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.

Need to formulate a strong silent auction strategy? Be sure to check out the first part of our silent auction series where we covered how to plan a silent auction! In part two, we’ll 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 one yet.

Let’s get started!

What Is a Silent Auction?

A silent auction is a fundraising event where bids are placed on auction items during a set timeframe. Instead of having an auctioneer run the process by announcing items and facilitating bidding, items in a silent auction will be displayed in designated areas with accompanying description cards (usually listing what the item is, its value, and bidding instructions).

Traditional silent auctions have paper bid sheets where bidders write their bids on each item. With mobile bidding, silent auction attendees can bid from their smartphones anytime and anywhere. Attendees will know in advance when the auction closes, allowing them to adjust their bids as needed. When the auction concludes, the highest-listed bidder for each item wins.

How to Run a Silent Auction Buy Now Feature

How Does a Silent Auction Work?

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 you covered. Here are 10 steps to run your silent auction without a hitch:

How to Run Your Silent Auction Event

1. Organize Your Auction
2. Conduct Registration
3. Make Bidding Fun
4. Regularly Check In with Guests

How to Run Silent Auction Checkout

5. Check Out Attendees
6. Administer Auction Items
7. Collect Feedback from Attendees

How to Follow Up After Your Silent Auction

8. Reflect on Your Fundraising Goals and Update Supporters
9. Express Appreciation
10. Share Content from Your Event

How to Run Your Silent Auction Event

When your big event day has finally arrived, you want to 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 1: 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:

  • 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
  • Ensure your technical equipment is set up and ready to go. Test your mobile bidding software and do a run-through with your emcee and guest speakers.

Auction Item System

Your auction experience is only as good as your auction items are organized. To have a seamless experience for your guests, 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: Items in the 100s can be gift baskets, 200s are memorabilia, 300s are consignment items, etc.

Ready to register your guests? You bet you are!

Step 2: Conduct Registration

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

  • Get 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 and easy: Make sure your check-in is equipped with the right tools, so volunteers can get guests in efficiently.
  • Have your 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: Ask guests to pre-register early on and encourage them to have a payment method on file. Then, with the OneCause Fundraising Platform, your organization can simply scan guests’ QR codes and get them in the door and bidding!

How to Run a Silent Auction Registration

Step 3: Make Bidding Fun

Put the ‘fun’ in fundraising!  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.

Step 4: Check In Regularly with Guests

As your event continues, be sure to regularly check in with your guests to ensure they’re engaged and eager to bid. This is especially important if you’re hosting an online or hybrid silent auction.

If engagement levels are low, consider different ways you can re-immerse attendees into the bidding action:

  • Host online breakout sessions for remote attendees.
  • Play a video that captures the heart of your nonprofit’s mission.
  • Bring up an individual who has been personally impacted by your cause and have them share their story.
  • Share impact statements to encourage giving and make your mission more tangible in the minds of your donors.

In addition to the ideas above, for an in-person event, you should have dedicated members of your team going around to mingle with guests and thank them for their support. It’s not everyday that you get to be face-to-face with the donors who make your mission possible. Don’t miss the opportunity to share their impact and your appreciation.

How to Run Silent Auction Checkout

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 5: 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.

If you use paper bids, 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. 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 tools on hand.
  • Make multiple lines for checkout. Especially at a big event, your attendees (and volunteers) will appreciate it.
  • Process their payments. At checkout, make sure to close out payments. With mobile bidding, bidders will save their payment information in the software and, after the auction’s conclusion, simply confirm their payment and check out on their mobile devices. Plus, they can email themselves their receipt!

How to Run a Silent Auction Checkout

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

Step 6: 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.
  • Allow guests to select a dedicated item pickup time. The OneCause Fundraising Platform offers organizations the ability to set up item pick up windows for guests to choose. That way everyone is rushing to checkout at once!

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 7: Collect Feedback from Attendees

While your guests are still engaged, take a moment to collect feedback from them before they exit the building or leave the livestream. You can text out a mobile-friendly link to a survey that asks them to:

  • Rank their level of engagement
  • Describe how satisfied they were with the event
  • Offer any recommendations for next year on:
    • Event theme
    • Venue
    • Auction items

This valuable feedback will help you gauge how you can improve your silent auction strategy for the future. 

How to Follow Up After Your Silent Auction

The work isn’t over just because the auction is! Use these steps to engage your audience and prepare your nonprofit for future fundraising auctions.

Step 8: Reflect on Your Fundraising Goals and Update Supporters

After your event wraps up, take time to reflect on your goals and determine whether you met them. If you didn’t, determine where there were gaps in your strategy or silent auction experience that you can hone in on. If you did, identify ways you can improve your strategy to raise even more revenue next time!

Then comes one of the most important steps of running a silent auction: following up with your supporters.

Did you know that the 2023 Giving Experience Research Study found that 48% of donors were more likely to give again when they felt like their donation had an impact? 

Send an update to all of your supporters letting them know how much you raised and how this revenue will supercharge your mission. It could make or break your next event!

Step 9: Express Appreciation

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

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 every guest, volunteer, and staff member.
  • Give an update to your corporate sponsors. Send a follow-up message to your sponsors and include exactly how much was raised and what this money will impact. Showing your appreciation early and often will deepen your relationship and allow you to hopefully enlist their help again in the future!
  • 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 right away! Save your solicitations for later on in your relationship-building process.

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

Step 10: Share Content From Your Event

The days and weeks immediately following an event present a huge opportunity for additional fundraising and further donor engagement. Post-event marketing is an art in and of itself and, if done right, can build lasting donor relationships.

After your event is over, continue to:

  • Share fun photos and videos from the night on social media.
  • Tag your guests and sponsors where appropriate to increase the likelihood of further sharing and engagement.
  • Add guest or staff quotes to show the real-time donor engagement and personalize the event impact.

You can even create blog posts on your nonprofit’s website that summarize the results and go over all the event highlights. This way, you can showcase the impact of your event and encourage supporters to sign up for the next event to continue pushing your mission forward.

Great — What’s Next?

Congrats! We’ve walked through the core stages of how to run a silent auction from running the event and checking out to follow-up. 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!

Get Started with OneCause

Successful auctions require powerful fundraising software! The OneCause Fundraising Platform makes giving modern, flexible, and seamless to drive deeper engagement and grow your fundraising. Take a look at this versatile all-in-one fundraising software that meets the expectations of today’s donor, supporting any event, in-person, virtual, or hybrid.
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Wrapping Up!

About to tackle a silent auction? Check out these resources to help guide you to success.