A silent auction is a classic fundraising event in which guests place bids on items you’ve procured. Using paper bid sheets or mobile bidding software, bidders compete to win their favorite items and packages. When time’s up, the highest bid wins the item, and your organization receives the proceeds.
Silent auctions are extremely engaging for guests and can be adapted for all types of audiences. They can be easily added to larger events, like live auctions, galas, and banquets.
However, silent auctions do require planning and careful strategy to generate revenue for your cause. If you’re planning a charity auction for the first time or adjusting your existing plans to tap into virtual strategies, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s review how to plan a silent auction and all the pro tips you’ll need to succeed.
Use the table above to jump to a particular section, or dive in from the top. First, we’ll cover a few common questions about these events. You’ll be raising more with your silent auction in no time!
Note: If social distancing guidelines are a concern for your organization right now, you might also consider hosting an online or virtual auction.
An auction held entirely online is an effective alternative to traditional live and silent auctions. These events can help you reach wider audiences, raise needed funds, and avoid the challenges of planning a large, in-person event.
If you’re new to fundraising with silent auctions, reviewing a few common questions will be a helpful starting point:
As with any type of fundraising event, establishing guidelines and goals before diving into specifics will be valuable over the long-run. Having a clear picture of your silent auction’s constraints, necessities, and goals will keep everyone on the same page. It also gives you a way to check-in on your progress and course-correct as needed.
Your event’s guidelines include the logistical specifics that you’ll need to build your strategy around. These might include:
Determining specific goals for your silent auction early in the planning process is also a smart move. Typical goals include:
Revenue will likely be your main goal, but setting additional goals can be a good idea to ensure well-rounded success. Are there areas in your larger strategy that need improvement, like donor retention?
Reviewing your past event and campaign data is the best way to shape your silent auction’s goals. What’s your average donation amount? How much do your events typically raise? How many of your supporters frequently attend events? Use these insights to set ambitious yet achievable goals.
Most importantly, get started planning your auction early. Understanding your guidelines and goals now will give you a leg up during lengthy, intensive steps like item procurement. For school auctions, for example, we recommend getting started with procurement up to 10 months before the event.
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Auctions can be fairly complex fundraising events, regardless of their exact size or scope. That’s why it’s rarely a good idea to try to tackle everything on your own. Instead, form a silent auction planning committee comprised of these members:
Additionally, you might want to recruit volunteer ambassadors or social fundraisers to support your marketing efforts. We’ll cover this tactic in Step 8 below.
Of course, there may be some overlap between each of these teams depending on the size of your organization. The main idea is to clearly separate and delegate these crucial tasks. This will ensure nothing falls through the cracks as your event comes together.
Take a look at your organization’s event software early in the silent auction planning process. If you identify any gaps or potential improvements, you’ll need time to find and implement new solutions. While not every event will require a comprehensive toolkit of advanced software, there are a few foundational tools that we recommend:
Mobile bidding, in particular, can be a game-changer for silent auctions. By making it easier and faster to bid, you can drastically increase engagement and improve your guests’ experience. Plus, these tools make it easy to get your announcements and updates directly to bidders as needed. Check out mobile bidding in action:
For a more thorough overview of what to look for in your auction toolkit, check out this section of our charity auctions guide.
FREE Consultation: Find the best tools for your next fundraising auction! Request a consultation with OneCause to see how we can take your auction to the next level!
Procuring the perfect range of silent auction items is the best way to ensure your event’s success. Your items and packages are the main attraction, after all!
For any type of auction, we recommend a few procurement best practices:
For more procurement insights and a comprehensive list of items to help kickstart your wishlist, explore our complete guide to charity auction item ideas.
Pro Tip! Remember that guests will attend your silent auction for a fun night out. Your procurement strategy must prioritize engaging and exciting items.
Of course you should tailor your items to the interests of your particular supporters, but exciting items will always perform better than mundane ones. Experiences, technology, and interesting baskets of packaged items will most likely receive more bids than home goods or coupons for free services.
If a potential donor offers an item or package that doesn’t quite fit your procurement strategy, don’t worry. Instead, try asking for the item’s cash value as a donation that can be used for a different, more relevant item. Or, offer them recognition as an event sponsor in exchange for financial support.
Properly pricing the silent auction items that you procure is essential to maximize revenue. However, it’s a step that too many organizations neglect.
How you price your auction items will have a direct impact on the success of your silent auction. Price items too high and you’ll reduce bids, but price items too low and you’ll risk not driving a positive ROI for your event.
For a complete walkthrough of the process, read our guide to pricing silent auction items. If you’re short on time, here are the essentials:
Price your items as you procure them. This will help you avoid being faced with the sudden task of pricing everything at once. If you’re working with dedicated auction software, it’s easy to record your pricing details as you go and store them all in one place.
Building your auction item catalog is also greatly simplified with the help of auction software. Create an organized catalog to promote your items and share essential details. Each catalog entry should include points like:
Today, providing an online, mobile-optimized silent auction item catalog is crucial. This is especially true if guests will be using mobile bidding software during the event. Plus, an online item catalog opens up your in-person silent auctions to virtual attendees!
Check out these example screenshots to see a mobile item catalog in auction.
You’ll also need organized records of each item’s pricing information and other details to create your item display sheets later. Jump ahead to check out our display sheet template.
Around the same time or shortly after beginning the procurement process, other team members should now turn their attention to planning your silent auction’s logistics. By this, we mean considering elements like:
Additionally, you’ll need to start thinking about the bidding experience and flow of the event’s activities. Ask yourself these questions:
You’ll also want to consider how you’ll close bidding on certain items or sections of your silent auction. Tracking bids in real-time will allow you the most flexibility for boosting engagement and revenue.
