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Silent Auctions: Running a Successful Fundraising Event!

Whether you’re running your first silent auction or you’re a silent auction pro already, we have the resources to help you manage and improve every step of the process.

Silent Auction Guidelines and Etiquette for Running Your Charity or School Fundraising Auction

Maybe you’ve held silent auctions for years but aren’t caught up on the latest auction management software. Maybe you are looking to host your first event, but aren't sure where to start. Or perhaps you’re trying to get better item donations, bigger sponsorships, and raise more money.

No matter your starting point, you’ll find new skills and ideas to add to your toolkit in this detailed resource.

Silent Auction Best Practices

Even a seasoned silent auction professional can improve the efficiency of their event and raise more money. The world of fundraising changes every day, and so do silent auction best practices. New technology becomes available. Old ideas are challenged and re-invented. We pick up new tips and tricks from our own clients every day so the entire nonprofit community can benefit. We are happy to share this information with fundraisers like you to keep you informed and up-to-date in areas you may not have access to. If you aren't subscribed to our monthly resource digest—please  subscribe now to get all things fundraising delivered direct to your inbox.

An Entertaining and Profitable Auction

A happy guest spends money, bids high, and returns next year which begs the  consideration of guest experience at your next event. We offer tried-and-true techniques for giving your guests the best fundraising event experience possible—how to establish a clear flow at your event, design a program that isn’t too slow or too fast, and get guests through check-in and check-out with minimal wait times.

Silent Auction Planning and Preparation Leads to Success

Success doesn’t hinge on event night alone—good preparation paves the way for a better, more profitable auction and that is why  rehearsals are key to event success. While running a great event can take some trial and error, we’re here to help reduce the “error” and address common problems before they happen. And don’t forget the importance of a postmortem to  craft a post-event case study to share with next year's potential guests and shed light on where you can improve future events!
Auction Planner Download

A Must Have for All Fundraisers!


Everything you need to make your next fundraising event your best event! We're divulging knowledge and experience gained from tens of thousands of events in one, easy to follow guide!  Download Your Silent Auction Guide

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Best Practices for Running a Successful Silent Auction

So What is a Silent Auction, Anyway?

A charity silent auction is a great addition to any nonprofit fundraising event or gala. Silent bidding at an auction can go on in the background while guests enjoy socializing, eating, even participating in other fundraising activities, so your nonprofit makes more money in the same amount of time.

Silent auctions are typically one aspect of a nonprofit organization fundraising event. Auction items or packages are displayed and are eligible for guests to bid on—there can be a handful of items up to hundreds of items depending on the event, size, audience and donations received. They have a specific start and end time and the highest bidder on each item when the auction ends is considered the winner. Bidding usually starts with a minimum and will increase in designated increments ( $5, $25, $100, etc. ).

Additionally, these fundraisers can be setup for manual or online bid entry. Manual entry will have a paper bid sheet next to the item with all the designated increments listed. Each bidder will write their bid number on the next available line to increase the bid and take the lead. With an online silent auction product, all items, increments, timing and bidding takes place from a mobile phone, tablet or other internet connected device. Online silent auctions maintain all bids, and can send digital messaging to donors that have been outbid. Check-out is much simpler with a digital product because all winning bids are already entered in the fundraising event software.

How to Run a Silent Auction

Bid items usually features art, leisure items, and gifts or activities at a reasonable price. Guests browse while enjoying a social hour, and if they find something they like, they can place silent bids in the auction. Typically a bid is written on a paper bid sheet, which includes the guest’s bid number and how much money they want to bid. Each new bid must be higher than the previous one, encouraging friendly competition among bidders—and raising more money! When the auction ends, bid sheets are collected and the winners are determined by who placed the highest bid.

What’s In Your Auction?

Probably the most important part of the  silent auction: auction items! The amount raised depends completely on having enough items for guests to bid on. So how do you procure them? Create an item procurement plan in the months leading up to your event to ensure you give donors enough notice—and yourself enough time to package them.

Venue and Set Up

You’ll also need a venue space that can comfortably accommodate your guests and allow a natural flow of movement through the auction. Plan a program for the night that gives guests the most time possible to bid on items, without waiting too long to declare the winners. Organize your check-in, check-out, and item pickup in a way that will  minimize guest confusion.

