6 Essential Silent Auction Rules: Host Your Best Auction Yet

There’s no denying the positive impact that a successful silent auction can have on an organization. Silent auctions make for an engaging activity for guests and an awesome revenue generator for your fundraising – it’s a win-win!

In order to make your silent auction a success, every nonprofit needs clear rules for your guests (and volunteers) to ensure everything runs smoothly.

We’ve outlined 6 essential silent auction rules any nonprofit can use to execute the best auction yet. This blog will cover:

Types of Silent Auction Rules

To help your silent auction reach its highest potential and maximize proceeds, you must have silent auction rules in place to execute a seamless event.

From bidder registration, to auction procedures, to guest checkout, having silent auction rules helps to improve the donor experience and reduces onsite headaches.

The top types of silent auction rules you should include are:

Bidder Registration Rules

Use registration as a way to introduce your silent auction rules before your guests start bidding.

  • Require each attendee to read and agree to the rules and regulations when they register.
  • Provide a written copy of the rules (in the event program or on your auction signage).
  • Have several volunteers stationed around the room to answer any questions.

Pro Tip: Fundraising software can help make this process more efficient! Attendees can register ahead of time and read the rules and regulations on their own before agreeing and attending.

Auction Items Rules

Remember to include rules surrounding the silent auction items available at your event, including:

  • Right to change items: Items may be added or withdrawn, without notice.
  • All sales final: All sales are final, there are no exchanges, and all items are sold “as is.”
  • No refunds: No refunds after purchase. Guests are responsible for item(s) once they’re claimed.
  • Limits may apply: Gift cards or certificates are subject to availability and “black-out” dates.

These rules ensure that your organization will not be responsible for changes or fine print restrictions.

Pro Tip: By using mobile bidding technology, attendees can browse items ahead of time to create interest before the event even starts!

Bidding Process Rules

A smooth bidding process is key to a flawless attendee experience. Before bidding begins, be sure to spell out:

  • How long the auction is in effect.
  • When final bids must be made.
  • How minimum bid requirements work.
  • What minimum bid increments are in place.
  • Whether or not bids may be altered or withdrawn.

Pro Tip: Not only does mobile bidding technology simplify the bidding process during your silent auction, it adds an unparalleled level of fun, competitiveness, and excitement to your events.

Legal Restriction Rules

Be sure to have silent auction rules that outline any legal restrictions:

  • Each bidder assumes all risks and hazards related to the silent auction and items.
  • Age restrictions may apply (on items such as liquor, gift cards to wine bars, or overnight trips).
  • A valid ID will be necessary to purchase items with age restrictions.

Pro Tip: Contact a lawyer (hopefully you have one willing to donate their time already in your organization) if you feel your auction or auction items create any significant risk for your attendees to ensure your organization is appropriately protected.

Closing Bids Rules

Make sure your silent auction comes to a successful close by establishing these rules:

  • No additional bids may be placed once the auction is declared closed.
  • The highest qualifying bid (i.e. bid that complies with your established silent auction rules) wins the item.

Pro Tip: Using mobile bidding technology automates this process and prevents bids from being placed after the auction close time. Real-time reports provide a list of the highest bids, bidders, items and package. Winners are also automatically notified via text of their auction items.

Checkout Procedures

Don’t make it hard on yourself and your volunteers when trying to unite winners with their items. Establish rules that explain the checkout process:

  • Winners must pick up their items in the checkout area by showing their payment confirmation.
  • Winners must pick up all items the night of the auction, unless special arrangements are made.
  • If any item is left unclaimed, it will become property of the organization and may be resold.

Pro Tip: Mobile bidding can dramatically streamline checkout – as attendees begin to pick up their items, volunteers can log the items as claimed or unclaimed under each attendee’s bidder profile.

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Silent Auction

Now that we’ve established what rules are essential for success, here are 7 do’s and don’ts of a silent auction to ensure your event goes off without a hitch.

1. DO recruit your best volunteers

In order to plan and run a successful event, you need to have a powerful and organized team of volunteers. This group sets up the event, manages the floor, answers attendees’ questions, and enforces your newly created silent auction rules.

