Silent Auctions are an effective way to engage guests and raise money for any charitable organization.
Whether stand-alone or part of a larger event, silent auctions can provide a social environment for guests to support your cause through competitive bidding, donations and an emotional attachment to the good you are doing.
Visit our detailed Silent Auction page to learn more.
“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” —Alexander Graham Bell
A clear understanding of where you are going can be improved by where you are and where you have been. If you don’t have your own auction experiences, tap into others that are willing to share their journeys.
1 Historical Auction Information?
Analysing your historical data will provide an amazing amount of insight into how your auction is performing and what areas you may want to adjust. If this is your first auction, download The Definitive Guide to Successfully Running Your First Fundraising Auction for the roadblocks you may run into and how to get around them. Add any current fundraising data you can find and compare with your data to understand how you are fairing compared to others in the current environment. A great example would be to take A Look at Generational Differences in Giving.
2 Overarching Organizational Goals?
Work with your team and board to define clear goals that may be a stretch, but are achievable. One of the best places to start this process is at the end. Define how you will be Evaluating Event Success in order to properly frame your targets. As you map out the destination, make sure you understand where the potholes are before you hit the road— What Kills a Strategic Fundraising Plan? Many elements of a successful auction are behind the scenes. Consider details that aren’t in the forefront like The Efficiency and Security Benefits Found in Event Management Software.
3 Committee Structure?
Once the auction goals have been set, identify the major tasks and evaluate your current team, sponsors and volunteers to align The Right Person with the Right Job. To get started, here are the most Common Event Committee Roles. Virtual events may need additional roles to manage technology and video.
4 Plan “B”?
“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.” —Maya Angelou
You can’t plan for everything, but you can have a plan—and train on—how to manage obsticles when they present themselves during the auction. Start by planning around Benefit Auction Planning Basics. Many times circumstances arise where an auction date get’s a significant bump up. It’s a common occurance and with some adjustments there is a process around Planning for a Short Timeline. If you haven’t downloaded the Silent Auction Planning Guide, it’s a great place to start!
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou
Successful silent auctions usually include a heavy dose of planning. Plan for every known aspect and then plan for the unexpected—better to be prepared than to scramble during the auction.
1 Auction Format
The most common form of silent auction has been an in-person event with elaborate package displays—potentially multiple, staggered close times—all leading to a dinner and live auction. This is a great format when you can bring donors together to socialize and build an energy around supporting your organization. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of Silent Auctions. Technology has allowed silent auctions a digital format where auction administration is automated and bidding is managed through the individual guest’s device—no longer constrained to an event space. These “Virtual Events” have gained traction where gatherings aren’t possible. Download our How to Host and Promote a Virtual Fundraising Event Guide for detailed information about planning and running a virtual auction.
2 Silent Auction Binder
Whether digital or physical, having all of your auction information in one place makes life easier for everyone. Information you may want to consider includes: reporting, vendor contact lists, copies of contracts, software, media exposure, marketing outreach, advertising, surveys and other event-related information. Here is a sample Auction Chair Worksheet. It’s important to handle information and data responsibly. Your organization may have specific policies and procedures around data management you should follow. Additionally, Security Awareness and Data Protection and An Introduction to PCI Compliance provide an introduction and details around handling different types of data.
3 Date & Time
There are many factors to consider when choosing an auction date and time—either for the first event or moving the date. This helpful infographic will help you How to Choose the Best Date for Your Annual Benefit Auction.
4 Venue and Catering
You’ll also need a venue space that can comfortably accommodate your guests and allow a natural flow of movement through the auction. Look for the big 3: accessibility, functionality and ambiance and learn how to Get the Best Deal on Your Next Venue. Organize your check-in, check-out, and item pickup in a way that will minimize guest confusion. A great guest experience usually includes some form of food and beverage service. Short events may only need hors d’oeuvres, but if your event is more than one or two hours long, consider providing a full meal so guests can stay longer and bid higher.
Technology has made so many aspects of our lives easier and is now an important part of nonprofit fundraising as well. While online silent auctions had been around for almost two decades, only recently were silent auction apps and web interfaces finally developed for charity auctions. Online auctions allow people from anywhere in the world to participate in an auction without being present. With silent auction software and online bidding apps, every stage of the auction can be automated or done by guests on their own devices.
6 Program Flow
A lot more goes into a successful fundraising event besides procuring auction items. Carefully craft a schedule of events for the night, design a layout that gives guests space to bid, and foster a welcoming atmosphere with clear signage that makes it easy for guests to find what they need.
7 Managing Budget
Managing your auction budget doesn’t need to be a scary task. Most budgets are based on a targeted ROI from your fundraising goal (which is set based on past performance, your audience, current economics and other factors). The budget will help bring your team together to understand what everyone is striving for and what there is to work with. A solid Sponsorship Strategy can offset expenses for any aspect of the budget. Additionally, some expenses have the potential to significantly increase revenue, which may be a concession to go over budget a bit. One of the biggest challenges organizations have is Booking Great Entertainment Without Sinking Your Budget.
