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4 Best Practices for Running a Nonprofit Silent Auction

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Because running a silent auction can be more involved than hosting other fundraising events, many organizations are hesitant to try them out.

However, while they may be more difficult to plan, they can have a high return for your organization if you strategize correctly.

They’re also excellent events for engaging donors, since they’re highly interactive and they give your organization ample opportunity to talk with supporters face to face.

If your organization is looking to both amp up your fundraising and develop stronger donor relationships (which I’m guessing you are!) your organization should definitely consider hosting a silent auction.

Here I’ll cover four best practices that can help your organization get well on your way to silent auction success.

Let me give you a sneak peek of the topics we’ll cover:

  1. Choose the best items.
  2. Advertise your items.
  3. Use mobile bidding.
  4. Offer other opportunities to give.

Let’s get to it!

1. Choose the best items.


Most of the fundraising from silent auctions is done by collecting the highest bids on each item.

Since auctioning off items will constitute a majority of your fundraising, it couldn’t be more important for your organization to ensure that you feature the most amazing items out there!

Exactly which items are “amazing” will depend on your supporters. You can get some insights into what they might like by:

  • Consulting your event-planning software. Many organizations make auctions a recurring staple of their event fundraising. If your organization used auction or event planning software to help you host an auction in the past, you can run reports to determine which items performed best during previous years.
  • Analyzing your donor data. If this silent auction will be your first, you can still target which items might appeal most to your donors by consulting your donor database. While it won’t tell you exactly which items to procure, you can make assumptions based on your donors’ interests and other information you might have recorded in your CRM.

Once you’ve done a little research, you’ll want to apply the knowledge you’ve gleaned to determine exactly which items your organization should feature. (If you need a little inspiration to help you get started, make sure to check out BidPal’s list of 115 Charity Auction Ideas!)

Keep in mind that the best items typically tend to:

  • Align with your supporters interests. Obviously, the more your items match up with your supporters interests, passions, and hobbies, the more bids you’re going to see on those items.
  • Fall into your supporters’ general price range. Keep your supporters’ general price range in mind to ensure they’ll have the capacity to bid on your items in the first place.
  • Offer something unique. Rare and one-of-a-kind items always do best with the bidding crowd. If someone only has one chance to win an item they really want, they’re not going to be able to resist placing a bid!

With a little research under your belt and these few guidelines in mind, your organization is sure to pick the auction items that will bring in the most funds!

Takeaway: Since a majority of the funds you raise from your silent auction will come from the bidding, your organization should strive to choose the most appealing items out there!

2. Advertise your items.


As appealing as your silent auction items might be, their appeal will be limited if you don’t advertise them.

Think about it: being able to view your amazing items is an excellent way of incentivizing more supporters to attend your auction. When they see all the incredible goods and experiences they could potentially walk home with, they won’t want to miss out!

Don’t let this incentive go to waste. Make sure that you thoroughly advertise your items before the event.

The easiest and most cost-effective way to advertise your auction is by putting up an online event site. These sites are generated through auction or event planning software and allow your organization to list descriptions and images of each item.

Online event sites are essentially digital auction catalogs. You can also use them to host online auctions, so your organization could also open up bidding online before the in-person event to raise even more funds if you so choose.

As you’re populating your site, just make sure to include all the relevant information that your supporters will need, such as:

  • The details of your silent auction.
  • A short description of your organization and where you’re allocating event proceeds.
  • The name and number of each item.
  • A description of each item, including any restrictions (for example, whether or not tickets to an event include parking).
  • The starting bid amount for each item.
  • The market value of each item (this is important for donors who wish to claim charitable tax deductions).
  • High-quality photos of each item (if applicable).
  • Sponsor advertising.

Once you have your site all set up, don’t forget to include the link in email newsletter blasts and other outreach about your auction, so supporters can browse the items before the event.

When attendees see how incredible your items are, they won’t hesitate to buy tickets!

Takeaway: For the biggest turnout at your silent auction, make sure to advertise your items to supporters before your event!

3. Use mobile bidding.


During traditional silent auctions, participants are required to place bids by writing their name, contact information, and bidder number on bid sheets next to each item.

That means, depending on the number of bids they place, bidders have to repeatedly write this information perhaps dozens of times.

Sounds like an inconvenience, right?

Well, that doesn’t even compare to what a hassle paper silent auctions are for the organization actually hosting the event. In order to set up the paper bid sheets, organizations have to generate them, populate them, print them out, and place them for dozens or hundreds of items.

Then, once it’s time to close the bidding, the organization would have to:

  1. Stagger item closing to prevent cheating and make it more manageable for volunteers.
  2. Determine the winning bidders for each item.
  3. Match winning bidder numbers with the correct supporters.
  4. Decide how to efficiently notify the winners.
  5. Manually process winners’ payments and generate receipts.
  6. Distribute items to winners.
  7. Manually enter winner and item data into their event planning software.

As you can see, the check out process is such a huge headache that it could deter organizations from hosting silent auctions altogether.

Luckily, mobile bidding technology has made executing silent auctions (especially check out) a whole lot easier.

What is mobile bidding?

Mobile bidding can change the entire silent auction experience for yourself and attendees. Put simply, it enables supporters to manage the bidding experience from their mobile devices. While there are browser-based platforms that can work on mobile devices, your best bet will be an app-based silent auction platform.

That way, when guests download the app, they can search for items, place bids, and receive real-time outbid notifications to quickly raise their bids.

