Fundraisers and charitable organisations typically hold auctions. These events help them increase awareness about their cause, raise funding and engage with donors, supporters or bidders. Auctions can also be a place of transition for bidders and donors to become supporters of a certain cause. Bidders are those who pay to attend the event and bid on auction items. They may either be wanting to get a deal or they just want to support the cause of the event. Donors are those who may donate auction items for the good of the cause or acknowledgement in an online donor list or auction catalogue. Meanwhile, the supporters champion the cause of the fundraiser and help them raise awareness [1].

Auctions draw the attention of both new audiences or future donors and regular givers. During these events, different goods, services and opportunities are available for bidding. The winning bidders donate to the non-profit group and receive something in return. A silent auction is only one type of event within the umbrella of charity auctions. To help you better understand this charity fundraiser, here is a guide to a silent auction.

What is a silent auction?

A silent auction is an event at which items are displayed so that attendees can assess, place bids on and purchase [2]. It’s a silent auction because the bidders ‘silently’ bid by writing their offer on the bid sheet for each item using their anonymous bidding number [2, 3]. There’s no loud bidding to an auctioneer.

How does a silent auction work?

In a silent auction, the participants check out the items that are set up in a physical space. Each item has its bidding sheet, and there’s usually a minimum increase requirement written on that sheet. When the participants like a particular item, they write their bid amount with the anonymous bidding number they receive upon check-in or registration. They keep on one-upping each other by placing a higher bid than the one before them. The individual with the highest bid ‘wins’ the item after the event. He pays the bid for the item and is gifted with it. Proceeds from the bidding are collected to fund the fundraiser’s good cause. [2,3]. With the use of silent auctions, non-profit organisations allow the donors and bidders to participate in their event and good cause without soliciting donations from them [2].

Another way of doing a silent auction is by using auction software or mobile applications [4]. This is a technology-based alternative in which participants can quickly and easily bid from their phones while maintaining anonymity and not letting the bidders know the amount placed by other bidders. Participants will be notified when they’ve been outbid, and they can decide to increase their bid and stay in the event. When all of the bids have been placed, still, the highest bid wins the item, and the proceeds go to the non-profit organisation or good cause [3,4].

With the COVID-19 pandemic, auction software is now essential for someone planning to hold online auctions.

How long does a silent auction last?

For most silent auctions, attendees need about 60-90 minutes to bid. That’s the ideal auction duration. It should not be more than this [5, 6]. However, other typical in-person auctions last for 3 hours [3].

How does a silent auction differ from live auctions?

The main difference between live and silent auctions is the absence of an auctioneer. Unlike the traditional loud auction, a silent auction has no voice yelling ‘going once, going twice, sold.’ When the guests decide to bid, they participate using a bid sheet, not via hand signals that are common in live auctions [3].

Why run a silent auction?

Auctions are generally run to help organisations to raise funds. Here are other benefits of running a silent auction [4, 7, 8]:

  • It’s a great way of entertaining guests.
  • It can increase event revenue.
  • It can cause awareness among donors about the donation channels they can use if they want to support an organisation’s cause.
  • It raises the profile of the organisation.
  • It can expand the existing donor base.
  • It can further engage the supporters of the organisation.
  • It can increase donor retention rates.
  • It can be a venue to transition attendees to become supporters of the organisation.
  • It allows the auctioning off of many items.

Guide to running a silent auction

Running a successful silent auction is hard work but not with careful planning and preparation. Below is a step-by-step guide to running a silent auction [2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13]

Step 1: Establishing an Auction Committee

In planning or running a silent auction, having volunteers and a team is essential. This committee will handle key tasks, from planning to choosing and setting up the venue, securing donations, marketing the auction and until the actual auction event. Everything from planning to taking action will be done by the auction committee.

When setting up this committee, it’s important to recruit only the best volunteers – excited, dedicated and strong people. With the range of activities needed to be done, the team should be powerful and organised enough to do what’s on the to-do lists. Who are these people and where can they be found? Check your email list; they can be your previous donors, past volunteers, board members and ambassadors. A group from your workplace or the neighbourhood may also be interested.

