5 silent auction rules

Silent Auction Best Practices: 5 Rules for a Your Best Auction Yet

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Nobody can deny the positive impact a silent auction has on a fundraising event. Silent auctions create an additional revenue stream for your fundraising initiative and provide a competitive and engaging activity for guests to participate in while still learning about and supporting a great cause. Although silent auctions have been a staple at fundraising events for years, most silent auctions are not reaching their full potential – and are not running as smoothly or efficiently as possible. In order to help you and your team embark on your most rewarding silent auction journey yet, we’ve created five silent auction rules for a successful silent auction. Enjoy!

Silent Auction Rules, Part One: Recruit Your Team

One of the most crucial silent auction rules to follow if you want to set your auction up for success is to recruit an effective team. Your team will most likely be a mix of staff from your nonprofit event and/or volunteers. To recruit volunteers, we’d recommend making mention of your upcoming event in your organization’s email campaign, and requesting volunteers specifically for the silent auction. If you prepare this communication early enough before your fundraiser, attracting volunteers should be no problem. Once you’ve built your team of staff and volunteers to help with your silent auction, we recommend creating multiple “teams,” each responsible for a different task. That said, make sure that one person on your event committee is responsible for 'owning' the auction.

  • Setup Team – Your setup team will help prepare the auction at your event, putting together the physical display and any necessary structures for the auction. This team will also help determine which auction items will be on display and which may be represented by a plaque or item sheet instead (more on this later).
  • Table Team – Your table team will be stationed at your silent auction table throughout the event. This team will need to be knowledgeable about which items are available, but they will also help guests submit their bids. Of course, this team can be instrumental in driving additional proceeds by making the overall donation process easier, and they can also encourage passing guests to stop by and submit bids. Here, we’d recommend having some of your most social (and loudest!) volunteers in order to get your guests’ attention.
  • Bidding Advocate Team – Similar to your table team, your bidding advocates will help encourage guests to participate in the silent auction. However, these team members will “float” around your fundraising venue to encourage bidding and help guests bid.
  • Checkout Team – Another important team of volunteers, your checkout team will ensure a smooth and quick check-out process. Silent auction checkout tends to have long wait times, so we would suggest having part of your team focus on processing payments, while the other part of the team focuses solely on retrieving and packaging items that have been won. Using a mobile bidding platform that supports self-checkout will significantly speed up this process.

Silent Auction Rules, Part Two: Find the Right Balance of Items

Our second silent auction rule is to find the right balance of silent auction items. This rule has multiple meanings. The first is to make sure that you have a wide variety of auction items across multiple different categories (eg. food, entertainment, travel, etc.) but also at a variety of price points so that everyone can participate. To learn more on this topic, check out our post on the best silent auction items. In addition to having a variety of categories of silent auction items, we’d highly recommend that you find the right number of items. Some people may be inclined to think that more items is always better. However, this is often not the case – over procuring items can overwhelm your guests with too many choices, leading to lower engagement in your silent auction. Instead, we’d recommend finding a balance of high-value items and then packaging together some of your smaller items into baskets.

Silent Auction Rules, Part Three: Organize Your Silent Auction Area

Another of our favorite silent auction rules is focused on the organization of your silent auction area. Keeping your silent auction station as organized as possible can help your team attract more guests, keep them up to date on bid amounts, and lead to higher bid frequencies and proceeds. To start, we would recommend organizing your silent auction tables in a format that will lead to the best flow of traffic at the event. Popular formats that we’ve seen are a U-shaped structure of tables (with your items on the outside and volunteers on the inside of the U), as well as longer silent auction tables that span an entire hallway of the venue (sometimes even the entrance hallway).

Next, it’s time to focus on the layout of your silent auction items. Here, a few elements to consider include:

  • Item Layout – For your item layout, two of the most popular formats are to group items by category or to group items by value. In grouping by category, you will simply display together items that are in similar categories such as food, travel, memorabilia, etc.
  • Which Items Will You Display Physically? – While you may be displaying all of your items in one way or another, we would not recommend having the physical item on display for all of your items. Instead, you can use item sheets and plaques to show item and bid information. This will keep your auction area more organized and easier for your guests to interact with. Of course, you can still present certain items physically. For example, signed memorabilia will have a much better impact than a gift card.

Silent Auction Rules, Part Four: Go Mobile

Now it’s time to discuss the mechanics of your silent auction, which leads us to another of our favorite silent auction rules...Go Mobile! As I mentioned before, silent auctions are a widespread element found across the country in most fundraising events. However, most silent auctions have not progressed past traditional formats – namely, silent auction bid sheets. Physical bid sheets limit engagement, participation, and proceeds for your fundraiser. Rather than using paper bid sheets for your next silent auction, we would highly recommend going mobile and using online and mobile silent auction software. Not only do mobile silent auctions improve the bidding process at your physical fundraising event, but they also allow you to reach donors and supporters at any time, from anywhere! This means that your silent auction is no longer limited to your event attendees. Clearly, the implications here mean that you can raise a lot more money by going mobile.

Silent Auction Rules, Part Five: Keep Your Bidders Informed

Our final silent auction rule is to keep your bidders informed. When your bidders are not easily able to learn about your auction items, their current bids, or their own bidding status, they will lose interest and be less engaged, meaning lower proceeds for your silent auction. With mobile bidding technology, your team can now keep your bidders informed in real time, allowing them to have information and notification at their fingertips, no matter where in the venue (or in the world) they are. To start, mobile and online silent auctions typically consist of an online auction page that lists each of your auction items. These pages not only let your donors learn about each of your items, but also update in real time so that your guests can know the current bid for the item, the bid increment, and any buy-it-now offers available. Additionally, mobile silent auctions have capabilities to send push notifications via text message to your guests. This means your guests will be instantly notified when they are outbid, increasing bid frequency, competition, and the final bid amount for each item. Finally, most online silent auction providers have different web pages available that provide real-time bid updates. These pages can be shown throughout your fundraising event venue on TV monitors and projection screens, allowing all guests to access an item’s bid amount at any time during the event.It's also best practice to have your MC remind your donors to participate in the auction and provide 15-minute updates in the hour leading to the close of the auction.


As you prepare for your next fundraising event, we hope that you find our silent auction rules helpful. If you have any of your own, feel free to add them to our comments below, and we’ll be happy to incorporate them into our post.

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