Here’s a quick rundown of what a silent auction with mobile bidding would look like:

  1. Set up the software. Before the day of the silent auction, all of the data included in your auction site will be transferred over to the mobile bidding app interface.
  2. Get supporters started. To set up your attendees with mobile bidding, get them to download the app, pre-register credit card information, and get comfortable with the interface.
  3. Open the bidding. Once it’s time for the auction to start, open bidding on all items. Supporters can browse items and place bids right from their phones. They’ll receive push notifications when they’re outbid on the items they’re watching, and they can even set maximum bid amounts on certain items so that the software automatically bids for them.
  4. Close bidding. When it’s time for your auction to end, close all items and determine winners. Since you’ve pre-registered guests’ credit cards, winners will automatically be charged.
  5. Smooth checkout process. One of the most chaotic parts of a silent auction is checking out. Without the mobile app, there’s the risk of overly complicated checkouts, illegible payment information, and long lines. With the app, guests can checkout smoothly and quickly with a couple of keystrokes.
  6. Distribute items to winners. The only work your organization has to do during checkout is to distribute items to winners. Since mobile bidding is generated from your auction or event planning software, all item and winner data will automatically be recorded in the platform.

Not only does mobile bidding simplify your event execution— it can also help your organization raise more from your silent auction.

That’s because mobile bidding is much more convenient for your guests. If they’ve instructed their software to bid for them, they won’t even have to lift a finger and you get more funds.

Plus, since you no longer have to deal with a complicated checkout process, your organization can leave all items open for longer to maximize bidding time.

Don’t let future shock keep your organization from trying out this new technology! Mobile bidding can really do wonders for your silent auction.

The bottom line: Implementing mobile bidding at your silent auction can make these events much simpler and more lucrative.

4. Offer other opportunities to give.


The auction itself will be your organization’s primary fundraising method, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate other strategies to raise even more from your silent auction.

In fact, not all of your guests will have won items, placed bids, or even paid for their tickets.

To maximize your fundraising, your organization really should be implementing some additional money-making strategies at your auction.

Let’s briefly look at a few of the most popular.

1. Make a live appeal.

There’s no better way to secure donations than to simply ask for them outright.

And that’s exactly what a live appeal is: an in-person request for donations during a fundraising event.

This strategy can work particularly well at silent auctions, where people are already in the competitive bidding spirit. If your organization challenges your attendees to reach a fundraising goal by the end of the night, they won’t be able to resist helping you out!

During your silent auction program, have one of your organization’s well-spoken staff members or volunteers get up and make the request.

If you’re using mobile bidding, guests can submit their contributions via their mobile devices. If you’re using paper for your auction, you can still accept mobile donations by enlisting the help of a standard text-to-give service.

To make your appeal even more compelling to your attendees, project a fundraising thermometer that updates in real-time as guests submit their gifts.

When they see how close they are to reaching the goal, they’ll be compelled to help you achieve it!

2. Host a raffle.

Auction and raffles pair incredibly well together.

Your organization has already done all of that work procuring auction items, so you can easily take one of those items out of the auction and feature it in a raffle.

This strategy is easy to execute, too. All you need to do is:

    1. Check raffle guidelines. Many jurisdictions have rules and regulations around raffles. Do some research to make sure that your organization is compliant.
    2. Sell raffle tickets. You can sell raffle tickets online as a fixed-price item on your event website and via mobile bidding at your event.
  • Set out a bucket to collect them in. Make sure that you clearly indicate where attendees are supposed to drop their tickets. It can be helpful to have one of your staff walk around the room to collect them from supporters.
  • Hold a drawing. At the end of the night, reach into your bucket, grab a ticket, and announce the winning number!

It’s that simple! All that’s left to do is send the lucky winner home with their prize.

3. Sell merchandise.

Selling merchandise is an excellent way to raise more at any type of fundraising event, but it works particularly well with silent auctions.

People are attending your event expecting to leave with something, so those who don’t win items will likely love the opportunity to purchase merch.

Even those who do win might still want to buy a product branded to your organization! After all, they’ll probably want a piece of memorabilia to remind them of what an excellent time they had at your auction.

Not to mention, merchandise serves as excellent advertising for your organization. Your supporters will be sporting your logo all around town!

There are tons of fundraising products that you can feature at your auction. It all depends on what your attendees might like best.

You can sell merchandise online on your event site before the event, and set up a booth to sell it during your auction.

The takeaway: There are many additional strategies that your organization can implement to supplement your silent auction fundraiser. Try one or more of the strategies above to raise even more from your auction!

Bonus: Check out Bloomerang’s webinar to learn about more nonprofit silent auction strategies that increase revenue.

To learn more about planning a silent auction, make sure to check out BidPal’s Ultimate Guide.

Has your organization run a silent auction in the past? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments!

Your job isn’t done when the auction ends. Use this Silent Auction Acknowledgement / Thank You Letter Template to get started with good event follow-up.

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  • minnesota auctions

    Very interesting and thanks for sharing such a good blog. Your article is so convincing that I never stop myself from saying something about it. You’re doing a great job. Keep it.
  • Steven Shattuck

    Hey Lisa! If you jump on live chat support they can walk you through some ideas!
  • Lisa Polderman

    Thank you for an informative article. I'm looking for best practices for entering silent auction donations and proceeds into Bloomerang. Can you point me in the right direction?
  • Kathie

    I think it is a waste to call it a silent auction when everyone sees what the previous bid was. I think you should start with minimum bid everyone should have envelope with entrance form put a bid down with date time name and bid when event over open envelops and name with highest bid wins what is so silent if everyone can see what the bid is
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