So where can you find these volunteers? Round up your email list that includes your:

  • Previous donors
  • Board members
  • Ambassadors
  • Past volunteers

SILENT AUCTION TIP: In your communications, explain the event, where the proceeds go, and most importantly – how your volunteers help contribute to success!

2. DON’T over-procure silent auction items

We know it might be hard to imagine a situation where you have more items than you need, but it happens more than you think!

While an influx of items is great, over-procuring items may:

  • Decrease the number of bids
  • Overwhelm donors
  • Effect the profitability of your silent auction

SILENT AUCTION TIP: Package your items into bundles to create more attractive silent offerings. Wrapping multiple items into one package will entice donors and drive more revenue.

3. DO organize your items by section

Each section of your silent auction should be organized with clear signage. Some ideas include:

  • Labeling each section by category (ex: Travel or Camping)
  • Having large signs with section numbers placed on easels
  • Tying different colored balloons to the tables

SILENT AUCTION TIP: Begin the flow of your auction with your less valuable section and end with your most valuable. By saving the best for last you’ll dramatically increase competition among bidders and revenue for your organization.

4. DON’T use paper bid sheets

Paper bids have gone out of style. From deciphering handwriting to manually entering in bid data, there’s plenty of room for errors. Luckily, mobile bidding offers your donors an easier way to bid while generating more revenue.

  • Constant bidding: Whether you’re mingling with friends, grabbing a bite to eat, or staying seated at your table, guests can stay connected to the auction no matter where they are.
  • Time for fun: Attendees can bid on their cell phones then get right back to socializing with their friends (without worry). The software will alert them if they’ve lost their lead.
  • Auto-notifications: Bidders receive outbid notifications, auction messages, and a countdown clock will appear on their mobile phone to drive last-minute bids.
  • Remote bidding: Supporters who aren’t able to attend your event can still participate in bidding and support your cause from afar.

SILENT AUCTION TIP: Bidding from their phones allows supporters to participate in your auction – opening up new revenue streams, making bidding easy, and replacing the need for paper bid sheets.

5. DO ensure your silent auction items will be profitable

Ensure your silent auction items yield the maximum profit by including:

  • Fair Market Value of each item
  • Starting bids for each item or package
  • Minimum bid increments

SILENT AUCTION TIP: When choosing a starting bid, industry experts suggest using 40-50% of the Fair Market Value (FMV). Ultimately, the minimum bids and minimum bid increments are up to the discretion of your organization. But the higher the starting bid price, the faster you can get to your goals.

6. DO monitor the traffic flow

Your event’s flow will need to be as thoughtfully planned out as the busiest intersection in town. You’ll want individuals to be able to move quickly and efficiently through your silent auction items, bidding on those that strike their fancy. Make sure to:

  • Avoid table layouts that create crowds and make it hard to see the auction items.
  • Create open auction areas that make it easy to browse from item to item.
  • Utilize mobile bidding software so bidders can browse through your auction item listings on their phones and then instantly place their bids.

SILENT AUCTION TIP: When you make it easy for your donors to bid, auction proceeds skyrocket!

7. DON’T forget to follow up

Your event might be over, but your work is not. Follow up with your attendees and thank them for their support!

Promptly send thank-you notes to everyone who was involved with your event, including:

  • Sponsors
  • Attendees
  • Donors
  • Volunteers
  • Staff

SILENT AUCTION TIP: In your thank-you notes, don’t forget the importance of telling your supporters how the money will be used to power your mission.

Executing a silent auction is no small feat. By putting clear silent auction rules in place and following the do’s and don’ts above, you’ll be setting your organization up for success.

BONUS: Examples of Silent Auction Rules

Now that you’re aware of the do’s and don’ts of a silent auction, it’s time to create your own list of rules for your next event.

Download the template below to design your own auction rules and get started today!

Examples of Silent Auction Rules

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Wrap Up

Every fundraiser and every cause needs the inside scoop to getting the most from your next auction! Explore these additional resources to raise more and reach more.