How Much is Too Much for Your Live and Silent Auction?

Live and Silent Auction

How many items are too many for live and silent auction? Consider going digital for excess items.

For a long time the conventional wisdom has been that more auction items equals more auction dollars. But trimming the fat off your auction can not only raise you more money in the long haul by focusing on better-performing items, but with fewer—and more targeted—silent auction items, you’ll save time and overhead.

The key is picking those high performance items out of the crowd of donations. But don’t fret about anything that you can’t include! Simply extend your event to a next-day online auction, to sell everything that didn’t fit into your live event, and offer the opportunity to participate to bidders who couldn’t attend your live function.

Ask yourself the following questions as you start procurement, and the answer for the right number of auction items is just a matter of arithmetic.

What performed well last year?

Look over your auction item performance from previous years. If you’ve been using Greater Giving, running the SUM-08: Sales Totals by Item Category report will:

  • Identify your high-performance item categories
  • Calculate your ROI (percentage of profit over value) for each item

Use the ROI of those items that performed well to forecast how much you might expect to make on the same or similar items. Target your solicitations on businesses and donors that can make donations in your heavy lifter categories.

How many people are you expecting?

Your live auction should remain fairly static—between 7 and 14 items is a good number—but your silent auction will vary depending on how many people you expect at your event.

The wisdom on the “ideal” number of silent auction items varies from one item per attendee, to one item for every four attendees. But really, the number of items depends a lot on your individual auction’s value spread. There are no hard rules!

When deciding exactly how many items to offer in your silent auction, start by considering the space you have to work with. How much you can fit in your venue space while still giving guests plenty of room to move around?

Remember, anything that was donated that you don’t have room for can still be auctioned off after the event in a follow-up, online auction.

Live Auction Tips

  • Size down! A live auction that goes on too long fatigues your audience, and you want to save some gusto for your mid-point paddle raise.
  • If you’ve hired a professional auctioneer to run your live event (we highly recommend working with a professional to make the most money possible in your live auction), see if the auctioneer can also consult on the size and arrangement of your silent auction.

What’s your budget?

How many items you carry in your auction should reflect your fundraising goal for your event. Once you have a target, it’ll be easier to break down your goal amount into individual packages and figure out what you need to solicit—and what you don’t.

Look at how much revenue came from each of your item categories in previous years, and use that as a guide. How many items do you need in that category to meet your fundraising goal?

Base the number of items you accept into your auction on how much you need in order to meet your fundraising goals. Then direct your committee’s efforts on fewer, more exciting packages. You won’t need any conventional wisdom to tell you how to create a fantastic silent auction, because it’ll just be a matter of arithmetic!

Also see:

Auction Item Ideas that Will Rock Your Event

What to Do and Expect as a First Time Auction Chair

Benefit Auction Planning Basics


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