Step by Step Guide on How to Run a Silent Auction – Donorbox

Silent auctions can be a great way to raise funds and engage your donors. They can also be more exciting than traditional live events, and less pressure on bidders and organizations. Running a successful silent auction can take a lot of planning. With the right setup, you can make sure it’s a big success!

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Step by Step Guide on How to Run a Silent Auction – Donorbox

Has your organization been thinking about running a silent auction? This can be a great way to raise funds and engage your donors.

Participants often find them more exciting than a traditional live auction. There’s less pressure on bidders and much more of a “feel good” factor. The winning bidders donate to your nonprofit and get something in return, which can be a big incentive to get involved.

Running a successful silent auction can take a lot of planning, but it can also be a fun event to organize. And with the right setup, you can make sure that it’s a big success!

What is a Silent Auction?

A silent auction is an event that is typically held by fundraisers and charitable organizations. It normally takes place without an auctioneer. In a silent auction, items are displayed to the attendees and each item has a bid sheet. Participants place their bids silently on the bid sheet using a bidding number on their favorite item.

Items displayed in the auction have a “minimum increase requirement” which is mentioned in its bid sheet. Nowadays silent auctions can be conducted using mobile bidding applications, which makes it easier to maintain anonymity and not let the bidders know the amount placed by other bidders. Once the bids have been placed, the highest bid wins the item, and the proceeds go towards the cause or the nonprofit.

Silent auctions are popular for fundraising and also easier to execute compared to the traditional English auction event.

In a traditional silent auction, each item has a paper bid sheet. Participants place bids by writing their name, contact information, and bidder number on the bid sheet.

silent auction

If you’re using mobile bidding, they can place bids on their smartphones instead.

Once the silent auction has closed, the winning bids are announced and payments are made.

Pro-tip #1: Using silent auction software can make it easier to run a silent auction. If bidders are outbid on an item, they can quickly place another bid and stay in the running. Some mobile bidding tools allow participants to automatically bid again. It can also bring the auction to a close, confirm the winning bids, and take payments from the winning bidders.

Pro-tip #2: Look for silent auction software that will make it easy to place bids, register attendees, create auction catalogs, track bids, engage participants, and analyze data. A great example of this is 32auctions.

Why Run a Silent Auction?

A silent auction can work well for helping organizations in various sectors to raise funds.

Other benefits of running a silent auction can include:

  • Raising the profile of your nonprofit
  • Expanding your current donor base
  • Increasing donor retention rates and helping to make sure your supporters stay engaged with your nonprofit in the future
  • Making donors aware of the donation channels they can use to support your nonprofit

How to run a silent auction (Step-by-Step Guide):


Extra Resources

Step 1: Setting Up an Auction Committee

Staff and volunteer support are crucial for planning and running your silent auction.

Set up a planning committee to handle key tasks such as organizing and setting up the venue, securing items to auction, marketing, and ticketing.

Some helpful questions to ask include:

  • How much can your nonprofit spend on planning and running your silent auction?
  • How much does your nonprofit need to raise through your silent auction?
  • Will your silent auction be ticketed?
  • When do you plan to hold your silent auction?
  • Will you host other events on the night to raise extra funds? You could choose to hold a fundraising dinner or raffle, for example.
  • Where will you hold your silent auction?
  • Will you run a traditional silent auction? Or will you use silent auction software?
  • Who will officially announce the winning bidders and perform other emcee duties on the night?

Pro tip: Set guidelines for when tasks will be completed by. This makes it less stressful to plan your silent auction and helps you stick to your budget and timescales.

Step 2: Choosing a Venue for Your Silent Auction

how to do silent auction

Where will you hold your silent auction? Some of the factors to take into account are:

  • How many attendees are you expecting?
  • What type of atmosphere do you plan to evoke?
  • Is there plenty of space to set out your auction items in an attractive and organized way?
  • Will there be good connectivity for using silent auction software and mobile bidding?

Pro tip: You may need to book your silent auction venue months before the big night. Booking early gives more flexibility for securing a venue that suits your needs, especially if you’re expecting plenty of attendees.

Step 3: Securing Items to Sell

Securing a variety of items makes it more likely that your silent auction will be a success. A diverse range of items will appeal to more attendees and can lead to more bids being placed.

silent auction

A few tips for gathering items to auction:

  • Encourage staff, volunteers, and donors to tap into their network. They may know someone who can donate a unique item.
  • Ask local businesses to donate auction items in exchange for publicity. You can promote them during the silent auction and in your marketing materials, for example.

