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Silent auctions prove to be an effective fundraising strategy time and time again. They are a great way to maximize donations at a gala, cocktail fundraiser, school event, golf tournament and more.
When it comes to planning a silent auction, you need to make sure your event stands out from the rest. Donors have a countless number of nonprofits to support. Make sure your organization puts on a can’t-miss event for donors.
To make sure you have the top silent auction strategies for your next event, we created this ultimate guide! In this resource, we’re diving into:
What’s a silent auction without the perfect silent auction items for your guests? While there are plenty of items you can choose to include, there is no secret formula to which items your organization should offer at your silent auction.
It depends on what your guests want and what your procurement committee can secure! When trying to choose the right silent auction items, here are strategies to hit the ground running:
To meet your fundraising goals, you need to “wow” your guests with your silent auction items. First, create a team whose only job is to solicit auction items. This team should start procuring items 9-12 months before the event, allowing plenty of time to secure the variety of items needed to appeal to your auction crowd.
To create an amazing procurement committee, look for individuals who are:
This committee will have the sole responsibility to solicit desirable, unique items that cost little to nothing and will drive ticket sales and bids. Choose the right individuals set your auction up for success!
If this isn’t your first silent auction event, it’s important to take a look back before taking a look forward. Prior to planning this year’s event, review your past silent auction performance.
Keep an eye out for:
By looking at past performance you can get a clue as to what kinds of items were most popular with your audience and what items you should begin to seek. Those are likely to sell well again.
Don’t forget to keep things interesting for your donors. Coming back to the same items year after year will make for a dull silent auction. Try bringing back the items that were wildly successful and then add new items that fit your donors’ interests and current trends.
Silent Auction items can be the most important revenue element of your event. After all, when the right items are on the table, they become the main attraction for the evening and can create a fundraising frenzy! A good silent auction will energize your attendees and maximize donations – not to mention drive fundraising.
Keep in mind that the best silent auction items tend to:
When identifying what auction items would excite your donors, think about your event audience! Young couples? Retirees? Art lovers? Sports Fans? Wine lovers?
Once you know your audience, turn your procurement committee’s focus to finding items and services that fit those interests. For example, if your audience is full of wine lovers, tickets to a local winery or a Napa Valley trip could be seen as desirable items that are sure to sell well.
With the help of your procurement committee and armed with what you know about your audience, brainstorm what silent auction items will take your event to the next level. The outcome will be your silent auction item wish list.
Here are key questions to get your brainstorming going:
Encourage every idea, no matter how out-of-reach or unusual they may seem. You never know awesome auction items will come of it! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
While making a wish list is an important strategy in the process, requesting these silent auction items is where the real work comes in! Silent auction donation request letters can help.
Donation request letters are essential for building your auction. The letters are the first introduction to individuals and businesses that you’re having an event, need silent auction items, and what recognition and visibility is included for auction donors. So, make it count!
When writing a donation request letter:
A powerful donation request letter will be the perfect asset to your procurement committee. After all, the less money you have to spend on bringing in great items, the greater the return on investment will be for your auction. And that equals more money to power your mission!
Pricing your silent auction items can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t know where to begin. With the right strategies, you can determine prices that will spark high interest and ignite competitive bidding. Here are ideas to help you get the right pricing strategy in place:
Determining the Fair Market Value (FMV) of your items will determine your pricing strategy for each item you auction off. The FMV is the estimated value of an item based on similar products in the market and is an important reference point when determining a starting bid.
Determining FMV comes in two forms:
For tangible items, keep in mind the actual “dollar value” of an item can be worlds apart from what a buyer is actually willing to pay. For intangible items, remember that this price is based on what your guests will be willing to pay – not what you would personally be willing to pay.
If you are still struggling to come up with a number, ask a few of your top donors for their input. Involving them in the planning process is a great excuse to chat about the event and get them excited about what’s to come.
Setting a starting bid for your silent auction items requires a clear strategy. Ultimately, it’s a balancing act. Base your decision on data – what has performed well? What were the previous starting bids?
If the starting bid is too low, you can miss out on proceeds that could’ve been used to raise more. If the starting bid is too high, you may lose out on competitive bidding between donors.
But don’t let that intimidate you — there are a few best practices to help you estimate for your silent auction items.
It is industry best practice to set minimum bids at 40-50% of the FMV. This range is low enough that it sparks a great deal of interest from donors, but it mitigates the risk of your organization losing out on the potential of a large donation from the starting bid being too low.
There are reasons, though, that your starting bid may be out of this 40-50% range:
Ultimately, the minimum bid price is up to the discretion of your organization. Don’t forget, just like most things in the world, your prices should go up year-over-year! Don’t be afraid to implement a small increase. It could take your proceeds to the next level.
Minimum bid increments can greatly impact on how well your silent items perform. For example, you don’t want your attendees putting down a $5 bid increase on an item like an iPad – you’ll never reach your goals! But you also don’t want to enforce a $500 minimum bid increment – you’ll lose out on bids! We’re here to help you put a strategy in place.