To recruit people effectively, you should well explain the event, the good cause behind it, where proceeds will go and how they can contribute to making the auction happen successfully.

Step 2: Selecting a Time and Venue for the Silent Auction

A venue space should comfortably accommodate the guests and allow them to move through the auction. It’s an appropriate and affordable place that should be planned out and booked months before the event. If it’s going to be online, the site that will host the fundraising programme should also be carefully studied prior to the auction.

For the in-person silent auction, the following factors can be taken into account when looking for a venue:

  • Price
  • Accessibility
  • Number of attendees
  • Large space or area to display the auctions items in an organised manner
  • The ambience of the place
  • Internet connectivity for silent auction software or mobile bidding

Step 3: Procuring Items to Sell

Silent auction items are one key to the success of the event. Most of the fundraising comes from the highest bids on the items. Hence, one should pick out only the best, most appealing items to auction off.

Although having a variety of items may appeal to more attendees and result in more bids, do not over-procure silent auction items. It may overwhelm the bidders and affect the profitability of the event. If it can’t be avoided, packaging them into bundles can also be enticing for bidders.

To better understand what items should you secure, reviewing the past auction history, if you have done one before, will be helpful. Look for the most popular, most profitable and top seller items. Consider also the audience and their interest, passion or hobbies. Make sure they will be excited about the items. You would also want to mind about the supporter’s or bidder’s general price range to ensure that they will have the capacity to bid.

Another kind of item that does best among the bidding crowd is those rare, unique items. Who wouldn’t want a one-of-a-kind item that is hard to find? Having these items will surely give them the urge to place a bid.

Where should you procure items?

Helping Hand Group has access to a range of top selling auction items that can be used for your silent auction fundraiser to help you achieve the best results at your auction.

It can be a long and grueling process attempting to procure items for your auction, however we take care of each and every aspect of your fundraising event, offering everything from exciting auction items, professional charity auctioneers, and event planning staff, and you don’t pay a thing. How does that work? Our services are provided at no cost, and the framework for that is simple: we provide auction items to you on consignment, and only see a profit when those items are purchased at your event.

Step 4: Promoting the Silent Auction

No matter how good your cause is and how appealing your items are, they will be nothing if they are not advertised. Your supporters must know about the event.

In the age of the Internet, promoting an auction event is made easy on different channels, such as social media. These platforms should all be utilised to your advantage. Promoting a silent auction through a variety of channels will encourage a wider range of audience. Nevertheless, sending physical invitations or via direct email to people is still a good way of getting the word out.

When advertising, the items to be auctioned off can also be advertised so people will be more enticed to bid. When they see what’s up for bidding, they are likely to participate in the event. In doing this, make sure to use high-quality images and good labels or descriptions on the items.

In summary, the following relevant information should be included when promoting the event:

  • Details of the silent auction
  • A brief description of the beneficiary or non-profit organisation
  • The names and numbers of items to be auctioned off
  • Descriptions of the items, including any restrictions
  • The starting bid amount and the market value of each item (for donors who will claim charitable tax deductions)
  • High-quality photos of the individual item (if applicable).
  • Sponsor advertising.

Step 5: Creating the Registration and Claiming Process

Procedures for checking-in and checking-out of the items should be organised to minimise guest confusion. It will also help in ensuring good traffic flow throughout the event.

With regard to registration, attendees can pre-register and submit their payment details early. During the actual event, a booth can be set up at the venue to handle all pre-registrations, new registrations and other queries. It’s in the registration where silent auction rules are introduced before they start bidding. These rules can also be printed if fundraising software won’t be used.

Moreover, our staff are trained to handle the registration and claiming process with ease to ensure that as many items as possible are sold successfully during the event.

Step 6: Pricing and Organising the Silent Auction Items

It’s important to organise your auction items in advance of the event. They should be prepared beforehand by pricing and categorising them.

Varying the costs of starting bid for different items is a good practice. This will encourage more attendees to bid. Some may hesitate to bid if it’s out of their budget. When pricing the items, you can ask supporters to estimate the value of intangible items. Meanwhile, the prices of tangible ones can be easily researched to provide fair market value [14].