“Dream big, work hard, stay focused and surround yourself with good people” —Unknown
More than just words by which to run your silent auction! We are in the people business—whether you are referring to team members, volunteers, sponsors, donors or your family—people and emotional connection to your mission drive your success.
Exciting prizes, unique venues, memorable food and drinks can be factors in your guests’ experience. There are personal touches that can make a big impact on your guests’ experience so be sure to Consider the Guest Experience at your Fundraiser. Are you ready to join the quest to find The Perfect Guest Experience?
The fundraising committee roles can vary based on the event size and complexity. There are several Common Event Committee Roles and with the proliferation of virtual events, common roles frequently include technology and video production.
Adding professional fundraising talent to your auction can provide an elevated guest experience, smoother event flow and more confidence in the overall event execution. Professionals can add deep knowledge to the nuances of fundraising auctions and their experience and training has the potential to raise the fundraising bar and exceed goals. When evaluating what your budget can handle, make sure you factor potential returns on the investment. Find out how you can Raise More by Hiring an Auctioneer. If you are looking for professional help and need a place to start, Greater Giving has built a network of trusted partners to help you with all your fundraising initiatives.
The countless hours of volunteer support in the nonprofit world is invaluable to organizations, which is why we have dedicated an entire webinar to the subject. Watch Managing Event Volunteers with Nicole Bennett of Perry Consulting, LLC to learn the 4 steps of the volunteer management cycle and ensure your volunteer program is integrated throughout the organization.
For many nonprofits, sponsor relationships start and end with a fundraising event. Each year, it’s a new gambit to recruit enough sponsors and secure the commitments you need to meet your budget. But consider this instead: making your sponsor relationships strategic, year-round initiatives can enhance every aspect of your fundraising—and provide you additional value you hadn’t
considered. Download the Sponsorship Strategy Guide.
“It’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life.” —Oprah Winfrey
Auction items that appeal to your guests are obviously the best items to have, but how do you know what those are? There are several ways to procure and present auction packages on which your guests will be motivated to bid high and bid often.
Start out your auction item donor search with a “wish list”: which items would most appeal to your group—and who could you approach to solicit that donation? Ask other nonprofits about local companies that donate to fundraising events, and approach businesses that have the auction items needed. Item solicitations work best when you’ve already built a rapport with a donor, so be sure to nurture your donor relationships and reach out to them even when you aren’t asking for donations. And always make sure to thank your silent auction item donors after the event!
For organizations that are starting from scratch or looking to make a big push for item donations, download the full Sponsorship Strategy Guide. If you have developed relationships with a great group of sponsors, congratulations! Here are some ideas focused on Upping the Ante: How to Get New Items from Your Silent Auction Gift Donors.
3 Hot Items
Hot items are a bit of a moving target. They will vary by organization, location, auction size and a number of other variables. While many times trendy, buzzy and hard to get products can cause some frenzy, focusing on items that have emotional ties will have a bigger impact. Give your audience the packages they want by Designing Auction Packages With Intention, and Sell for More. A step above physical packages may be experiencial packages—a backstage pass to an event, concert, or celebrity meet-and-greet or a close-up experience with a new baby animal at your local zoo. If you are still looking for hot items, check out The Hottest Items to Procure for Online Auctions.
4 Low Cost Items
If you are looking to be budget conscious of your auction or if you are wanting to be inclusive of a donor group that is mindful of their disposable income, find out How to Step Up Your Procurement Part I: Low Cost Items.
5 Grouping and Categories
Auction items with a higher perceived value generally command higher bidding. One of the easiest ways to increase your perceived package values is by Grouping Auction Items for Higher Bids.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” —Aesop
Filling your auction with sponsors and donors that have the means to support your organization is a blessing. Remember that your auction and overall fundraising is an extension of your mission. Your promotion efforts are more than just financially motivated—write to your mission and you may surprise yourself by finding a diamond in the rough.
It isn’t a fundraising event until you have guests to attend and bid on your fantastic auction items. But how do you get the word out about your event? Beyond email and direct mail to your current donor list and previous year guests, the Building Better Events Guide is the best place to start. We also suggest getting a better understanding of The Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Online Event Promotion and look to develop some creative content with Producing the Best Event Promotion Video for a Non-Profit Event.
Sponsors are the backbone of nonprofit fundraising—but if you struggle with finding local businesses willing to sponsor your event, don’t lose hope! Start small by asking around, and profiling local businesses that donate to fundraising events. Here are an additional 7 tips to attract corporate sponsors.
3 During Event
Communication during the event can draw guest attention to specific packages they might not have seen, introduce additional revenue opportunities such as auction games, or help guide traffic. Dive into keeping guest’s attention with Help! What To Do When Your Silent Auction Guests Lose Focus.
4 Methods and Channels
With technology and the wide range of tools and networks users have, a multi-channel approach to communications will most likely be needed. Focus communications to the channels your current donors frequent and make it easy for them to share within their circles. You most likely won’t need to communicate on every social network, but if you have groups of donors that share on specific networks you will probably want to have a presence there. Don’t discount any channels without an understanding of how your base receives it—e.g. direct mail is very effective in certain circumstances. Look to your base for additional opportunities—perhaps you have supporters that have access to media outlets like TV, radio or a Social Media influencer that aligns with your mission.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou
Keep the guest experience at the forefront of your planning and decision making. Creating a quality guest experience from beginning to end will improve the overall event success. It will also boost your next event attendance and help build relationships that can benefit your organization in other ways.
