Silent auctions are a type of in-person charity auction. During silent auctions, nonprofits raise money by auctioning off items and selling these items to the highest bidder. Bidders can either place their bids by writing them on bid sheets placed next to each item or by using a mobile bidding service that allows them to bid directly from their smartphones.
Silent Auction Formats
What is it?
Mobile bidding is a modern bidding method that has revolutionized the format of the silent auction.
With mobile bidding, guests can view and place bids on items directly from their smartphones.
Many platforms will also send guests text notifications throughout the night, letting them know when they’ve been outbid on the items they’re watching, warning them that bidding is about to close, and providing them with other updates during the auction.
Mobile bidding software should also include other functionalities, like automated bidding, a donation portal for accepting standard monetary donations, social sharing buttons to allow guests to share their bids, and more.
Mobile bidding is a convenient, straightforward fundraising idea to set up, and it’s easy to use. Give it a try!
How do you get set up?
To set up mobile bidding, your organization will need to:
- Find an auction and event planning software vendor that fits your needs and budget.
- Record all information about your items and event in the software platform.
- Generate an event site (a website dedicated to your auction that lists your items and info about your event).
- Prepare the interface (your software should automatically transfer the data recorded on your event site to the mobile bidding interface on the night of your auction).
- Get guests set up by pre-registering their credit cards and explaining how to use the software.
- Open the bidding!
What are they?
Bid sheets are the more traditional silent auction bidding method. A paper format is usually what comes to mind when people think of silent auctions.
Bid sheets are simply pieces of paper placed next to each item that include 10-15 rows where guests can place their bids. Attendees bid by writing their bidder number and the amount they would like to bid on the bid sheet next to the item they want.
Hosting a paper silent auction can be more involved and less lucrative than hosting a silent auction with a mobile bidding format. However, bid sheets are still a perfectly viable option, and many organizations still choose to go the historical route and use them during their silent auctions.
Bonus: Check out OneCause’s Silent Auction Bid Sheets: 5 Challenges and How to Avoid Them to make sure you’re prepared!
How do you get set up?
To prepare your bid sheets, your organization will need to:
- Generate a sheet for each item (many auction and event software platforms will do this for you).
- Include the name of your organization; the item’s name, number, and description; the item’s donor; and the item’s market value, starting bid, and minimum raise amounts on the top of the sheet.
- Pre-fill bid amounts on each bid sheet starting with the starting bid (about 30-50% of the item’s market value). Fill each subsequent row by adding on the minimum raise amount (about 10-15% of the item’s market value. Doing so will make bidding faster and more convenient.
- Place bid sheets next to each item.
How Software Can Help You Run a Silent Auction
Silent auction software allows organizations to automate tasks that simplify key processes. Guests are able to check-in to your event with their mobile phones and pay for their winnings in the same way.
With a process that can be done entirely on a mobile device, the only thing guests will have to do is pick up their items, which can speed up the checkout line and make the experience more convenient for donors.
Traditionally, the donors that can participate in a silent auction have been restricted to those that are close to your event. Since silent auction software allows you to make bids on your mobile phone, making it easy for anyone to join your fundraiser.
Think about it: if a school wanted to raise money with a silent auction, having mobile bidding software allows them to accept bids from alumni located anywhere, not just where the event will take place.
When nonprofits use traditional methods to check guests in and out and collect bids, it’s harder to get a sense for your event’s progress. It could take weeks to compile all the data into a report.
Accepting RSVPs, donations, and bids online means that information is instantly accessible, allowing your team to see your progress in real time. As a result, you’ll be able to make adjustments during the event to help you reach your goals.
Best Silent Auction Software Features
A common feature in silent auction software is the ability to create event pages and registration forms. Organizations should look for a tool that gives you control to customize the design and layout. Having a branded event page and registration form means that donors won’t question the ownership of your forms. That way, donors will feel confident when purchasing tickets for your auction.
Choosing a charity auction platform that’s cloud-based is critical. Cloud-based software can be accessed through a web browser, making your tools easily accessible wherever you have an internet connection. Having access to your data will make it easy to check donors in and out at your event. Plus, every team member will be able to input information to make coordinating tasks simple and more effective.
Mobile bidding should be a component of any silent auction software your organization considers and automated bidding should be included. Essentially, this allows guests to set maximum bid amounts and have the software bid for them. Donors will also get text notifications when they’ve been outbid. This makes it easy for donors to enjoy the rest of the activities at your event and your nonprofit won’t miss out on the highest bid!
Give your guests real-time updates on your fundraising goal with fundraising thermometers and auction scoreboards. With this feature, you’ll be able to showcase the status of popular auction items, stream your fundraising progress on social media, and so much more. These features, will keep guests engaged and encourage them to continue supporting your cause throughout the event.
