If you’ve found this page, chances are you recognize the positive impact that a successful silent auction can have on your fundraising event.
In this post, I’m going to tell you not only how to run a successful silent auction, but how to make it the biggest revenue driver on the day / night of your fundraising event. We’ll focus on the mechanics and logistics of organizing and running a seamless silent auction during your fundraiser, while also providing our best tips along the way.
So, let’s talk about how to minimize last-minute stress and guarantee that your fundraising event will go off without a hitch.
To start, let’s assume that you have a great committee, and they’ve already collected amazing items from your sponsors and donors. If so, you’ve already accomplished one of the hardest parts of pulling off a successful silent auction. If not, don’t worry – we have a great post for you on collecting amazing silent auction items!
Before we jump into the details, let’s recap what a silent auction is. In your donation collection process, you’ve probably received a number of in-kind donations for various vacation packages, sports tickets, art, etc. A silent auction is a great way to monetize those items, by allowing your event attendees to bid on them. Each item will have a starting bid and a minimum bid increment, with the highest bidder winning the item at the silent auction’s conclusion. Unlike a live auction, silent auction bids are submitted online, by text message, or on old-fashioned sheets of paper.
As you may have already guessed, your silent auction items will be the focal point of your silent auction, and will be a huge driver behind the excitement and proceeds generated for your fundraiser.
At this point in your planning, you may be asking, “What is the ideal number of silent auction items to include at my event?” Well, if you feel like you have too many items, there’s a good chance that you might.
Your responsibility, as the host of your fundraising event, is to make it as easy as possible for your guests to submit bids and donate to your cause. Providing too many silent auction items will lead to your guests having a difficult time when it comes to making a decision on which items to bid for. As a general guide, aim to have approximately one item/bundle per ten guests.
If you already have more items than this, don’t worry! You can easily (and strategically) bundle together some of your related items. We’ve found that packages such as “A night on the town” which might include a restaurant gift card, night at a hotel, and a show or game, tend to perform very well. Bundled items can also make for a great grand prize, which you can use to help market and promote the silent auction and event.
When it comes to pricing the items for your silent auction, there are two elements to consider – the starting bid and the minimum bid increment. We often see a natural tendency to price items too high, because of familiarity with an item’s fair market value.
Instead, we suggest setting a starting bid between 25% – 35% of the item’s fair market value, depending on the number of items and people at your event. Setting a lower starting bid will attract more initial bidders, sparking their interest and creating bidding wars. These bidding wars drive the competitive spirit that can lead to a higher final bid than if you had chosen a higher starting bid amount.
As for the bid increment, 20% of the starting value tends to keep people bidding, while still increasing the item’s price substantially with each bid. While you’re at it, try to keep the bid increments as straightforward as possible (units of $5 or $10 are usually best) – you won’t want your potential donors struggling with math after a couple of cocktails!
Proper organization leading up to your fundraising event is crucial for a successful silent auction. Typically, there are two major hiccups that can cause your silent auction planning to become a giant headache.
- Neglecting to properly track all silent auction items from day one leaves the event host playing catch-up the whole time.
- Last-minute additions and subtractions to your auction item list. As much as you’d like to accept every item donation that you are offered, we suggest having a cut-off time for confirming an item donation. The last thing you need is to find yourself updating 200-item lists an hour before your guests arrive at your event (I know from experience)!
Some tips to stay organized on the day or night of your event include:
- Use an online silent auction system. Online fundraising platforms will allow you to digitally store information on all of your items, making your auction better organized and easier to track!
- Group your items by category (travel, food, art, music, etc.). A mobile silent auction system like Accelevents will also let you group your items by category, allowing you and your donors to easily sort through your items!
- Label items with a three-letter code or number – this will make it easier for your runners to find items during checkout.
- Print all gift certificates/gift cards and keep them in alphabetical order in an accordion folder.
Promoting Your Items
There are several tactics you can use to generate buzz about your silent auction items in the days and weeks leading up to your fundraising event.
As we mentioned before, collecting a few high-value items will give your team something to talk about when promoting your silent auction and fundraising event to your potential audience and guest list. Great items will create excitement and awareness for your event, and can even lead to increased attendance. We suggest highlighting your best items / grand prize on social media and in email communications sent to your audience or attendee list.