If you find you have a lot of items, group them into packages. This can avoid a situation in which you have more items than potential bidders. A bit of healthy competition can be great for securing higher bids!

Pro tip #1: You can auction experiences, as well as physical items. Examples can include dining experiences at restaurants, spa packages, yoga lessons, meeting a celebrity, sporting experiences, and vacation packages.

Pro tip #2: Donor management software can help with finding items that match the interests of your donors. This can significantly improve the number of bids that are placed. And it can push up winning bids too.

Step 4: Set Up Table for Silent Auction

Silent auction table set up and layout is a crucial step toward piquing the interest of your bidders. It may seem like a simple process with no planning and skills required, but it is not.

Here’s how you can set up a table for a silent auction:

1. Keep tables neat – do not stuff a table with too many auction items. When you do that, people find it difficult to focus on each item.

2. Make your item descriptions stand out – use a single template for all items’ descriptions. Write in simple and concise language, and make sure they are visually matched with the bid sheets.

Here’s a good example

silent auction table setup

3. Save the best for last – take the excitement of your silent auction to its peak by placing some of the best items on your last table. It will keep people engaged throughout the event.

4. Make your tables visually appealing – if you’ve put up a coffee machine, place some cute signs or nice images next to it. For intangible items such as tickets or dining experiences, a stunning image of the place can make a lot of difference.

These tips will help you create an effective silent auction table layout for your nonprofit.

Step 5: Promoting Your Silent Auction

To get plenty of attendees registering for your silent auction, your supporters need to know that it’s happening!

If you’re using silent auction software to create an event website, include the link in your communications with supporters. You can also promote the link on your social media platforms.

To encourage a wide range of attendees, promote your silent auction through various channels, including email, social media, and direct mail. Make it easy for your supporters to share your event with their friends and family so they can spread the word too.

Pro tip #1: Advertise your items too. If people can see what is on offer, they’re more likely to bid. If you’re listing items online, add high-quality photos. Being able to view the items can encourage more people to attend your silent auction, especially if some of your items are unique.

Pro tip #2: If you’re not using silent auction software, you can create a physical version of your auction catalog instead. Make sure that your auction catalog tells participants how to bid, and acknowledges everyone involved in the event, including sponsors, item donors, and volunteers.

Pro tip #3: Create an event page for your silent auction on Facebook so that supporters can invite their friends. You can also create an event on Eventbrite and promote it on, for example.

Step 6: Setting Up the Registration Process

With silent auction software, attendees can register for your event before it officially starts. They can also register a payment card to simplify the bidding process.

Some of the software options that can benefit your nonprofit include:

If you’re not using silent auction software, you can still streamline the registration process by asking attendees to pre-register and submit their payment details.

Pro tip: Not using silent auction software to register attendees? Have separate booths at your venue to handle pre-registrations and new registrations.

Step 7: Pricing Your Auction Items

How to price silent auction items:

Have a range of starting bids to encourage more attendees to place a bid. Not everyone will have the budget to place high bids, and some people may be reluctant to bid if the starting price doesn’t suit their budget.

Create a bid sheet for each auction item. This can include the item name, a brief description, and who donated it. Beneath this, have a series of lines for people to write their bids.

Pro-tip #1: If you’re using paper bid sheets, print off extra copies of your template and take them to the venue. This can come in very handy if new auction items become available at the last minute!

Pro-tip #2: If you haven’t already, look at ways that your nonprofit can accept credit card payments. This can encourage more bidders to get involved in the event, and it streamlines the registration and checkout processes.

Step 8: Setting Up the Venue

Get to the venue early to set up and handle any last-minute issues that may occur.

Some of the factors to consider include:

  • Make sure you have plenty of volunteers to greet attendees, take registrations, and handle ticketing. If you’re using mobile bidding, you may need extra volunteers to explain how it works.
  • Arrange tables around the walls of the venue to display your auction items. This offers plenty of space for attendees to move around and browse. You can have some tables in the middle too if the venue is spacious enough.
  • Try to display only one row of items per table so that attendees can get a good look at items. If you don’t have enough space to do this and you need to have more than one row per table, make sure that the high-value items are in the front row!
  • Arrange display cards next to each item to provide important information that bidders need to know, including the item name and number, a brief description, any restrictions attached to the item, the market value, and the starting bid.
  • Set up separate areas for making announcements and picking up winning items.

