Silent Auctions: A How-To Guide For Raising More Money

If your organization is thinking about hosting a fundraising event in the near future, consider the silent auction.

Silent auctions have been a staple of event fundraising for years, and for good reason. They’re highly engaging events that require plenty of audience participation and have the potential to help organizations raise a lot of money.

You can increase that fundraising potential by implementing a few key strategies and tools throughout the silent auction planning process.

In this article, we’ll cover some of these strategies to get you on your way to silent auction success. Here’s what we’ll look into:

  1. Procure the most desirable items.
  2. Promote items in advance.
  3. Secure corporate sponsorships.
  4. Choose the right bidding method.
  5. Make a live appeal.

By the time we’re done, you should be well-equipped to maximize your silent auction profits. Now, let’s get started!

1. Procure the most desirable items.

Procure the most desirable items

When hosting a silent auction, your organization will be doing most of the fundraising by selling auction items to the bidders who placed the highest bids.

In order to spur as much bid activity as possible, you should be choosing the auction items you offer strategically.

You’ll want to select the items that your attendees will find most desirable. That means not only finding items that appeal to your supporters’ interests, but also finding items that:

  • Are priced appropriately. Donors must have the financial capability to bid on your auction items, or else they’re not going to participate.
  • Offer something rare or unique. The most competitive items (those that spark the highest number of bids) tend to be those that attendees can’t come by easily or, better yet, can’t find anywhere else.

If you need a few ideas to help you get your creative juices flowing, BidPal has laid out 115 unique and profitable item ideas for you.

While some items have universal appeal, zeroing in on the right items for your base will likely require conducting some research.

If you’ve never hosted a silent auction before, turn to your donor database. By analyzing your donor data, you should be able to glean some insights into your donors’ interests and average giving capacity.

If you have hosted a silent auction before and you used auction software, look back on the data you’ve collected during previous years.

You should be able to run a wide variety of reports on your items to see which performed best and which might not have been so hot with your attendees.

In summary: Silent auction fundraising revolves around the bidding. To receive the most bids, be thoughtful about choosing the items that will be most desirable to your attendees.

2. Promote items in advance.

Providing the most attractive auction items is only half of the equation.

In order to help those items perform to their full potential, your organization will need to promote them in advance.

The best way to advertise your items (and your event more generally) is to set up an online event site.

Promoting your auction online will provide your organization with a few benefits:

  1. You can start promoting earlier. Instead of having to wait until you’ve procured all of your items to compile and print a physical catalog, your organization can continuously update an event site as new items come in. That means you can start promoting your items earlier to gain more visibility.
  2. You’ll stretch your resources farther. Promoting your auction items and event online saves you time and money, since you won’t have to budget for printing costs. It’s also more environmentally friendly!
  3. You can open bidding in advance. Online event sites can also serve as online auction venues. Your organization can open up online bidding on your items before your silent auction to receive even more bids.

In order to set up an event site, your organization will need to enlist the help of auction and event planning software.

Through this software, you can record information about your auction items and event and then use this data to generate an event site.

To share your site with bidders and start promoting, all you need to do is include the link in emails and in other outreach about your event.

So, why is this strategy important?

Well, your auction items can be incredibly incentivizing! If prospective attendees spot something they want, they’ll be enticed to buy tickets and participate in your event.

In summary: Advertising your auction items to attendees in advance can result in a bigger turnout at your silent auction and more bid activity. Cut costs and increase your fundraising potential even more by using an online event site to promote your items.

Bonus: Check out GrantSpace’s tips for building a strong events page.

3. Secure corporate sponsorships.

Secure Corporate Sponsorships

While silent auctions can be highly lucrative, unfortunately, that also means they can be relatively complex and expensive to plan.

That’s why many organizations turn to corporate sponsors to help them carry some of the weight that comes with planning their auctions. By enlisting the help of sponsors, nonprofits can cut expenses to see a higher ROI from their events.

Corporate sponsors can ally with your nonprofit and help you out by:

  • Donating auction items or other supplies for your event.
  • Providing financial assistance with event costs.
  • Helping you promote your auction to bring it more visibility.

In return, your organization will advertise your sponsors on your event site, throughout your program, and in the venue itself. You’ll also be providing sponsors with the positive reputation boost that comes with supporting a good cause!