Recommended Silent Auction Software
Silent Auction Software Overview
OneCause has your event covered from beginning to end. From item procurement management to custom post event thank-you’s, there’s no room for error when you have their solutions on your side.
You can host auctions with mobile bidding options as well as with paper bid sheets, all thanks to OneCause. Plus, with online auctions, your guests can preview auction packages, bid before the event, and purchase fixed price items.
Your organization can even live Tweet your event with OneCause’s twitter scoreboard. When it comes to auction events, there’s nothing your organization can’t do with OneCause!
Silent Auction Software Pricing
OneCause knows one size doesn’t fit all so they offer multiple packages to fit any event. Contact them directly for a quote on their silent auction software.
Silent Auction Software Overview
This online auction software provider realized that nonprofits can include all their donors in their events if they broadcast them online and so their online platform was developed!
All you’ll need to do is enter your contact information, select the right auction plan for your organization, and get started!
With WinningCause, your organization can upload photos and enter in item descriptions, so bidders have a full picture of what they’re bidding on. Plus, creating an online auction is easy with WinningCause because they’ll provide step by step instructions!
Silent Auction Software Pricing
With three different plans, their most popular is the Better Than Free plan, which lets members save 50% of their auction proceeds when it comes to fees and service charges.
Planning a Silent Auction Step by Step
In this section, we’ll take you step by step through planning a silent auction and give you some handy tips that will help you make your auction more profitable and engaging.
Keep on reading to learn more about the entire planning process, or use the chart to the right to jump ahead!
Getting an Auction Team Together
The planning team will be in charge of all of the logistics that go into planning your auction, such as selecting a date, booking the venue, promoting the fundraising event idea, coordinating supplies, etc. This team can be composed of volunteers and staff members, but it should be headed by an auction chair who is part of your staff.
The procurement team will take care of one of the most important jobs of all: soliciting auction item donations for your event! This team can also be made up of staff and volunteers; just make sure that the team has all of the tools they need for asking for donations and a large base of connections to leverage.
You’ll also need a group of volunteers to help you with more general tasks. Volunteers will serve as auction monitors (those who help the emcee oversee the auction), run check-in and check-out, clean up the venue, and carry out any other tasks you might need help with on the day of the auction. Make sure you have enough people to cover everything!
The emcee will host your silent auction and make sure it stays on track. They’ll give a brief auction program at the beginning of the night to welcome guests, make announcements throughout the auction, encourage bidding, and otherwise engage guests. This person should be energetic and enthusiastic.
Choosing a Venue
Booking an appropriate venue is an important part of the silent auction planning process.
The ideal venue will be one that fits the ambience of your event, can accommodate the size of your guest list, and reflects your auction’s theme (if possible). Additionally, with silent auctions, it’s crucial to find a venue with plenty of open space, so you can properly display all of your items.
We’ve listed out some popular auction venues on the right. However, this list is certainly not exhaustive; many locations can make excellent silent auction venues. Get creative!
Procuring Auction Items
Choosing the most sought-after and profitable items for your auction takes a thoughtful approach.
The auction items that tend to receive the most bids will appeal to your guests’ interests, fall within their budgets, and provide them with something rare or one-of-a-kind that they can’t purchase anywhere else.
In this section, we’ve listed out a few popular ideas by category to help inspire the procurement process!
Bonus: Check out OneCause’s Top 5 Silent Auction Donations to help you host your most stellar auction event yet!
- Exotic getaway
- Weekend in a beach house or mountain cabin
- City helicopter tour
- Private river cruise
- Awards show passes
- VIP concert tickets
- Dinner with a celebrity
- Museum membership
- Birthday visit from a favorite character
- Custom-built treehouse
- Professional family photos
- Amusement park season passes
- Personal training sessions
- Season tickets for a professional sports team
- Golf lessons
- Complete home gym
Putting Together an Auction Catalog
To see the biggest turnout at your event and to maximize your bid potential, your organization should promote both your auction items and the silent auction itself leading up to the event. It’s important to showcase your items in event promotions, because more people will be motivated to attend if they see something they’d like to walk home with!
The most effective way to promote your auction and items is by setting up an online event site, which serves as a digital auction catalog. By creating an auction catalog online, you’ll cut out printing costs and be able to update your site continuously as new items come in, allowing you to start promoting earlier and increasing your visibility.
Additionally, by using an online event site, you can open up online bidding before or after your silent auction to receive even more bids, if you so choose. In this section, we’ll take you step by step through creating an auction catalog by setting up an online event site!
Creating a Silent Auction Display
The first step to setting up your display will be laying out tables around the venue to display your items. You’ll need enough tables to accommodate all items.
Seeing as your organization likely has dozens, if not hundreds, of items to display, your venue can quickly become filled up before you even set up the other supplies and stations you might need.
