How to Run a Silent Auction: The Definitive Guide

How to Run a Silent Auction: The Definitive Guide

If you’re interested in running a silent auction at a live fundraising event but you’re not entirely sure where to start, then don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are so many ways to raise money and let’s face it, they have become a bit repetitive over the last few years which is why a silent auction is a perfect way for fundraising. It breaks the mold while still getting the job done. 

But where to start? It can get a little confusing and with this type of event, there are many cogs in the wheel, so follow this guide to make sure yours is a success!

Get a trustworthy team together

Depending on the size of the event, you may need to put together a team. The important thing is that you can rely on these people to get the job done so don’t put someone in charge of finances if their mathematical skills aren’t up to scratch. You’ll need people to find worthy donations so make sure they have good connections and are incredibly friendly and likable. You’ll also need people to hunt down a suitably sized venue within budget. 

Consider that depending on the size of your event, you may need catering and entertainment, so find someone with good logistical skills to run the event. You might need security, waiting staff, a host, an admin team to organize ticket sales and bids. Think outside the box.

If you’re starting to think that you have no idea who you should or shouldn’t have in your team. We suggest you move forward a step and discover more about the type of event you’re going to run. This should tell you all the different types of people you need in your team. Then, the hard work on finding them is down to you. You can speak to people you know and ask for favors or if it’s in the budget, hire them through external events companies.

Decide your audience type and investigate their personality

This is potentially the most important step to take. Defining an audience will really help you make your event a success, here’s why: 

If your audience is of retirement age, consider that a donation of a ‘ticket to an amusement park’ isn’t going to be too popular so may not raise as much money as you want. Once you have defined your audience, you’ll be able to pitch for donations that can go for a lot more money. Ask yourself if they’re young, family orientated, perhaps they are wealthy or is this event happening in a relatively poor community? 

Not only can you find suitable donations after defining an audience, but you can also market the silent auction event accordingly. Younger audiences are easier to sell tickets to online whereas an older community will appreciate some sort of flier in the mail. Do your research now and save yourself a lot of hassle in the future. You only get one shot to make the entire night worthwhile, don’t cut any corners on your research.

Seek your donations and make them suitable for the audience

This is where your team becomes really useful. Whether it’s jumping on the phone or walking the streets downtown. This area will take time, so make sure you save plenty of time for it. You don’t want to book a venue, save a date, or invite a single guest until you have donations.

Donations are ultimately going to dictate a lot of your success. You need things that people are going to want to buy. It might be something functional like a hoover. Perhaps something luxurious like a new car. You can even keep it simple with a gift card. Remember, your audience plays a big role in what type of donations you should be seeking but leaving enough time to find them is crucial.

The last thing you want is having barely any donations a couple of days before the event and having to cancel. We suggest giving yourself a couple of months depending on how big and luxurious you intend your silent auction to be.

Great silent auction item ideas for prizes include signed memorabilia, travel packages, unique experiences like driving days or tickets to sport events, plus anything VIP like backstage passes. These always help raise the big bucks! These are the popular auction items that can help start a bidding war! 

Decide on how your event will run: paper or digital

Now, while your audience may dictate this area ever so slightly, it’s important to note that not all young people are tech-savvy or accessible and likewise the elderly aren’t always clueless about the digital world. Assumptions aren’t useful so we urge you not to make them. Again, get to know your audience and decide accordingly.

You may be asking; what are the benefits for paper vs digital? Well, paper is the more traditional method. It involves leaving sheets of paper out for people to write their name, bid, and bid number on before submitting it into a sealed box. At the end of the night, those who are announced as the winners are trusted to come up and honor their bid. It can be exciting, however sometimes it can be difficult trying to find the winners. In addition, a paper auction can be forgotten about and not continually in the minds of your guests.

A digital silent auction is becoming more and more popular. The sign-up process means bidders can submit their credit card details before they make the bid, making the payment collection process far more reliable and less stressful. In addition, a silent auction accessible from guests’ phones, with real-time auction leaderboards displayed around a room, adds real excitement and entertainment. In the virtual world we live in today, running your auction online gives your audience great accessibility. You can host a silent auction in one place, stream it live for announcing the winners but have people from all around the globe bid on your prizes.