Although this may seem like an overwhelming list of specifics to decide on, getting started early will give you plenty of time to decide and adjust your strategies. The most important thing is to consider them now, as scrambling on the day of your silent auction can have serious negative effects.
How guests register for your silent auction will be their first interaction with your event, so you need to make a great impression!
Today, an online registration page is always the best move to easily share your event with a large audience. If you’re using dedicated software to plan and manage your silent auction event, features to create your event website (including registration page) and item catalog should come included. There are a number of ways to make the most of the silent auction registration process. Ask yourself these questions:
Additionally, ensure your registration page is fully mobile-optimized to ensure ease-of-use. A clunky form that doesn’t work on smartphones is much more likely to cause potential attendees to give up in frustration or forget about your event.
Check out our guide to online event registration for more best practices and software features to look out for.
FREE BONUS: Download our Charity Auction Planning Guide. You can save this resource as a PDF and use it for your organization’s next charity auction event. Take your next auction to the next level with this downloadable resource!
With most of your items procured, an item catalog set up, and logistics coming together, you’re in a good position to begin actively promoting your upcoming silent auction to supporters.
We cover this topic in-depth in our complete charity auction guide. To recap, one effective marketing strategy we recommend is creating a multichannel campaign to promote your silent auction:
The underlying idea with this type of marketing strategy is to use each of your digital outlets to generate more attention and steer potential attendees to your registration page. Typical nonprofit marketing outlets include:
Create digital content to promote your auction, like announcements and sneak previews, and promote it across your digital outlets. Send email readers to your website to learn more, or link social media readers to your item catalog, for instance. Just be sure to include a direct link to your registration page to ensure maximum engagement.
Additionally, one marketing and fundraising strategy that we highly recommend is recruiting volunteer ambassadors. These well-connected and dedicated supporters will help to promote your silent auction to their own networks of friends, family, and colleagues. Set specific goals for registrations or donations, empower your ambassadors with training and materials, and reward them during your event with awards or prizes.
This strategy has proven extremely effective for many organizations, enabling them to reach much wider audiences and boost overall revenue. Ambassadors help you tap into social proof, which can be a powerful motivator to get newcomers engaged with your cause when provided by a friend or loved one.
Pro Tip! If you’re planning an online silent auction, don’t worry! Multichannel marketing campaigns are perfect for promoting virtual fundraising events. Ambassador fundraising strategies can also be easily adapted to virtual settings. Peer-to-peer fundraising is a more decentralized style of this technique that may be a smart choice for your event, too.
As all of the most essential pieces of your silent auction strategy begin coming together, there are a few more event logistics to consider.
When it’s time to run your silent auction, preparing a few plans in advance will be a big help for your team. Namely, prepare your auction item display sheets and a rough floorplan or layout several days or weeks before the event.
These are the physical sheets that you use to display relevant information about each item in your silent auction. Auction item display sheets should contain all of the essential information that you determined earlier when pricing your items and creating a catalog.
Even if you’re using mobile bidding software to facilitate bids and share details about items, guests still expect a visual display to engage with. Clearly labeled lot numbers will make it easy to quickly look up items in your online catalog. Plus, printed information encourages attendees to pause at your display tables, take their time browsing items, and generally mingle throughout the event.
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Click on our silent auction display sheet template to save a larger version. Feel free to use this for your own silent auction!
If you already know what your silent auction space looks like (or, even better, have a floorplan with dimensions!), get started thinking about how you’ll arrange your items and tables. You don’t necessarily need to plan your layout down to the inch, but putting some strategy into your layout ahead of time will prevent a lot of second-guessing on the day of your auction. There are a few essentials to keep in mind:
Whenever you have the time, plan in advance! Preparing your display sheets and a rough layout will make everyone’s job easier when it’s time to start setting up.
Pro Tip! Even for virtual events, a strong display strategy and event timeline will be crucial. Despite not using a physical space, you still have to catch your bidders’ eyes and keep them engaged. Try configuring your item catalog to highlight featured items or creating custom pages just for your main attraction items. Use push notifications to draw more attention to items as needed and announce bidding wars.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to review your gameplan and identify any ways to maximize bidder engagement during your silent auction. Here are our top recommendations:
As the face and voice of your silent auction, your hired or volunteer emcee plays a critical role in boosting the event’s energy!
With a wireless microphone, your emcee should stroll the event and call out special packages and deals. Directing attention to items that haven’t received many bids yet is never a bad idea. If one item is experiencing some very competitive bidding, raise the energy even higher by declaring a bidding war.
Your staff members and volunteer ambassadors should also actively mingle and help draw attention to auction items. An active, engaging event will always generate more bids than one where bidders are left on their own without direction.
Smartphone-friendly bidding tools are game-changers for silent auctions of all shapes and sizes for a few reasons:
With mobile bidding software, your organization can raise more with your next silent auction than ever before. If your auction toolkit needs an upgrade, mobile bidding is the modern way to grow engagement and continually improve your efforts down the line.
Explore our complete list of silent auction strategies for more tips, like gamification techniques and how to close your auction to maximize bids.
With this planning guide, you and your team should be well-equipped to tackle your silent auction!
Head on over to our guide to running a silent auction for even more guidance on what to do on the day of your event.
As with any fundraising event, thorough planning plays an important role in guaranteeing a return on all the hard work and resources you’ve invested in your silent auction. Get started early, stay organized, and have fun! You’ll be prepping your item display tables in no time.