Because display tables can crowd up your space, it’s important to arrange them in a way that’s conducive to good traffic flow. In particular, avoid U-shaped set-ups that can quickly create traffic jams when people are boxed in on three sides.
Additionally, you should place signs around your display to help bidders find the items they want more readily. The more easily navigable your display is, the more browsing and bids you’ll see!
To make your display more intuitive and browsable, you should group items by category and display items in the same category together.
Displaying your items by category will make it much easier for your auction team to stay organized. When there’s a logical order to your display, they’ll be able to set up the venue, retrieve items, and distribute them to the correct winners at the end of the night more easily.
Not to mention, grouping items by category also helps your bidders navigate your display. If your guests come looking for certain items, it will be much easier for them to locate those items and bid on them!
In other words, this display best practice will streamline your auction execution and result in more bid activity on your items.
For your items to receive the most bids, it’s important that your guests are able to view them clearly. People are far more likely to spend money on an item when they can see its full value.
To increase the visibility of your items, only place one row of items on each table. With this layout, no items will obscure the visibility of other items, and all of your auction items will be able to shine in their full glory.
It’s all too common for organizations to face the problem of having limited space in the venue, but you should try as hard as possible to keep items to one row. If your organization runs into this difficulty, get creative to see if you can fit in more tables or package similar items.
If you do end up having to double up rows of items, make sure to place your biggest sellers in the front!
Using table tents is another way to make your silent auction display more intuitive for your bidders and to help your items appear more valuable.
You should create a table tent for each item that lists out the item’s name, number, description (including restrictions), retail value, starting bid, and minimum raise amount. Make sure to place each tent by its respective item as you’re setting up your display.
Not only do table tents help your guests when it comes to following the rules for bidding, but they’ll also give each item more context. When guests see how much the item is worth on the market and all of the components that the item includes, it’s sure to increase that item’s desirability.
And you know what that means—more bids!
Following Up After the Auction
Your auction would never have been such a success without the contributions of your guests, volunteers, item donors, and corporate sponsors. Make sure to send a thoughtful and personalized thank you note to each pivotal contributor within a week after your silent auction. When they know how much you value their support, they’ll be much more likely to participate next year!
If your organization used auction software to help plan your silent auction, you’ll want to take full advantage of it. Run reports on your auction items, guests, and the overall event to gain more thorough insights into which aspects of your event were most successful and which left some room for improvement. That way, you can hone your strategies and make next year’s auction even better!
Another way to evaluate the success of your auction is by asking for feedback from the people who participated (aka your guests!). Send out an email blast that includes the link to an interactive survey and ask your guests to share their opinions (positive and negative) about your auction. You’ll want to send out this email shortly after your silent auction is over, while the event is still fresh on your supporters’ minds.
Bringing Your Silent Auction to the Next Level
You already have the tools you need to plan a successful silent auction, but that doesn’t mean your auction couldn’t be even better!
In this section, we’ll give you some tips to help you bring your auction to the next level, so you’ll raise more funds and leave the event with a more invested donor base.
Read through the section to learn about all of these helpful tips, or use the chart to the right to jump to whichever one strikes your fancy.
Bonus: Check out these 5 silent auction rules for smooth sailing!
The Benefits of Mobile Bidding
With mobile bidding, guests no longer have to write out their name, bidder number, and desired bid amount every time they want to place a bid.
Instead, bidders can simply access the software from their smartphone and place bids with just a couple of clicks from anywhere in the venue! Some services even allow bidders to set a maximum bid amount on certain items so that the software will bid for them.
Because mobile bidding is so convenient, it helps organizations secure 3x more bids on average than they would when running a paper auction.
Mobile bidding alleviates one of the biggest hassles that nonprofits face when running traditional paper auctions: item check-out.
Before, organizations had to close down items by each category, collect bid sheets, manually determine winners, and then take the winners’ payments. Furthermore, the winners had to wait in a long checkout line, which didn’t provide a very positive event experience.
Because guests pre-register their credit cards and winners are automatically determined and charged, mobile bidding has simplified this process significantly. Now all that needs to be done is to distribute items to winners.
Both your auction team and your guests will leave the auction happier!
Since all bidding is done online through mobile bidding, your silent auction will no longer be restricted by geography.
That means that supporters near and far (but mostly far!) can participate in your silent auction from wherever they may be. They don’t even need to attend the event! (Although you should still encourage attendance from supporters who live in your area, of course.)
Obviously, having more people participate in your auction should result in more bids. The more participants, the more potential funding you could receive!
By using mobile bidding, your organization can leave bidding open for longer to maximize your bids.
Since the software prevents your staff from having to deal with involved, end-of-night logistics, you can leave the actual bidding portion of your silent auction open for longer than you could with paper bid sheets, which require a complicated checkout process.