After making sure that all items are clean and in good condition, check if there are items that will appeal to men, others for women and even for children. Sort them out. Having a variety of products will increase the chance of success for the auction.

Once organised, bid sheets can be created for each of the items. This may include the name of the item, a short description of it and the name of the donor. Beneath the information, there should be a series of numbered, blank lines for people to write their bids. A clipboard to support the bid sheet and a hanging pen should be prepared for easy writing. Additional auction items may also become available at the last minute so extra blank copies of the bid sheets should be printed.

However, bid sheets may not be necessary if mobile bidding will be used. Mobile bidding makes bidding easier; it allows guests to bid even if they are mingling with friends or eating their food.

Step 7: Determining the Rules and Procedures for Bidding

Before the auction day, bidding process rules should be clearly laid out. This will ensure a smooth bidding process flow during the auction. Some of the considerations when determining the rules and procedures for bidding are as follows:

  • Duration of the auction
  • Minimum bid requirements
  • Minimum bid increments
  • Closing or making of final bids
  • Whether bids can be altered or withdrawn

Step 8: Setting Up the Venue

All the planning and preparations you made before you come to the point of setting up a venue will surely pay off. All of those will make it easier to prepare the place for the auction.

A large number of volunteers will be important when it comes to setting up the place. You will need strong hands to arrange tables and items and make sure they are presentable enough. Generally, tables of items are placed around the walls of the venues so that people can easily move around and browse on the items. Having a spacious space will be advantageous for this setup. Nevertheless, limited space can also work with staff creativity on setting up. People should also be designated to greet the guests, handle the registration, take charge of the additional logistical needs and be in the claim booth for bidding winners.

Step 9: Closing the Silent Auction

Whether it’s a pre-planned or a spontaneous ending, closing the auction is important. When it’s spontaneous, the attendees will keep on bidding as they don’t know when it will come to a close unless you announce it. When it’s pre-planned, countdown timers can be used to encourage last-minute bids.

When it’s time to end the silent auction, bidding sheets should be collected, and the winning bidder for each item should be announced. If a mobile bidding software is used, it will automatically confirm the winning bids.

Step 10: Following Up With Attendees

Don’t forget to follow up your guests. This is a crucial action step as it will help you gain attendees in your future events. You can thank them for their support by sending thank-you notes, saying how their monetary donations will help the organisation in funding your good cause. With this seemingly small act, your donors, sponsors and other attendees may feel valued. This follow up will further strengthen your relationship with them. Also, you should not forget to thank the staff and volunteers who work hard for the event.

Every auction is different. After one is done, consider spending time to evaluate how it went and how it could be improved. You can also ask your attendees to fill out a quick survey to assess your event and help improve future auctions.

Best practices during a silent auction

The above steps are basic knowledge that will help you successfully run a silent auction, whether it’s a small charity event or a black-tie event. Aside from this essential information, below is a compilation of some best practices from different successful organisations to help you get started with planning [3, 6].

Although it’s not a requirement in every auction, having a theme will create excitement among guests. A major holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving can be used as a theme. The event theme can also be aligned to your organisation’s mission.

Silent auction is usually the main event at a fundraiser. However, it can also be paired with award ceremonies, galas, concerts and other shows that can provide entertainment to guests.

A general rule in silent auction is that there should be no more than one item for every two persons in the event. If you have an influx of donated items, don’t put all of them as single items. You can group together low-priced items in a bundle or have bundles in many different price ranges. This will help you get more bids and raise more money.

Auction item sales doesn’t have to be the only source of funds in a silent auction. You can use other strategies to raise more from it because not all of your guests will have won items or placed their bids. Other additional money-making strategies include a live appeal that asks for donations outright, hosting of a raffle or selling of a merchandise.

Not everyone will easily understand auction software unless they are frequently attending such kind of event. Therefore, when using auction software, you have to make sure that it’s comprehensive and it’s the right one. Any guest should be able to use it well for a smooth program flow.

An easy-to-understand auction fundraiser is not just for the benefit of the guests but of the organisers as well. The right software can make the auction process easier to conduct and monitor.

Best silent auction items

Exciting items in silent auctions can create that luxury shopping experience for the guests. How will you know if the items will excite them? Basic knowledge on running silent auction will tell you that you should study your audience so you will know their interest, passion or hobby. In this way, you can focus on finding items that will suit their niche.

