips on how to get more donated items.
- Local Businesses – Use a merchant plan to develop long-term relationships with local businesses for win/win donations.
- Large Businesses – Major corporations have donation programs listed on their websites. Apply online for donated items at least 6 weeks before your auction.
- Donation Request Letters – Here are two articles on how to write auction donation request letters and a sample silent auction donation letter you can use.
- Use Consignment items – Offer autographed memorabilia, balloon rides, vacation rentals, etc. These are high-ticket items and you pay only if they sell.
- Combine Smaller Items – Turn a group of small donated items such as gift cards, a restaurant meal, and movie tickets into a special grouping like a Night Out.
- Services, Skills Or Training – Don’t forget that you can also auction off services, special skills, or training as well as physical items. Including these types of items means more potential sources of revenue.
Make Your Auction Fun
- Make It Fun – Promote your silent auction as the fun area to hang out and socialize by placing finger food & drinks in the area. The whole idea is to get everyone over to see what you’ve got to bid on.
- Auction Emcee – Even a silent auction can benefit from an emcee calling attention to unique items, highlighting the items with no bids yet, and encouraging bidding on your high-end items. They can also call for last bids 5 minutes before the closing of each section.
- Entertainment – Larger fundraising event auctions can liven things up with some entertainment in the silent auction area such as fortune tellers, magicians, jugglers, caricature artists, card tricks, etc.
- Fun Displays – Create some whimsical displays for select items so that they really catch the eye and draw people in.
- Raffles – Get men involved by selling raffle tickets in the silent auction area for guy stuff like Beer For A Year, Barrow O’ Booze, Man Cave Madness, etc.
- Prize Wheel – Add excitement by having items that people can win by spinning the prize wheel. You can rent raffle drums and prize wheels from party rental stores.
- Wine Pull – Wrap donated bottles of wine to hide their labels and let each ticket buyer pull a random bottle as their prize.
- Use Creative Basket Ideas – Attractively package baskets will pull more bids, so here are 500 silent auction basket ideas for inspiration.
- Programs – Print up programs listing some of the top auction items in each section and prominently thanking your donors.
- Decorations – Decorate the auction area with balloons in arches, clusters, and other eye catching shapes.
- Traffic Flow – Avoid tight corners and U-shaped configurations. Leave plenty of room for people to browse and move about.
- Layout – Spread out your silent auction items into different sections.
- Highlight Sections – Assign primary colors to each section to make it stand out.
- Add Finger Food – Intersperse some self-serve food stations amongst your sections to draw the crowd.
- Item Themes – DO NOT group your items just by theme or price range. Scatter the good stuff around.
- Lighting – Use bright lighting in your auction area so people can see everything and read the descriptions.
- Signage – Use floor-standing easels with signs in bright colors to highlight section names and closing times.
- Auction Item Displays – To maximize bids, make them eye-catching and attractive.
- Item Displays – Elevate some items to eye level by using pedestals or stacked boxes.
- Descriptions – Print item descriptions in large fonts so people can read them without stooping or getting out reading glasses.
- Descriptions – Use bullet points, not paragraphs. Always write your own descriptions. Make them short and snazzy.
- Closing Times – Stagger your section closing times by at least 15 minutes per section. If you have a live auction, have one section with some of your best items close after the live auction to snag last minute bids.
Running A Silent Auction
- Registration – Have everyone register for a bidder number. That way all they write down is their bidder number and their bid amount, so every bidder is anonymous. Plus, it makes the whole checkout process so much easier for both bidders and staff.
- Silent Auction Rules – Prominently display your silent auction rules at the registration desk and near each section.
- Bid Sheets – For top results, use bid sheets that already include your minimum bid increments.
- Bid Sheet Backers – Place over-sized colored paper that matches the section color theme behind your bid sheets.
- Opening Bids – Use 40% of Fair Market Value, then minimum bid increments of roughly 10% of FMV.
- Buy It Now – Include a Buy It Now price where someone can grab that item immediately.
- Offer Multiples – Certain items (unique experiences such as cooking lessons from a chef) can be sold multiple times to different bidders.
- High End Items – Include several high-end offerings such as consignment items in your last area to close.
- Unique Items – Highlight your unique auction items because they tend to draw the most bids.
- Item Count – Don’t have too many items, consolidate some low-end items together.
- Call Attention – Have your event emcee (or live auctioneer if applicable) help promote your silent auction.
- Electronic Bidding – Use electronic or mobile bidding at large events to help maximize bids.
- Checkout – Advance registration speeds checkout because you can process everything in advance for pickup.
- Multiple Checkout Lines – The faster the checkout process, the happier your buyers will be.
- Credit Card Processing – PayPal and Square both have mobile phone-based credit card readers for processing payments.
Make sure you thank everyone for their support, both those who donate items and your supporters who bid on your silent auction items. And don’t forget to showcase the reason why you are raising funds in the first place because its an important psychological motivator.
A simple “Why We Care” table can highlight the important work that your non-profit organization provides to the community. Show how you have used previous donations to change the lives of others. Show how important every dollar that’s raised is to the work that you do by translating it into a concrete example. Example: “$1.37 provides three meals for a homeless person.”
You can also use it to personally thank all your donors and reinforce your message. And that helps give everyone a good feeling about attending your event and supporting your cause.