How to Run a Silent Auction: The Step-by-Step Guide


A top performer at charity events continues to be the silent auction. Nonprofits of all sizes look to the silent auction to fuel their fundraising and fund a portion of their missions.

Donors love the excitement and suspense of winning an item, and they take comfort in the fact that their bidding will support a cause they care about.

We are going to dive into the nuts and bolts of how to run a silent auction. This comprehensive guide will give you the step-by-step tools you need to make your next silent auction the best yet.

Let’s get started!

How does a silent auction work?

A silent auction is a fundraising process in which bids are placed on items during a set timeframe. After the auction closes, the highest listed bidder for each item wins.

How to Run a Silent Auction Buy Now Feature

Traditional silent auctions have paper bid sheets where bidders manually write their bids on each item. With mobile bidding, the silent auction donors can bid from their smartphones anytime and anywhere.

Not matter what you use, silent auctions are a great way to generate revenue, fun, and engagement at your special events.  But they require a good strategy and detailed planning to be done right.

Don’t worry – we’ve got your covered. Here are the 9 steps to run your silent auction without a hitch:

How to Prepare for a Silent Auction

  1. Form Planning Committee
  2. Create Procurement Strategy
  3. Market Your Auction

How to Run Your Silent Auction Event

  1. Organize Your Auction
  2. Conduct Registration
  3. Make Bidding Fun!

How to Run Silent Auction Checkout

  1. Check-out Attendees
  2. Administer Auction Items
  3. Record Winners & Process Payments

How to Run a Silent Auction Step-by-Step Flywheel

How to Run and Prepare for a Silent Auction

How to Prepare for a Silent Auction

Getting the planning right for your silent auction is the first step to success. From themes, to budgets, and everything in between, you want to be equipped to take your fundraising to new heights.

To make things easy for you, we’ve broken down all things prep-related:

Step 1: Form Planning Committee

No one said you had to do it alone! Committees help divide and conquer planning tasks, making it easier to cover more ground and raise more funds. They are the backbone to your auction success and needed to reach your fundraising goals.

How to Run a Silent Auction with an Auction Team

Look for people who have done it before and are passionate about the cause, are good at being on teams, and love to brainstorm ideas for your next auction. Work together to:

  • Choose a theme. This is the fun part of planning! Decide the vibe of your event.
    • Will it be a casual golf outing or a black-tie gala?
    • What will resonate with your audience?
    • What new elements can you add?
    • Make sure to be inclusive and engaging to all audiences—returning and new donors alike.
  • Set a goal. Auctions are popular because they can bring in a ton of donations, create awareness for your cause, and build a social community for your nonprofit.
    • Set your fundraising goal during the planning process.
    • Break out revenue goals by event area (e.g., silent auctions, donation appeal, live auction, fixed price). This ensures you and your team know exactly what you need to raise at all stages of the fundraising journey.
  • Create a budget. Set a budget that is feasible for your nonprofit and your event to make sure your silent auction runs smoothly. You should invest in things like:
    • Venue
    • Décor
    • Food and drinks
    • Auction software
    • Entertainment
    • Invitations
    • Auction items
  • Pick a date and venue. Don’t rush this decision—look at your target audience, your budget, and your ideal number of attendees to narrow down your options. Think about the following questions:
    • What’s the ideal location for your targeted audience?
    • Are you hosting an event that requires a large space?
    • Are there any events or holidays that could potentially conflict with your event date?
  • Brainstorm potential sponsors. Sponsorships take time to cultivate and secure, so outline a plan with your committee to:
    • Outline a list of new sponsor targets
    • Assign sponsor solicitors
    • Create sponsorship levels and benefits
    • Develop sponsor materials

The earlier you start, the better chance you have to lock them in!

Congrats! You’ve made it through the planning phase of running your silent auction. Depending on the size and scope of your silent auction, you’ll want to start planning between one year and nine months out from the event date.

How to Run a Silent Auction Event Day Survival Kit

Step 2: Create Procurement Strategy

A silent auction can only be as successful as the quality of its auction items. Priceless and engaging items excite your audience and raise more proceeds to fuel your mission.

There isn’t a magical list of items that guarantee to sell best, but we can help point you in the right direction.

Think about the donor profiles in your database. Think to yourself: Which items would particularly excite this demographic of people?