It’s up to you whether you run your silent auction traditionally or digitally. Think of your audience, the donations on offer and how easy you want the paperwork to be afterwards.

Find a suitable venue

No matter what venue you think you want to host your silent auction in, make sure it’s within budget with room to spare. Even if you think ‘yes, this is at my max budget’ always leave a little bit of wiggle room for anything that might go wrong last minute that requires some funding.

Your venue might need to be in a particular location depending on where you expect your guests to be traveling from. If they’re all from the city, perhaps a location out in the suburbs isn’t ideal. The further your guests have to travel, the less likely they are to show up. Don’t leave yourself with an empty venue all because you could get bigger and better further out. 

Another thing to consider when locating your venue is the donations that you have secured. If there’s a brand new car on offer, you want to be able to get it into the event hall to showcase it. Likewise, if there is a heavy item, asking your guest to walk down five flights of stairs with it probably won’t encourage people to bid on it. Make sure the venue suits the donations so you can encourage worthy profits.

Consider if you need additional entertainment or food

As we mentioned earlier if you are having a digital auction you will want to introduce some alternative entertainment. Otherwise, people will show up, sit down on their phones for a couple of hours and wait for the results. Why not have some table entertainment such as magicians or characteristics. 

Alternatively, get some catering for a delicious buffet. If you really want to push the boat out, why not offer a three-course meal with table service? There are plenty of ways to offer your guests something more than the opportunity to bid and we suggest you do if you want your event to be more than just a one-off.

Some events have local artists playing songs that can add to the event entertainment. 

Sell tickets and promote your silent auction 

This is where your marketing team comes in. When you’ve decided a date, secured a venue, sourced plenty of big-ticket donations, decided on any additional entertainment, then it’s time to sell tickets and get your invites out. 

Use an online platform for ticket sales, and ideally an all-in-one solution that means guests who purchase tickets will already have their payment details stored for winning bids and donations.

In addition, we recommend sending out specific invites to who you anticipate as your big-spending guests. Create fonts that are decorative, seal them with wax and have them handwritten in calligraphy. These will encourage people to attend but also, bring their credit card with the biggest balance. For any other seats you wish to fill, but don’t have a guestlist for, social media is your best bet.

Put out the word on suitable Facebook groups, get people talking about it in communities and share information for free. If you’re running a larger event from a business account on social media, you may decide to put some budget behind your campaigns to reach more people. Just make sure your finance team has budgeted this in your spending and that you have someone smart who can work the paid ads.

How to make the silent auction run smoothly

When the day arrives you should be able to set up easily. Each member of your team should know what they’re doing to make it a success. These are some of our tips to help make things run smoothly for you and your guests:

  • Group your items into categories so that guests can find things they’re interested in to donate on. For example, health and beauty or art.
  • Don’t obscure the visibility of any items, have them all dotted around the edge of the room so that they’re easily accessible.
  • Make sure each item is clearly labeled with all suitable information. For example, make sure expiry dates are on gift cards or any certifications for artwork.
  • Stay in touch with your guests throughout the event to update them on the silent auction. Messaging guests as the event takes place ensures they will continue to bid and stay engaged with your auction items.
  • Use a platform to quickly check guests into your event. The last thing you need is a build-up of people standing outside struggling to get in. Make it work for disabled and abled people – a good way to ensure there are no tables near the front door.

Finally: follow up after your auction

When your event is over and all your payments are secured, follow up with your guests. Let them know how much money was raised. Tell them about any exciting news that happened because of the event, for example, the ring that was sold went to a bidder who ended up proposing. Why do this? Because it’ll entice people to look out for any future events you wish to hold. 

Ultimately, this is a charity auction and people will want to know and share in your success!

Dan Rohn

Dan Rohn

Vice President of Sales

Dan has served in the fundraising space for over a decade, consulting and assisting non-profits all over the world to become more effective and efficient by implementation of interactive digital solutions.