Silent auctions are a fun way to raise money for your organization or event. They’re also easy to run, but there’s still a few things you’ll need to do in order to make sure it goes off without a hitch. We’ve got insights and best practices to share with you on the in’s and out’s of hosting a silent auction. We’ll also give tips on running the auction effectively and efficiently so you can get the most money possible out of every auction item.
Set Fundraising Goals
Setting a fundraising goal is the first step in planning an auction. Your goal determines how much money you need to raise and how many items you need to sell.
Decide on an event date
When you’re planning for an event, it’s important to know exactly when the event will happen so that you can start promoting it early. However, not all events have deadlines for entry—some may be open for registration at any time during the year. If this is true of your organization’s silent auction, then keep this in mind when setting your deadline date.
Silent Auction Donation Ideas
There are many ways to get donated items for your silent auction. A great place to start is to make a list of things you think would do well.
These are some of the most common donation ideas:
- Donated items (e.g., clothing, jewelry, art)
- Donated services (e.g., cosmetic services, massages, hair cuts)
- Donated experiences (e.g., a gift certificate for 5 days of yoga, wine tasting with friends, golfing)
- Gift cards and e-certificates (e.g., restaurants like Chipotle or Panera Bread; airlines like Southwest Airlines; hotels like Hyatt or Marriott; stores like Target or Walmart)
- Travel experiences/trips (hotel stays at resorts; bucket list experiences in different cities around the world). You can also look into auction booster packages from trusted professional organizations like Winspire.
- Merchandise from a specific brand you want to promote (lots of people will buy this if they already love a company’s products!)
Attract Bidders with a Great Item Catalog
The best way to attract bidders is with great items in your catalog! Create an attractive, easy-to-read catalog that features photos of the items up for bid. Write clear item descriptions of what they’re used for and any restrictions or expiration dates.
In order to ensure that your silent auctions are full of great items that are interesting, start by making sure each item is new or in good condition. Try to avoid having any broken or scratched pieces available through your silent auction. Imperfections can distract from an otherwise beautiful piece while also making prospective bidders think twice about bidding on them.
Next comes labeling and packaging: Be sure each piece has been properly labeled with its name along with any other relevant information. Add any restrictions so people know exactly what they’re getting themselves into when purchasing an item.
TIP: Consider how easily transportable each object might be; bulky items like furniture might not fit well into most vehicles but small decorative objects could easily fit in your guest’s uber home!
Make Setup Easy
If you’ve never planned a silent auction before here are some things to consider when setting up your silent auction area.
- Design the space to direct traffic. If you are using multiple tables in a small space, make sure to include directional signage so guests know where to go. You can also use color coding to help visitors find their way. Don’t forget a sign that tells guests when the silent auctions closes and how to check out or receive their items.
- It’s important to have volunteers stationed in the silent auction section to promote auction items, answer questions, and help guests place bids. Make sure your volunteers know where they need to be and when they need to be there. Consider sending them an email or text message at least 24 hours before the event starts.
- If your event is held at night or in a room with low lighting, it’s best to bring along additional lighting so that people can see what they are bidding on easily.
- Have your items numbered ahead of time. Print bid sheets ahead of time to make it easy to match as you display items. Items don’t necessarily need to be in numbered order as you display them. It is important that guests and volunteers can easily tell which items correspond to each bid sheet. Always have tons of pens available if you’re having guests write bids or extra phone chargers if doing a mobile auction.
Bidder Registration and Checkout
When you make it easy for people to check-in, you create a structured well-run system to have guests quickly move into the event and start spending money. Provide clear signage that directs guests where they should go. If there are multiple venue entrances, make sure they’re clearly labeled so people can easily find their way in without getting lost or confused.
Set up an “early bird” system for people who arrive early for your event. This helps reduce congestion at the doors when everyone arrives at once, but there’s still plenty of time left before things kick off! Sometimes there’s congestion when a lot of people line up all at once for check-in and check-out. Streamline this process and make it simpler for guests so they have a positive final impression of your event. Use integrated software for check-in, recording sales and check out and consider adding online bidding. This will save hours during setup, and alleviate confusion and frustration among attendees, volunteers, and staff members. Check-in and check-out are key components of your event and should be done with care.
TIP: If you don’t have enough volunteers to help with check-in and check-out, then consider hiring a third party to help out.
A silent auction can be simple and fun.
Each of these steps is important, but they work best when they’re used together. If you can incorporate all of them into your event then I guarantee it will be successful. There are so many ways to raise money using auctions. You can run a silent auction on its own or as part of a larger event. It’s also a great way to bring people together and promote businesses that support your mission.
If you’re planning an auction and need more resources check out our Auction Planner for best practices and tips to make your event run smoothly.