This is a fundraising event that is supporting a great cause. Most people will know and understand, but some won’t—be forthright and confident. Let everyone know what the plan is for the evening. A simple example might be something like the following:
We are here to raise money for [insert organization name] and have a great time this evening! If you are hearing about us for the first time, we encourage you to find out more about us and how you might support us if you feel a connection. We encourage everyone to give in whatever way you feel comfortable.
Focus on and train to manage the best guest experience possible. There will always be situations that challenge and test, but maintain your attentiveness and let your guests know they are your priority.
Whether you are using technology or not, having some information available offline allows for easy access and quick reference. Reports and data might include the auction schedule, registered guest list, table assignments and make sure you share an organizational contact list for event night with volunteers in case a specific question comes up that needs your attention.
3 Emcee / Auctioneer / Speakers
Make sure you have a way to communicate with guests. It’s a good idea to hire an emcee or auctioneer to include relaying information, announce speakers, and encourage a fun, playful atmosphere. It’s a great idea to rehearse whenever possible to manage transitions and iron out any tweaks prior to the auction.
4 Mission Communication
Your mission and approach are unique. You are having an impact and making a difference. Use your passion for the cause to inspire people to give! Focus the spotlight on your positive impact on the community. If you want to really connect your audience with your mission, one of the best tools is an inspirational video.
With the anticipation of supporting your organization and having a great time, your guests want to socialize, possibly have a cocktail or two and start bidding. Check-In will set the tone for the rest of the evening, so emphasis should be put on eliminating any barriers. Technology will help gather information and communicate with guests prior to the event significantly reducing any wait time. Here are 3 rules for an inviting and efficient check-in and several ideas on streamlining check-in and check-out. Some nonprofit organizations create value for major donors with a separate VIP line.
As the bookend to check-in, check-out is the last memory your guest will have with your auction and an opportunity to reinforce the great experience they just had. Review this 6-point checklist for guest check-out, and discover the check-out where everyone leaves happy!
Create teams of silent auction volunteers to set up each part of the auction—registration, auction items, tables and chairs, and any signage or decorations. Make sure all staff and volunteers know in advance which team they’re on, their responsibilities, and their timeline.
One of the easiest ways to improve the guest experience and flow of movement through your event is to incorporate large, clear signage. There are several key areas that should be called out and we talk through it in Improve Guest Experience with Signage and Smart Scheduling.
“Appreciation can change a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” —Margaret Cousins
Get guests on their way quickly so they remember the great parts of the evening. Wrap up the auction with a simple check-out and item pickup process. Before managing post-event thank yous, processing and evaluation, take a moment to celebrate the successes with your team and show your appreciation.
1 Item Pickup/Delivery
After a successful auction, ensure your positive guest experience is continued through check-out and item pickup. Communicate the timing and how the check-out process will work with guests before the auction and, at live events, reinforce the message with signage. Run through A 6-Point Checklist for Guest Check-Out to get started and make sure you are aware of 5 Problems to Avoid at Check-Out for item pickup success. If your event is virtual, communicate shipping details to guests prior to the auction and add special shipping details directly to the auction package description so guests are aware.
2 Close Out
Verify all cash, check, and credit card payments correspond with the winning bids and include any other donations. Double-check the final purchase amounts prior to submitting charges to the bank. Update the auction contact list, binder and any other loose notes that came up throughout the auction. For more detail, download the Silent Auction Planning Guide
3 Celebrate Successes
You have just wrapped up your auction and while there is still a long list of things that need to get done, take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments with your team. If you have had great post-event celebrations with your team, we would love to hear about them! If you are looking for additional ideas, here are 5 Ideas to Motivate Your Event Planning Committee
4 Thank You’s
Whether it’s time, money, expertise or other gifts, gratitude is an important part of reciprocation. When, where and how are all subjective. Start with The Perfect Thank You for inspiration. We have outlined some additional gratitude insight in Donor Letter Best Practices: What to Do, and What Not to Do, in a Thank You Letter and 4 Ways to Thank Event Night Volunteers.
5 Survey and Evaluation
Reconcile budget, expenses and revenue to determine event results. Gather input from guests, volunteers and team members. Building a better auction stems from reflection of what did and did not work so well. We have provided this detailed process to help you Evaluating Event Success.
6 Case Study
Donors love to see their gifts at work first hand. As a follow up to your successful auction, create a case study that can be shared with guests showing the success of the auction and what that has allowed your organization to do. Storytelling for some is natural—for the rest of us, here is a resource that will help Turn a Mission Into a Turn a Mission Into a Shareable Story.
7 Begin Preparation for Next Event
While you may have some time to relax after all the time you put into this auction, the best time to start the next auction is right after you have wrapped up. Everything is fresh in your mind, your guests’ minds, your sponsors minds… take this opportunity to get your next event off to a great start!
Congratulations on successfully hosting your fundraising auction and best of luck on your next event!