However, regardless of the kind of guests you’ll have, there are certain items that sell best in silent actions. Some of these are as follows [11, 15, 16].

  1. Travels or unique experiences: luxury hotel and resort stays, airline gift certificates, private boat cruise, helicopter or hot air balloon ride
  2. Collectibles or autographed memorabilia: antiques, rare baseball cards, signed helmet, jersey or guitar
  3. High-end goods: jewelry, designer bags, paintings, sculptures, high-end kitchen appliances
  4. Music and entertainment: red-hot concert tickets, red carpet award show passes, tickets to popular talk shows, music instrument or vocal lessons
  5. Sports: tickets to championship sports events, golf clubs, opportunity to sit in on a local sports radio show, VIP boxes
  6. Cause-related items: unique items related to the cause or produced by the beneficiaries of the organisation
  7. Technology: computer or coding classes from an expert, new iPhone or iPad, computer or laptop
  8. Good and services from local businesses: financial services consultation, restaurant gift certificates, month of child care from a local centre, private lunch and book reading with a favourite children’s book author
  9. Gift packages of any of the items above
References: [1] “Auction Fundraising and Beyond: The Essential Guide.” Snowball Fundraising, 10 Sept. 2018, snowballfundraising.com/auction-fundraising-beyond-essential-guide. [2] “Silent Auction.” Kindful, kindful.com/nonprofit-glossary/silent-auction. [3] “Silent Auctions: A Guide for Smart Nonprofits [FAQ & Tips].” Snowball Fundraising, 10 Aug. 2020, snowballfundraising.com/silent-auctions. [4] Aquire, Sally. “Step by Step Guide on How to Run a Silent Auction – Donorbox.” Donorbox, 23 Nov. 2020, donorbox.org/nonprofit-blog/silent-auction. [5] “Guest Post: The Do’s and Dont’s of Silent Auctions.” Greater Giving, 26 May 2014, blog.greatergiving.com/guest-post-the-dos-and-donts-of-silent-auctions. [6] “Silent Auction Tips and Tricks.” Scott Robertson Auctioneers, www.thevoe.com/services/silent-auction-tips-and-tricks. [7] “Fundraising Silent Auctions: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Easy.” Clairification, 28 Apr. 2014, clairification.com/2014/04/28/fundraising-silent-auctions-good-bad-ugly-easy. [8] Lauth, Ian. “Should I Host a Live or Silent Auction?” Winspire, blog.winspireme.com/should-i-host-a-live-or-silent-auction. [9] “6 Essential Silent Auction Rules: Host Your Best Auction Yet.” OneCause, www.onecause.com/blog/silent-auction-rules. [10] “How to Run a Silent Auction Fundraiser.” Charity Auctions Today, www.charityauctionstoday.com/p/how-to-run-a-silent-auction-fundraiser. [11] Smith, Todd. “What Everyone Should Know About Auction Items.” Greater Giving, 3 Nov. 2016, blog.greatergiving.com/what-everyone-should-know-about-auction-items. [12] “How to Plan a Silent Auction: Updated Guide [Post-COVID-19].” OneCause, www.onecause.com/blog/silent-auction-planning-guide. [13] Clark, Rachel. “4 Best Practices for Running a Nonprofit Silent Auction.” Bloomerang, 7 Sept. 2016, bloomerang.co/blog/4-best-practices-for-running-a-nonprofit-silent-auction. [14] Merriam, Melissa, and Nicole Taylor. “How to Price Silent Auction Items: 6 Rules to Follow.” OneCause, www.onecause.com/blog/how-to-price-silent-auction-items. [15] Prisco, Lou. “The Ultimate List of 100+ Silent Auction Item Ideas.” Winspire, blog.winspireme.com/the-ultimate-list-silent-auction-item-ideas. [16] Morand, Tatiana. “Silent Auctions Simplified: Tips, Tricks, and Expert Advice.” Wild Apricot, 27 Oct. 2011, www.wildapricot.com/blog/silent-auctions-simplified#of-course-you-want-items-that-sell-well.