Fundraising Tips: How to Get The Most From Your Silent Auction

silent auction tipsIf you’re hosting a fundraiser, chances are you’ll have a silent auction. Silent auctions are a great way to raise money, and you can get a lot of unique donations to put up for auction. But success (as in maximum dollars raised) is no accident. These silent auction tips will help you get the most from yours.

Start Planning Your Auction Early

This is the hallmark of any successful event, but there are specific reasons to start planning your silent auction well in advance.

  • Companies usually set an annual donations budget. If you miss the cut-off, you’ll be out of luck till next year. Be sure to keep track of this vital piece of information in your donor records.
  • Contacting a company early in their budget cycle can sometimes boost your chances of getting a higher-value donation than you’d receive when money is running low.
  • You want only quality items for your auction. That doesn’t necessarily mean super-expensive, but items must be highly desirable and have a high enough value to enable competitive bidding. You get quality donations by targeting donation requests. (Never vaguely ask for “something,” because you will wind up with ho-hum items or white elephants no one will bid on.) Starting early allows time to consider your audience and the kinds of silent auction items that will inspire them to bid, bid, bid. Not sure? Ask regular attendees!

As you’re developing your list of targeted donations, remember two things:

  • Millennials aren’t the only ones looking for experiences rather than “stuff.” People will bid more for experiential silent auction items because they are one-of-a-kind, often not accessible any other way. Wouldn’t you pay more for a dinner for six cooked in your own home by a well-known local chef than dinner out at a nice restaurant you can go to any time?
  • Bundling items into a snazzier package can generate more revenue because bidders perceive they’re getting more for their money. You can bundle physical items — a spa day basket or a game day bag with tickets and team apparel. You can also bundle experiences — a stay at an exclusive fishing lodge with a private guide, or a weekend getaway to New York City.

It takes time (and, often, good contacts) to pull these things together.

Use Digital Technology

Silent auction tables littered with sheets of bidding forms and pens? So yesterday. If your budget allows, choose auction-specific software, like BidRocket, instead. And before you decide your budget is too petite, bear in mind that electronic bidding not only streamlines the process, it can help generate considerably more revenue.

In a nutshell, arriving guests get a link for their smartphone along with their bidder number. Or you can hand out small tablets for bidders to use. They can simply click to bid, but here’s the beautiful part. The app alerts them if someone outbids them, so they can up their own offer if they want to. This eliminates embarrassing personal competitions (digital bidding is anonymous) as well as inevitable crowding and jostling around hotly-contested items as bidding closes.

You can load bidding parameters into the app — item/package description, retail value, starting and minimum bid amounts. You can also add an “instant winner” amount — a rather high figure that ends bidding on that item. This can raise extra money, relieve stress for a bidder whose heart is set on a particular item, and free up that bidder to focus on other bidding possibilities.

Make It Visually Irresistible

Electronic bidding or not, your silent auction tables must be dressed to sell.

  • Clear, high signage that identifies themed groupings. (Putting similar items together makes it faster and easier for bidders to zero in on their favorites.) Signage should also announce closing times if you’re staggering silent auction tables. (Another lucrative idea.)
  • Pretty presentation. This is easier without paperwork. Try to allow about two feet of table space per item, on average, so people can get close to inspect packages.
  • Include a few small displays (or even auction items) that depict the event’s beneficiary, to inform and remind bidders why they’re there.

Make Check-Out Painless

By the end of the event, everyone is tired, they want to pay, get their goodies, and go home. Reduce lines by:

  • Separating payment tables for checks/cash and credit cards
  • Pre-packaging gift certificates and small items ahead of time in well-marked manila envelopes or sealed bags
  • Storing sold items by lot number so runners can quickly find them
  • Ensuring you have plenty of energetic runners

Lastly, make sure there is a visible (but not overbearing) security presence at check-out, to gently underscore good behavior. And be good yourself — nothing beats a smiling, sincere thank-you as guests depart, whether they purchased silent auction items or not.