Be picky with the items you accept (if you can). Analyze past auction data or go to other auctions in your community to help guide your procurement efforts. To get started, you can generally count on these charity auction buckets to bring in big bids:

  • Travel package
  • Signed memorabilia
  • Gift baskets
  • Custom artwork

Make sure to communicate the retail value of your auction item to bidders on your bid sheet—item value is a huge factor in driving bidder. If they feel like they’re bidding on a valuable or priceless item, bidding will soar, all while increasing proceeds for your silent auction.

How to Run a Silent Auction Item Procurement

To bring in awesome items, create auction solicitation packets to send to businesses and past supporters to request auction donations. Divide your efforts by business type, neighborhood, or auction item types to give the best bet of getting your wish list auction items.

Step 3: Market Your Auction

Now’s the time to spread the word! Create excitement about your event and bidding (and winning) potential auction items. Marketing your event will get bidders in the door and ensure you can generate the revenue needed to hit your goals.

To have a strong marketing strategy, you will need to:

  • Select an event name.
  • Create an event-specific hashtag.
  • Develop a social media plan.
  • Promote your event online.
  • Send save-the-dates (email and paper).
  • Create on-site signage.
  • Highlight your biggest auction items.
  • Advertise your event in local press and news outlets.

Think of your marketing strategy as the ‘creation’ part of the planning process. It’s where you can bring you plans to life and create the momentum needed to draw in those big crowds!

Now that we’ve planned, organized and promoted, you are ready to run your best silent auction yet.


How to Run a Silent Auction Event

How to Run Your Silent Auction Event

The big day is here. Make a great impression on attendees by running a smooth and exciting silent auction!

Running a smooth auction means you need to be organized effectively, have an efficient registration, and make the bidding as fun as possible.

Step 4: Organize Your Silent Auction

You might be wondering: Didn’t I already organize my silent auction when I planned for it? Well, yes, but on-site organization is where you bring the silent auction planning together into your onsite masterpiece.

After this section, you’ll be ready to execute a flawless auction that will have your guests singing your praise!


The amount of volunteers you need to run your auction is dependent on the size of your event, setup of your venue, and in event fundraising activities you have planned.

Before you open the doors, you will need to train volunteers to:

  • Greet and register guests
  • Monitor and close the silent auction
  • Check-out and deliver items
  • Clean up the venue

Your event team will need to know when and where to arrive, what to wear, what tasks they’ll be performing, and how long they can expect their shift to last.

Take the time to assign your volunteers to the right roles. Remember this army of volunteers will have your back on event day!

On-site setup

Take a moment before your event to put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. For most attendees, it will be the first time at the venue (and some even the first-time bidding at a silent auction).

Create the perfect guest experience by taking time to setup:

  • Arrange silent auction tables along the walls of the space.
  • Display items in a way that appeals to the shopper in all of us. Make sure there is enough space between each item so they aren’t hidden from the bidders’ view.
    • Strategies to avoid hidden items:
      • Good signage
      • Items arranged in baskets
      • Different levels of display
    • Set up your bid sheets with the correct item.
      • Paper silent auctions will have bid sheets beside each item.
      • Mobile bidding, all item and donor information will be on accessible and bid on via phones.

Auction Item System

Your auction experience is only as good as your auction items are organized. In order to have a seamless and smooth experience for your guests, your team will need to be organized.

Use a system that makes finding the silent auction items easy and fast. Here are two suggestions:

  • Color code your items based on categories that make sense for your auction.
    • Example: items with blue bows are memorabilia, green bows are travel packages, and yellow bows are gift baskets.
  • Create a numerical system with categories.
    • Example:iItems in the 100s can be gift baskets, 200s are memorabilia, 300s are consignment items, etc. Do what makes sense for your specific event.

Ready to register your guests? You bet you are!

Step 5: Conduct Registration

Registration is the first impression your guests have of your event — make it a great one!

  • Ready to Welcome: Your volunteers should be ready at check-in to greet and register guests, take tickets, and relay important information.
  • Make Registration Fast & Easy: Make sure your check-in is equipped with the right tools, so volunteers can get guests in efficiently.
  • Have Handouts Organized: Print all lists, charts, and materials and have everything backed up on a zip drive just in case. Or better yet, ditch handouts entirely by using mobile bidding to display important information.
  • Ditch Alpha Check In: To avoid long lines and frustration, have multiple registration stations. Have one booth for walk-in guests who haven’t yet registered and another for pre-registered attendees. Forget the alphabetical registration lines, today’s best events are using technology and savvy volunteers to check guests fast. Give guests their bidder number and send them on their way!
  • Streamline Registration by asking guests to pre-register early on and encourage them to have a payment method on file.