Pro tip: Have a physical check-out booth for handling cash payments. This can streamline the payment process for winning bidders who want to pay by cash, rather than by credit card.

Step 9: Closing Your Silent Auction

Closing the bidding can be an important step in raising funds.

You can have a “spontaneous” end to your silent auction. Attendees won’t know when the auction will come to a close, which can encourage them to keep bidding.

Alternatively, you can set a pre-planned end time for your silent auction, and use countdown timers to drive last-minute bids.

At the end of your silent auction, collect the bid sheets, and declare the winning bid for each item.

If you’re using mobile bidding software, it will often confirm the winning bids automatically.

Pro tip #1: A silent auction isn’t the only way to raise funds. Your nonprofit can set a fundraising goal and ask attendees to help you get there before the auction closes. This can appeal to their competitive streak, particularly when they’re already placing bids on items. Goal meters can be a great way to show how quickly you’re moving towards your target, and get people excited to bring you a bit closer to it. They can see how close your nonprofit is to reaching your goal and this can encourage them to join in.

Donorbox lets you embed a goal meter into your nonprofit website in a few simple steps. Here’s an example of how it looks –

Pro tip #2: Hosting a raffle is another way to raise extra funds, and you need very few resources to set it up. You can sell raffle tickets via an event website, mobile bidding software, or paper tickets. Besides, you’ll need one of your auction items as a raffle prize and a bucket to collect the tickets. Remember to check the regulations in your local area to make sure that it’s okay to host a raffle.

Step 10: Following Up With Attendees

Once the silent auction is over and you’ve celebrated your success, reach out to attendees and thank them for their participation. Following up with donors helps strengthen your relationship with them, and makes them feel that their attendance on the night was valued.

Pro tip: Send a thank you letter or email to all attendees, regardless of whether they placed a winning bid. You can create a template to be sent out in the days after your silent auction to make it easier to act while the event is still fresh in their minds.

Tips and Resources for running a silent auction

These bonus tips and resources will further help you plan and improve your next silent auction in a more effective way.

Learning From Your Silent Auction

After your silent auction has ended, spend some time evaluating how it went and how you could improve.

Silent auction software can run reports and give insights that you can use to run your next silent auction. It can confirm which items received a lot of bids and which didn’t do as well, for example. This can guide your future efforts so you know which items to seek out next time.

Getting feedback from attendees can also provide insights that can be valuable for improving engagement at future silent auctions.

Rules of a Silent Auction (Tips and Best Practices)

In order to conduct a successful silent action, you must follow the best practices and leave no loopholes. Here is a list of rules to ensure a smooth and productive silent auction with the maximized result:

1. Recruit your dream team

One of the most important steps for a successful silent auction is an effective team of people who will drive the event to success. Your team can be a mix of your nonprofit staff and volunteers. They are responsible for all tasks right from pre-promotion activities to volunteering to auction monitoring.

2. Find the right balance of auction items

Make sure your auction has a wide variety of items ranging from different categories like food, travel, entertainment, etc. to capture the interest of a wide audience. Also, ensure that you include a variety of price points so that everyone can take part in your silent auction.

3. Pre-promotion and invitations

You can start sending out invitations online via e-mail or spread the word in your community as soon as the auction dates are out. You can also let them know what to expect, give them a glimpse of the products to entice them as well as other potential bidders.

4. Venue

The venue of the event must be large enough to allow all the attendees to move around comfortably, mingle, chat, and place their bids.

5. Item display and layout

The manner in which you display the items has a lot to do with the sale of the item or receiving a higher bid. Keep your silent auction station as organized as possible. You may choose to group items of similar categories together. Choose wisely from cases, platforms, easels, and stages to make your item look even more desirable. It is also a good idea to include an item description sheet along with each item where you can give more details about the product.

6. Registration

Registering for an auction is completely optional and not necessary. However, there are benefits of having your silent auction participants register before the event begins. The first benefit is that your auction can be anonymous if participants register. Each participant will be provided a unique bidder number which will help maintain their anonymity during the event. Another benefit of making your guests register is that you can collect information about the guests in case you want to contact them after the event.

7. Bid Sheets

Your bid sheets are where the silent auction actually takes place. If your auction requires pre-registration and provides the bidders with a bidder number, then include that in the bid sheet. Remember to keep the bid sheets simple as you don’t want your guests to spend most of their time simply filling up a sheet.