Finding corporate sponsors is all about leveraging the relationships your organization has already established.

If you already have corporate partners, asking them for a sponsorship is the best place to start. If you don’t, look into your staff members’, board members’, and donors’ professional relationships to see which connections you might be able to draw on.

Of course, identifying the best corporate sponsors for your event also takes finding some common ground.

You’re much more likely to score valuable sponsorships from those companies who hold similar interests and values to your own.

In summary: By relying on corporate sponsors to help cover some of the costs of your silent auction, your organization can make a better return on your event.

4. Choose the right bidding method.

Choose the right bidding method

When most people think of silent auctions, bid sheets are the first things that come to mind. After all, silent auctions have revolved around a bid sheet format since their conception!

However, just as with many other fundraising methods, silent auction bidding has evolved for the modern times.

Now, many organizations are switching to a mobile bidding method that can help them secure more donations at their silent auctions.

Mobile bidding is just what it sounds like: allowing donors to view and bid on auction items directly from their phones.

There are a few major advantages that come with using it:

  1. It’s more convenient. Instead of having to handwrite their bids and camp by the items they’re watching to make sure they’re not outbid, attendees can bid and monitor their items right from their smartphones. They’ll even receive a text message notifying them when their bids have been topped. Because it’s so convenient, mobile bidding results in about 3x as much bid activity!
  2. It makes your event execution easier. Mobile bidding eliminates the need for a complicated checkout process, as attendees pre-register their credit cards and winners are automatically charged once the bidding has closed. That also means attendees won’t have to wait in a long checkout line at the end of the night. A positive event experience will result in a better turnout next year!
  3. You can leave items open for longer. Because you won’t have to handle a complicated checkout process and donors can view items from their phones, your organization can keep bidding open for as long as possible to maximize your fundraising potential. Plus, you can start breaking down your setup before the auction is even over!
  4. People can bid from anywhere. With mobile bidding, your organization won’t be limited by location. Since they can bid online over their phones, even supporters who can’t attend the event in person can still participate in your silent auction.

As you can see, mobile bidding can increase the funds you raise from your silent auction in a number of ways.

Although it can be daunting to try out new technology, your organization should definitely consider looking into it for your next silent auction!

In summary: Mobile bidding can help you raise more from your auction because it makes bidding more convenient, streamlines event checkout, and allows you to open up your silent auction to a wider group of participants for longer.

5. Make a live appeal.

Make a live appeal

Not all people who attend auctions will participate in the bidding. It can even be the case that not all attendees pay for their tickets.

As such, it’s a good idea for your organization to provide your silent auction attendees with other ways to contribute.

One way to supplement the funds you raise from bidding is by making a live appeal, which is simply an in-person request for donations. After all, the best way to get what you need is simply to ask for it!

To pull this strategy off, someone from your organization will take the mic at some point during the event, typically right after the auction closes, and ask that supporters make monetary donations to help you reach a fundraising goal.

Make sure that you set a clearly defined and realistic goal and that you provide donors with a specific reason as to why you’re requesting donations. The more clearly they’re able to envision the results of their donations, the more likely they’ll be to give.

If you’re using mobile bidding, attendees can submit their donations right from the platform. If you’re hosting a paper auction, you can either use a standard text-to-give service or collect paper pledge cards.

Another way to make this strategy more effective is by projecting a fundraising thermometer. These tools update in real-time as donors submit their gifts, so they can more clearly visualize how they’re making progress toward your goal.

Fundraising thermometers help make your event a fun challenge to donors. When attendees see their peers donating and realize how close they are to hitting the goal, they won’t want to let you down!

In summary, a live appeal provides your silent auction attendees with another way to contribute aside from bidding.

For more tips on how to make your silent auction more profitable, make sure to check out BidPal’s comprehensive guide to planning a silent auction.

Image of Karrie Wozniak

KARRIE WOZNIAK is an expert on mobile fundraising. She is Vice President of Sales & Marketing at BidPal, the leading mobile fundraising software company that helps nonprofits engage more donors and raise more money. Since 2008, BidPal has helped nearly 2,800 organizations raise more than $1 billion and connect with over one million unique donors.