Silent Auction Etiquette

Whether you’re running a big black-tie gala event, a small charity event, or even a school auction, everyone needs to know some etiquette. Don’t know how to handle pricing? Ever heard of a super silent auction? When is the best time to close the auction for bidding? How should you divide up auction items and position them around the room? These are important questions to answer before you design your program and the  strategic fundraising event layout of your room.

The History of the Silent Auction

The “silent” auction is simply a variant of the traditional live auction—the one we all associate with fast-talking auctioneers, where guests bid by raising a paddle. The principle is the same: the item begins at a set “minimum” price, going up as interested parties make higher and higher bids—except the bids are made on paper, making it a “silent” auction.  Learn More

Silent Auction Signage

Include Clear Instructions for Guests

Remember, not everyone has attended a fundraising event before. Include a sign or information placard with complete instructions for how to participate, so no guest has to feel silly and ask. Assign plenty of volunteers to the item display area to help answer questions as they arise and keep things running smoothly. Consider emailing an FAQ out to registered guests before the event (along with a preview of your most anticipated items!) so they can plan their bidding strategy ahead of time.  Learn More

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Save Time & Money with Silent Auction Software

The High-Tech Event

Technology has made so many aspects of our lives easier, and is now an important part of nonprofit fundraising as well. While online silent auctions had been around for almost two decades, only recently were silent auction apps and web interfaces finally developed for charity. Now many technological solutions are available to help run your auction! Online auctions allow people from anywhere in the world to participate in an auction without being present.

With  silent auction software and  online bidding apps, every stage of the auction can be automated or done by guests on their own devices.

Get a Revenue Boost with Mobile Bidding

Every year, more organizations switch to using mobile bidding by smart phone and tablet at nonprofit events. No more manually entering every transaction and printing reams of receipts, because silent auction apps or web interfaces streamline bidding and checkout for everyone.

With mobile bidding, guests are no longer tied to the paper bid sheet, and can continue that bidding war while they eat dinner or watch the entertainment. With an app, there’s no more confusion with  “buy it now” bids, and guests can set a maximum bid so the app automatically bids for them—driving up those final sale prices!

Online Silent Auctions Open Bidding to the World

With the traditional paper auction, participation was limited to whoever was physically present at the event. But  online silent auction sites have changed the game, allowing anyone—anywhere!—to participate and bid.

Online-only auctions can save money on venues, auctioneers and catering, and are perfect for off-season fundraising. If you want to integrate an online auction with your live event, many online silent auction apps also allow you to bring those online bids to an in-person auction for even higher final sales.

Silent Auction Software Saves Time

Software has come a long way in recent years, and revolutionized the way we run auctions. Many  event management software packages now allow users to access an online silent auction interface from anywhere, so you’re no longer tied to the office for data entry.

Most importantly, silent auction software automates many of the tedious tasks involved in preparing for an auction, freeing you up to focus on donors, guests, and fundraising.

Sell Your Tickets Online

Now many auction software packages include  online ticket sales, so guests can register themselves automatically through your auction website and pay securely with a credit card.

Capitalize on your guests’ trust in your organization by branding your ticket website like your home page. After selling tickets, transfer your guest names and ticket purchases to your fundraising event software—so now you can automatically generate guest lists, table lists, and more without all the manual data entry.
Silent Auction: Save time and money with silent auction software

Save Time & Money with Silent Auction Software

Silent Auction: Bid Sheet for Womens Fitness Bag

The Traditional Pen-and-Paper Auction

The traditional pen-and-paper auction is just as effective and reliable as ever, and remains widely used in the nonprofit world. Your auction software should support paper silent auctions, and automatically print bid sheets based on your catalog information along with bid step information you enter.  Learn More

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Auction Item Procurement is a Team Effort

Procurement Volunteers

We can’t overstate how important volunteers are to any auction event! So how do you find and recruit volunteers—and then keep them from year to year?

Don’t overlook these important tips and ideas for building a volunteer team. To carry out a fundraising event, you’ll need a  well-rounded group of volunteers able to solicit donations, speak with donors, set up the auction and work on event night.

Remember that volunteers represent your organization, so train them well and support them whenever possible! Be sure to show them how much you appreciate their work, and they’ll come back year after year.

Auction Sponsors

 Sponsors are the backbone of nonprofit fundraising—but if you struggle with finding local businesses willing to sponsor your event, don’t lose hope! Start small by asking around, and profiling local businesses that donate to fundraising events.