It is industry best practice to set minimum bid increments at 10-15% of the FMV. For example, if an item has an FMV of $100, the starting bid for the item would be $40. When the first bid is placed, guests will have to make a bid of at least $10 or more in order for the bid to be valid.
There are additional variables to consider when choosing bid increments:
Determine what bid increment will allow for the most bids and most proceeds. Then roll with it!
Instead of having your attendees come back to bid on an item time and time again, you can offer a Buy-it-Now option, so your bidders have the ability to buy the item immediately. This option appeals to individuals who are certain they want that item and are willing to pay top dollar to get it right then and there.
If your item can be sold as a Buy-It-Now – do it! You can do this by placing the Buy-it-Now option at 150-200% of the item’s FMV. Try it, these items can be a win-win for you and your bidders!
You won’t want to offer this option on every item, so be strategic about which ones you choose to setup as a Buy-It-Now. Items that should not have a Buy-it-Now include:
Be sure to advertise your Buy-It-Now strategy before and during your event. The more attention you can draw to the items, the greater the sense of urgency for bidders. These purchases are often impulse buys – so create a bidding frenzy through your auction communications. Or, if you have a charity auctioneer, make announcements about this option throughout the night.
Your team puts an incredible amount of effort into getting the perfect items for your silent auction and strategically pricing them. Here are a few sure-fire strategies to encourage more bidding activity:
Gone are the days of guests walking around to each item to continue placing bids, never knowing if or when they’re going to be outbid and lose out on an item that they were originally willing to pay top dollar for.
When you’re looking to inspire more silent auction bids, mobile bidding is your answer. Mobile bidding allows your nonprofit to put the auction in the palm of every donors’ hand. Nonprofits typically see 60-65% more bids when they switch from paper bid sheets to mobile bidding! The result is an elevated guest experience and shattered fundraising goals.
Why use mobile bidding?
The goal of any silent auction is to get the most amount of people to participate. More participation means more bids, and more bids means more proceeds for your cause!
Gamification can take participation at your event to the next level, and it can be incorporated in your event in many different ways. “Gamification” is the application of game elements into activities that are not typically game-related. This silent auction strategy creates interest, increases competition, and provides incentives for participation at your event.
Having a thermometer displayed at your event gives guests real-time updates and keeps the energy up. They can go a long way to encourage healthy competition and remind guests that the purpose of the event is to raise money to support your organization’s mission.
It’s easy for attendees to get distracted from bidding. If donors don’t keep their eyes on the silent auction bid sheets at all times, they might miss being outbid!
With mobile bidding, your supporters can stay connected to the auction with automated outbid alerts. This means if another donor places a higher bid on the same item, donors receive an instant notification via their mobile phone. They can click the notification immediately and quickly place a counter bid or Buy-It-Now.
Your bidder can even set a maximum bid amount within their budget and sign up for automatic bidding – giving your guests more time to socialize or bid on even more items!
We’ve all seen it before… some silent auctions can start out strong but then fizzle out as donors forget about placed bids. This results in lower bids and ultimately lower revenue. Don’t let it happen at your next event!
Set a countdown clock and put it on display at the event and on every bidders’ mobile phone, letting bidders know exactly how much time is left in your silent auction. Keep the auction top of mind by using the auction countdown ticker and watch bidding gamification give your proceeds an extra boost during the final bidding spree.
Finding a way to communicate with your guests during your event is essential to driving more bids in your silent auction. Think about messages that will boost your proceeds or provide direction to do so without explicitly telling guests “bid more!”
We’ve found that the best reasons to text your guests include:
Be strategic when your sending mass text messages to your guests. You don’t want to bombard them with too many notifications or distract them during key giving moments.
Silent auctions aren’t as structured as live auctions or live appeals, so it’s easy for guests to become distracted as they’re eating, mingling, and enjoying your event. Bring your auction to life and be sure to make bidding the center of attention.
Actively engage your guests throughout the entire event. To keep your fundraising top of mind:
By consistently drawing your guests’ attention back to the auction, bidding will always be at the front of their minds. That results in more bidding activity!
The final minutes of your silent auction are pivotal in reaching or exceeding your fundraising goals. Make sure your team is ready to ramp up the excitement and drive more bids when it comes time to close.
Here are some of our best practices for closing your silent auction event:
These tried-and-true strategies are sure to lead your organization to an exciting event and shattered fundraising goals. What silent auction strategies do you implement at your events? Let us know by sending us an email at email@example.com.
About the Authors: Melissa Merriam & Nicole Taylor, OneCause Consulting
Over the past 15 years Melissa Merriam has helped Nonprofits succeed, first in sales and business development, and now, as Senior Director of Consulting and Training. She leads a high performing team of 35 Consultants and Managers to provide world class service and support to thousands of clients. Melissa is a creative problem solver and strategist and spends much of her time researching, connecting with customers and coaching her team to be the foremost experts in Nonprofit and event fundraising.
Nicole Taylor is a Consulting Manager at OneCause, supporting nonprofit partners during event planning with her expertise in industry best practices, as well as assisting in event execution as an event manager onsite. To fuel her passion for fundraising excellence, she has been helping nonprofits at OneCause since 2013 and has worked on over 600 fundraising events across the country.