How to host a Superb Silent Auction

HOw to Host a Superb Silent Auction

Nicole Bennett of Perry Consulting was kind enough to participate in a webinar discussing the ins and outs of holding profitable silent auctions.

The webinar began with a poll that showed more than half of attendees are holding hybrid events—a combination of an in-person auction with an online auction. 36% of attendees said they are holding an in-person auction only.

Before you dive into soliciting silent auction item donations, set up your procurement goals. How many packages do you want to have in your auction? What’s your fundraising goal, and how does that translate to total item value?

Setting A Silent Auction Item Budget

NOTE:Items typically sell for 60% of the total item value, so once you’ve created your budget and fundraising goal, calculate what total item value you’ll need to solicit in order to reach those goals.

How much do you expect to make from your silent auction? Once you know what portion of your budget the silent auction needs to generate, you can get a better idea of how many items you need to solicit and what caliber they should be.

Soliciting Silent Auction Items

Next, you’ll need to put together a fundraising team to solicit those items. Recruit a diverse group of people for your committee who have a variety of connections so you won’t be getting all of the same type of item donated.

TIP:Quality over quantity! It’s better to have a few high-quality packages than a bunch of items nobody wants to buy.

Choose individuals for your team who are organized, and most critically, have the time available to invest in soliciting items. They’ll need to keep track of who’s been asked, what items have been promised, what still has to be collected or scheduled.

Assign each member a procurement goal or benchmark, either based on the number of items or the total value of those items. It helps to give them categories of items so they know what to chase after.

Selecting Silent Auction Items

Tailor your solicitation list to what you know sells well. Pay attention to what sold well at your last event, and take into consideration what’s selling within your community at other nonprofit fundraisers. Pay attention to trends, and consider tweaking packages that didn’t sell last year to make them more attractive.

TIP:In Greater Giving, you can run reports on which items had the most bids in previous years, which items sold for the greatest percentage of their total value, and what sold best overall to help get a sense of what types of items you should chase.

What’s local? What opportunities exist in your area? And what do your guests like? If you have a lot of wine aficionados, simply putting together a wine package may not satisfy them. Consider experiences, such as a tasting and dinner, or an in-home experience.

Look at a diverse group of items at a wide variety of price points, so there’s something for everyone in your auction.

Grouping Items to Sell

Grouping individual items into packages is a great way to make them appealing and exciting. Nicole recommends multi-item packages over single-item packages to create unique experiences that would be appealing to your specific audience. Rather than a single gift certificate package, which anyone could buy anywhere, consider pairing it with other gift certificates or items. You could combine multiple restaurants into a sampler, or use other themes like “family night” or “monthly date night” to group them together.

Give your packages visual interest

TIP: Take these additional expenses into consideration when drawing up your budget!

Especially if you intend to hold your auction in person, it’s critical to make a visually appealing display out of your packages. Sometimes it’s the thing on the table that convinces someone to bid!

Visit consignment shops, Ross, Hobby Lobby, and other shops around town to source decorations and other cute items that can dress up your packages.

Make sure every item has a display sheet with the package name and number to make it easy for guests to find them on your bidding platform.

Pricing Items

The starting bid of your average auction package should be 40% of the package’s total item value. But there are factors that can influence this decision, such as:

  • Perceived value of the item: If it’s a unique experience, an item in high demand, or a “priceless” item (such as signed memorabilia), you may want to start the bidding higher.
  • Donor pricing vs. real value: Sometimes donors price their items higher than what you might actually pay for an item or service. Start the bidding lower on items where the value might be inflated.
  • Price to sell: You don’t want to be bringing unsold items back to the office later, so price them in a way that donors will want to buy them!


Each bidding increment should be somewhere around 10% of the fair market value of the item.

Buy it Now

If you choose to have a “buy it now” option, be sure to set it high! You don’t want to accidentally lose what could be a high-value bidding war by undervaluing an item.

Generating Bids

Make sure you schedule texts in advance to send out to bidders reminding them about upcoming auction closings, or to point them to the no-bid section, where they can snag great deals on items that have no bids yet.

Make sure your emcee is driving guests to bidding in the silent auction as well by featuring certain items.

TIP: Often people are reluctant to be the first to bid on something. Committee members, staff, or board members can bid on items that have no bids yet to encourage more bidding.

Follow-up with Your Supporters

Be mindful of when you send out post-event communications! Refrain from sending out information about checkout during the program or before the Fund-A-Need, or you might see a stream of people trying to check out early. You can let people know toward the end of the program to go pick up their items.

Item Pickup and Item Shipping

TIP: Have a dolly on hand for bigger items, and be prepared to help donors out to their cars.

Many organizations have forgone the standard after-event item pickup process in lieu of next day pickup, either at the office or at the venue. If you’ve held a hybrid event with bidders in other locations, be sure to include shipping information in the package listing, and ensure you have a way to get items to the winners.

Thank Your Donors, Guests, and Committee Members

Many donors will request certain information about the item sold and the donor who purchased it. Be sure that you fill out any necessary or required forms, so that your donor will want to work with you again next year!

Don’t forget to thank your guests, too, and follow up with them later on to update them on the progress your organization has made, and what great work you’ve done with the money you raised.

And remember, don’t wait to communicate with them until you need something from them—keep them engaged between events, too.

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