Practice pitching your organization’s mission, and focus on companies that share your values. Start small by soliciting companies for silent auction item donations, and be sure to maintain contact throughout the year, even when you’re not asking for something. Sponsor relationships need nurturing to bloom.

Auction Item Donors

Start out your auction item  donor search with a “wish list”: which items would most appeal to your group—and who could you approach to solicit that donation? Ask other nonprofits about local companies that donate to fundraising events, and approach businesses that have the auction items needed.

Item solicitations work best when you’ve already built a rapport with a donor, so be sure to nurture your donor relationships and reach out to them even when you aren’t asking for donations. And always make sure to thank your silent auction item donors after the event!


Turning Auction Items into Revenue

Finding Auction Items that Sell

Every nonprofit has a unique audience. For example: Those who donate to animal shelters are often animal lovers, making pet-related items a hot commodity! Identify your audience, then  design auction packages that will appeal to them.

“Packages” are groups or baskets of individual items that create a complete experience, such as pairing a cooking class with wine and a selection of high-end ingredients. Packages are also a great way to use items that aren’t big or valuable enough to sell alone.

Seeking out companies that donate auction items and asking specifically for what you need is always more effective—and nets better quality items—than just asking for whatever they have lying around.

Know Your Item Donor Base

Of course, not every organization has the privilege of picking and choosing—sometimes you have to take what you can get. A small school auction might send out procurement letters to all parents and grandparents, casting a wide net for items needed. A black-tie gala auction might be more likely to seek out a high-end spa package or signed sports memorabilia.

Keep an ongoing list of companies that donate auction items, and check back with them throughout the year to nurture those relationships.

Games and Silent Auction Prizes

Auction games are an extremely fun and easy way to increase your fundraising revenue every year. Guests pay to participate and get a chance to win something exciting. Even guests who can’t afford to bid on an auction item can usually  play games, so everyone gets to be involved.

Items that might not sell on their own, or don’t fit anywhere else, make great silent auction prizes. Auction games provide guests with an entertaining, engaging experience, so that you raise more money!

More Resources

Auction Games for Silent Auctions

Add More Excitement to Your Event

Auction Games: Boost your fundraising revenue!

Adding auction games and raffles won’t replace your auction income, but they will add to your bottom line. Adding variety and fun to your event will help entertain your guests and lighten the mood before going into your live event.  Download Your Copy


Build an Audience to Maximize Your in Event Donors

Marketing and Advertising Your Event

It isn’t a fundraising event until you have guests to attend and bid on your fantastic auction items. But how do you get the word out about your event? Even if it’s basic, every nonprofit should have a thought-out marketing and advertising plan. And, with so many wonderful, free resources available online, you don’t need be a marketing professional or have a big budget to put together a campaign that gets results! Brainstorm with people passionate and knowledgeable about the mission, and find ideas and messaging that will inspire guests to attend the event and support your nonprofit.

Write to the Mission

The best way to advertise yourself is to talk about your cause and the good you do in the community. What critical need does your organization fill? Lean on the urgency of filling that need in your fundraising event advertisements, and be sure to  spotlight your positive impact on the community. Focus your marketing communications on your mission and what makes it unique. Use your passion for the cause to inspire people to get involved!

Messaging and Action

Be extremely clear in all your signs and flyers what it is you’re asking people to do. Once you’ve captured their interest with the importance of your organization’s work, follow through with the ask: "Buy a ticket to our event, and support what we do!” And even more compelling—what’s the tangible, positive effect of that support? Use messaging that focuses on specific benefits, so prospective attendees know exactly what effect their purchase will have. For example: “One pair of tickets to our event feeds five more pets in our shelter!” If your event will feature state-of-the-art technology such as mobile bidding, use that to sell the ease and convenience of your silent auction.

Silent Auction Images in Your Own Backyard

If you can’t find the right clipart for free, consider using images from your organization’s own projects and successes in your marketing strategy. Send someone along with volunteers out in the field to photograph and document the wonderful work they do, and those they help. Beautiful, clear  photos that showcase the positive impact of your organization and the individuals who benefit from your work are much more evocative than clip art, and more likely to bring in new supporters.