If you’ve decided to use a mobile or online silent auction, you can also use your custom fundraising page as a promotion tool by emailing your silent auction link to your audience, or even posting on your social media or event ticketing website. Furthermore, online auctions allow you to open your silent auction prior to your physical event. This can add huge value to your fundraiser, as you effectively increase the amount of time that your donors can support your cause!
During Your Event
Proper layout and promotion of items on the day or night of your event will also help optimize the bidding process and increase your proceeds. When preparing the layout of your venue, we recommend arranging your venue’s traffic pattern in a way that encourages guests to walk past your silent auction items on their way into the main event space. Setting up near the entrance usually works well, and also helps with distributing items when your attendees are on their way out.
Showing your guests the items early will inevitably start to build excitement about all of your awesome items, leading to early bidding that will continue throughout the night!.
Another essential step for the day / night of your event is making it easy for your guests to find information about your items, regardless of where in the venue they may be. Placing item catalogs in various locations (bars, cocktail tables, or dinner tables) will make it easy for your guests to find information on items and place their bids. Item catalogs will also act as subtle reminders for your guests to support your cause by continuing to bid, bid, bid!
Pro Tip: Bring a power strip and ask a half dozen friends to bring a cell phone charge to the event. You can easily setup a ‘Charging Station’ near your auction table so that people can browse your items while still keeping their phone in eyesight. We’ve also seen a bunch of events sell the ‘Charging Station’ as a sponsorship item to generate additional proceeds!
Your ability to engage your audience will significantly impact how much money you are able to raise from your silent auction. While having great items will certainly entice your audience, it is also important to reach a sufficient number of people in order to increase your potential donor pool.
Too often, we notice that silent auction organizers rely only on those people who are attending their physical event. While this approach can be successful, organizers are neglecting a massive portion of potential supporters. This group consists of those who cannot attend the event, or those who are aware of the event, but live too far away to attend.
Using a mobile bidding system will allow you to share your silent auction with anyone who has access to the internet. Donors can view your online fundraising page, browse your items, and bid on / pay for your silent auctions from anywhere in the world!
The result? You’ve potentially increased your donor pool (and proceeds) significantly!
Chances are, your silent auction will be the biggest revenue driver at your fundraising event, so stay on top of it throughout the day / night!
Prior to your event, we suggest planning out different times over the course of the event to remind guests to participate in the silent auction. Do you have a band, DJ, or keynote speaker? Having these people give quick reminders about your silent auction can go a long way in driving additional bids! We recommend having announcements as frequently as every 30 minutes – and remember to remind your attendees what their donation is being used for.
The key here is to get people to submit at least one bid – once your guests have passed this barrier, they will be more likely to continue bidding throughout the night. And if you are using a mobile fundraising platform, your guests will receive instant notifications if they have been outbid. This will lead to a massive increase in engagement and bid frequency!
Finally, scheduling your auction closing time will also require some careful thought and planning. Do not set the silent auction end time too late!
The last few minutes of an auction will get competitive. If you make your end time too late, your biggest donors might be more invested in the dance floor (or another part of the event) than in your silent auction. Or worse, they may have already left!
We recommend ending your silent auction anywhere from 1-2 hours before your event’s conclusion.
Checkout is the last thing your donors are going to remember about their silent auction experience, so be sure to make this process as smooth as possible.
Our first tip here is that every item should have some physical aspect that the winner can take home. It’s a good thing you printed out all of our gift certificates!
Another way to streamline checkout is to organize your items as we mentioned previously (using categories and keeping everything orderly).
If you have a lot of items, form multiple lines to your checkout table, then split your team into cashiers and runners. When a winner comes forward, the cashiers are responsible for confirming payment, while your runners will retrieve the items for your guests.
Online silent auction solutions will make checkout even easier – contributing to your auction checkout in two major ways:
- Allowing your auction winners to pay with a credit card. Bidders can even pay for their items from their own mobile device!
- Tracking payment in real time, so that you know which winners have paid and which haven’t.
- Keeping track of offline payments and items that have been distributed.
Finally, we suggest having a plan for unclaimed and unsold items. At the end of a long event, your committee will be ready to go enjoy themselves and then head home. Having a plan in place for any unsold items will allow you to quickly clean up and minimize last-minute stress. We suggest saving these items for a follow-up auction that you can publicize to your event attendees and supporters!
We hope that you’ve found our silent auction guide to be informative and actionable! We encourage you to get started early, in order to guarantee that your silent auction lives up to its full potential. For more tips on increasing the proceeds generated from your silent auction, check out our new post on how to increase your proceeds in under an hour!