How to Run a Silent Auction Registration

Step 6: Make Bidding Fun!

Like anything in life, having fun puts people in a good mood. Be sure to keep this in mind when planning your event. Create an atmosphere that has energy and use a variety of communication strategies onsite to drive excitement!

  • Don’t make your silent auction silent. Make sure the bidding is always the focus of the night by having your emcee regularly announce special items and bidding deadlines.
  • Use texting to drive bidding. With mobile bidding software, you can send text reminders to guests when bidding is about to close on their favorite items.
  • Leverage scoreboards and countdown clocks. Project a countdown clock or update your fundraising progress to encourage healthy competition. Use leaderboards and scoreboards to gamify your auction and get everyone focused on the goal of supporting your organization’s mission.
  • Assign each bidder an anonymous number. If you’re using charity auction software, this will be done automatically. Auto-assigning bid numbers makes the bidder wars more mysterious and can drive up your auction proceeds.

Let’s end an awesome event well and stay organized through the very last guest going through checkout.

How to Run a Silent Auction Checkout

How to Run Silent Auction Check Out

The silent auction checkout process has been to known to cause a headache or two with the combination of checkout, item pick up, and payment processing. Let’s make it a breeze.

Step 7: Check-out Attendees

Donors with a great experience at checkout are more likely to return for the same event next year and attend other fundraising galas for your organization.

Because of the paper driven process, the end of night process will require more people and volunteer power to keep checkout running smoothly. Think about eliminating wait times at checkout with mobile bidding to improve your donors’ experience.

The following will help improve your donor experience at checkout:

  • Set up a physical check-out booth. Encourage guest to use mobile checkout, and then have a separate booth for those who wish to pay by cash or check. Make sure you have plenty of volunteers and the right payment processing toolson hand.
  • Make multiple lines for checkout. Divide them up by payment method (cash, check, card) to make it easy on volunteers and speed up the process as much as possible. Especially at a big event, your attendees (and volunteers) will appreciate it.
  • Process their payments. At checkout, make sure to close out payments. You should have the necessary hardware:
    • Computer/iPad
    • Card Readers
    • Printer

How to Run a Silent Auction Checkout

After you have processed payments, send guest to the item pick up area.

Step 8: Administer Auction Items

Silent auctions can be notorious for unclaimed items after checkout, but they don’t have to be! Take steps to prevent this so you will have less follow-up post-event:

  • Record the winners. Once the winners have been determined, you’ll want to record the names and winning bid amount for each item.
    • If you’re using auction software, this information will automatically be tracked, so you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
  • Assemble items for pick-up. As soon as the auction closes and winners are determined, have volunteers move the won items to a designated pick-up area near the checkout booth.
  • Arrange a separate area for item pick-up. The pick-up booth is independent from the checkout booth. This way, your volunteers won’t be running around frantically grabbing items while checking guests out. There will be a flow from checkout to the item pick-up booth if done correctly.
  • Deliver items to winners. Have the winners show their bidder number and confirm with the winning bid sheet.
    • Mark the bid sheet for that item as CLAIMED.
    • Keep a copy in a folder.

Take a deep breath! All items are spoken for, and the last guest walked out the door with a smile on their face. Congrats on your successful event!

Step 9: Follow-up & Thank Attendees

It’s important to remember that donor communication and follow-up are important parts of the silent auction process.

How to Run a Silent Auction Donor Communication

Communicate three things to your attendees post-event:

  • Send a personalized thank you note. While you should thank attendees before they leave the auction, you should also follow up with a more personalized thank-you note to each, even if they didn’t make a monetary contribution outside of purchasing tickets.
  • Give an update. In your follow-up, make sure to include an event update that tells supporters exactly how much was raised and what this money will impact.
  • Include additional engagement opportunities. Providing further opportunities for interaction will be the only way you can actively continue to deepen attendee relationships and successfully convert them into recurring donors. The only caveat: Avoid making a monetary ask.

Thanking donors properly (and promptly) will extend the relationships you made at your silent into your larger fundraising efforts.

Great — What’s Next?

Congrats! We’ve walked through the core stages of how to run a silent auction from: preparation, running the event, and checkout.

Now, your job is to put this step-by-step guide into action and have your best silent auction to date.

Check out the resources below to find other tips and tricks that will kickstart your fundraising. We’re here to help!

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