Additionally, since guests can view items from their phones, you can start taking down your display earlier while still leaving bidding open. After a long day, your staff will appreciate an earlier night!
Either way, don’t forget to carefully plan your check-out process!
Common Silent Auction Problems—Resolved!
Your auction items outnumber the bidders.
Sometimes, in the excitement of soliciting auction items, organizations inadvertently procure more items than they have bidders to bid on them!
This scenario is not ideal. By featuring more items than bidders, you create a buyer’s market that’s more favorable for your attendees than it is for your organization, limiting the amount of bids on each item and reducing the size of the bids you do receive.
If your organization runs into this issue, you can resolve it on one of two ways:
- Host an online auction. Using your online event site, you can hold an online auction either before or after your event. That way, during the silent auction itself, you’ll have a more favorable ratio.
- Package your items. If you have a bunch of smaller ticket items (say, gift cards) that are related in some way, you can group them into packages and auction them off together.
Aim for a ratio of 1 item for every 2 guests. That way, guests still have plenty of items to choose from, but there will also still be competition for items.
Two identical items are up for auction.
It’s often the case that organizations will receive duplicate items, either given by the same donor or two different donors. Since these items fall into the same category, the organization will display them together.
While displaying both items is the respectful thing to do (after all, they were kindly contributed by your donors!), this scenario can be problematic. If bidders want the item, they’ll keep tabs on both and only bid on the one that has the lower current bid, hurting your profits.
How you address this problem will depend on whether or not you received the items from the same donor or different donors:
- If you received the items from the same donor, display one and hide the other. Once the auction is over, approach the second highest bidder and let them know that you have an identical item that’s still available for purchase if they’re willing to pay the same amount as the winning bidder. They’ll almost always say yes.
- If you received the items from different donors, display both. You don’t want to create any hard feelings or leave a donor wondering if you even received the item in the first place. However, you should display the duplicate items apart from each other so that the competition isn’t as evident.
Just remember—it’s always more important to value your donors than it is to receive slightly higher bids!
People are trying to sneak in bids after an item has closed.
Bidding is a fun and competitive activity, and it’s easy for people to get fired up. Some supporters might take the competition so seriously that they resort to cheating the system and sneak in 11th-hour bids after the auction has closed.
When this happens, it can be difficult to determine the true winners, which (rightfully) leads to hard feelings among those donors who’ve been playing fairly the entire time.
How you approach solving this problem will differ depending on the format of your silent auction. If you’re using…
- Mobile bidding. You won’t have to worry. The software will shut down bidding at the set time and won’t accept bids that are submitted after the auction has been closed.
- Bid sheets. Shut down item categories in 5-10 minute increments, so your volunteers can more closely monitor item closing. Once the emcee announces that a station will close, have your volunteers immediately grab bid sheets and pens from the table, then circle the winning bid in ink.
You can also be proactive about preventing this problem by ensuring that guests are clear on bidding rules from the outset.
The auction is about to close, and some items haven’t received bids.
With all of the thought and planning that went into the procurement process, of course your organization would like to believe that all of the items featured in your auction will receive bids.
However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes some items might not have any bids, even up until when the auction closes.
If it’s time for your silent auction to close and some items still have yet to receive bids, do not, under any circumstances mark down item prices. Not only does marking down last-minute put it into supporters minds that your auction is a place to hunt for bargains (which is bad for next year), but it can also leave item donors feeling like your organization doesn’t properly value the items they’ve donated.
Instead, try these two solutions:
- Be proactive. If you expect that an item won’t receive as much bid activity, start it at a lower bid amount to motivate initial bid activity.
- Host an online auction after your event. If you have items left over, you can open up online bidding on your event site and feature these items in an online auction after your in-person event.
Don’t worry—you’ll sell those items one way or another!
How to Incorporate Silent Auctions into a Crowdfunding Campaign
Silent Auction Additional Resources
Donation Requests: Companies that Donate
Interested in requesting major corporate support? Could your organization benefit from monetary and in-kind donations?
Lucky for you, we’ve broken down nearly 100 major corporations that give back to nonprofits just like yours. Check out these top companies to see how they can help your organization further your cause!
Top Charity Auction Fundraising Tools
Are you looking to raise more money at your silent auctions? Maybe you need some help getting yourself organized! There are software providers to help you with everything you’ll need.
Take a look a Double the Donation’s top charity auction tools to bring your auction event to the next level and give your donors an experience to remember.
Silent Auction Planning Guide
If you’re interested in hosting a silent auction but don’t know where to begin, this is the perfect resource for you!
From the basics like why should host a silent auction to details like which events to host it in conjunction with to necessities like which items to procure, OneCause’s guide has everything covered.