The Power of Video

Documenting your organization’s work is also a great opportunity to record inspirational videos—for advertisements, and for  use at your event to inspire generosity and giving. They can become TV spots, entertainment during dinner, or part of a full promotional package in a press release. While images are great, video is even more effective at pushing potential supporters to action!
Auction Planner Download

A Must Have for All Fundraisers!


Everything you need to make your next fundraising event your best event! We're divulging knowledge and experience gained from tens of thousands of events in one, easy to follow guide!  Download Your Silent Auction Guide

More Resources

Free Fundraising Resources


Create an Atmosphere that encourages Bidding

Silent Auction Necessities

A lot more goes into a successful fundraising event besides procuring auction items. Carefully  craft a schedule of events for the night, design a layout that gives guests space to bid, and foster a welcoming atmosphere with clear signage that makes it easy for guests to find what they need.

Food, Drinks, and Catering

A great guest experience usually includes some form of  food and beverage service.
Short events may only need hors d’oeuvres, but if your event is more than one or two hours long, consider providing a full meal so guests can stay longer and bid higher. Adding mobile bidding to your silent auction allows guests to continue bidding even while they eat in another room.


A cocktail and social hour is a great addition to a silent auction,  keeping guests entertained while they browse and bid on items. Live music adds a fun atmosphere and ambiance. An emcee can keep the audience in the mood to give, and corral them through the program on time. Use any photos and footage you have of your organization’s work to create a moving and inspirational video that spotlights your core mission.

Your auction is intended to raise money for a cause, so your entertainment should keep giving at the forefront throughout your event.


The Optimal Room Layout will Improve the Donor Experience and Bidding

Silent Auction Set Up

Attending a fundraising event is an experience—and guests will only participate and return next year if they have a good time. Your  silent auction layout should make it obvious and intuitive to find important landmarks such as registration, the package display room, bathrooms, the dining room, checkout and item pickup.

Leave plenty of space between package display tables for guests to look, bid, and move past to other areas of the room without crowding. Events that are disorganized, cramped, or have long lines can be stressful for guests, and won’t foster the fun, charitable mood that encourages giving.

Event Registration

They say first impressions are the most important, and an event check-in line can set the tone for the rest of the event.  If registering for the silent auction is simple and moves quickly, guests can get inside and start bidding right away.

But a busy check-in line with long wait times can frustrate and annoy guests before they even walk inside. Attendees want to have a cocktail, socialize, and browse the auction packages—not wait in line!

No More Waiting in the Check-in Line!

At some of the best fundraising events, guests simply have to pick up their bid paddles when they arrive. The more registration details you can handle before the event starts, the less guests (and volunteers) will have to do at registration—and the faster the line moves.

Many silent auction software packages offer online ticket sales and credit card registration, so guest data is already in the system and doesn’t have to be gathered at the registration table. Using mobile bidding can even eliminate check-in lines further!

VIPs and VIP lines

Some nonprofit organizations like to use separate  VIP lines from regular guest check-in, so sponsors and their guests can get appropriate treatment from a staff member who knows the guest list.

This is especially important when many sponsor guests are still unknowns, and have to be registered and added to the guest list manually.

Event Volunteers

Create  teams of silent auction volunteers to set up each part of the auction—registration, auction items, tables and chairs, and any signage or decorations. Make sure all staff and volunteers know in advance which team they’re on, their responsibilities, and their timeline.

Event Signage

One of the easiest ways to improve the flow of movement through your event is to guide guests with large, clear signage.

Indicate at the entrance to your venue where to find registration—it should be able to catch all guests before they enter the event. During dinner, remove signage for registration, and add indicators for  Item Pickup and Checkout. Place signs where all guests will see them, and position volunteers nearby who can help direct and answer questions.

Emcees and Scheduled Programming

Make sure you have a way to  communicate with guests throughout your venue, whether through a PA system or volunteers. Announce silent auction closings before they happen so guests anywhere in the venue can return to the room to place their final bids. It’s a good idea to hire an emcee to relay the event schedule to guests, announce speakers, and encourage a fun, playful atmosphere.
Auction Planner Download

A Must Have for All Fundraisers!


Everything you need to make your next fundraising event your best event! We're divulging knowledge and experience gained from tens of thousands of events in one, easy to follow guide!  Download Your Silent Auction Guide

More Resources

The Ultimate Event Day Checklist

Silent Auction: Event Day Checklist

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