8. Bid Increments

A simple formula that you can follow for bid increments is a 10% increase with each bid. You may use bid sheets with the incremental bids already printed on each line.

9. Duration and Closing times

The best time to close your silent auction is before the live event begins. Ideally, a silent auction should last anywhere between 60 to 90 minutes.

10. Legal clauses to include

Your silent auction must include some legal clauses and by bidding in your auction, each bidder must agree to these rules. Some of the legal clauses that you may consider including are non-refundable policy, payment policy, checkout, and item pickup procedure, etc. You can also include a clause stating that your organization reserves the right to add or withdraw items, without notice, to or from the auction.

Extra Resources

With the COVID-19 situation in place, most nonprofits are opting for online channels and virtual means of running their silent auctions. These extra resources will help you run successful silent auctions in the online space.

How to run a silent auction online:

Offline events being inadvisable during the pandemic, your silent auction can be run online. Such events are virtual in nature but require less hassle, can be longer, and help you reach a wider range of audiences.

online silent auction

Here’s how you can run a virtual silent auction –

1. Set up your silent auction online

Choose the right software for your online silent auction. Be mindful of the features you need.

Silent Auction Pro and ClickBid are effective silent auction software platforms for nonprofits. Alternatively, Facebook can be a good option for simple virtual events.

Once you’ve decided on the software, you’ll create an event and add auction item pictures and descriptions to it.

Pro tip: Plan fun segments for your online auction such as quiz sessions, games, etc. Add them in the event description to increase bidders’ interest.

2. Promote your virtual silent auction

People need to know that you’re having a virtual silent auction. Use email marketing, social media posts, and a landing page to share your event link with potential bidders.

At this stage, you should try to achieve maximum registrations. But at the same time, keep reminding your registered bidders about the upcoming online event through posts and notifications. Your auction software should make this easy.

Here’s how American Lutheran Church promoted their silent auction on Facebook.

virtual silent auction

3. Run the auction

On the day of your online silent auction, post about it on social media and send reminders to bidders to start bidding.

Try to keep bidders engaged throughout the event timeline. This becomes easy with fun segments and a host who can make such events even more interesting. Use video conferencing software like Zoom to implement this.

Send your bidders notifications and emails every time they’re outbid. It’s a great way to fuel their competitive streak and make your online silent auction a success.

4. Keep your bidders informed

As the online silent auction ends, announce the winners and have the items delivered to them at the earliest. Remember to thank all your bidders and create an impact report on your website or event page.

Here’s what Colorado River Headwaters Trout Unlimited did to keep their bidders informed of the impact and other details.

How to do an Online Silent Auction on Facebook

These days Facebook events are the simplest solution for online silent auctions. Statista shows that as of January 2021, there are 190 million Facebook users in the US alone. Hence, most of your potential bidders are already using Facebook.

Follow these steps to do a silent auction on Facebook –

1. Plan your silent auction – Organize auction items, decide a timeline for the silent auction, and payment methods beforehand.

2. Create a Facebook event – Create a Facebook event from your Facebook page. Add details about your online silent auction as shown in the example below.

how to run silent auction

3. Invite followers – Invite your friends and followers to respond to the event and register themselves. At the same time, use email marketing and social media posts to share the Facebook event with a wider audience.

4. Post updates regularly – Talk about your online silent auction – the auction items, intended impact, and other important details – frequently on your Facebook page.

5. Run the silent auction – The interested and attending bidders will automatically get event notifications from Facebook. But you need to keep reminding them of the time, days left, auction items up for bidding, and the process via posts on your page.

Here’s an example

online silent auction

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

We have answered some common questions about the silent auctions in this section.

1. How long should a Silent auction last?

Ideally, a silent auction should last for one hour to one and a half hours. The silent auction’s start time would be immediately when the event starts and should close before the live auction and the main activities begin. If you Allow a silent auction to stay open too long or close all at once, it will take away the urgency. An ideal silent auction only needs a total of 60-90 minutes to maximize your returns.

2. How to price silent auction items?

Organizers often have the question of whether or not to display the item’s retail value on the bid sheet. We would say that it’s typically not a great idea to include prices in your bid sheets. This is because doing so might create a glass ceiling in the minds of your guests on how far they should bid. Instead, you can elevate the item’s perceived value which can influence the bids way more than the retail price. Rather than displaying the price of the items, highlight the products and your mission. By omitting the price, the bids are free to go as high as the guests think it’s worth.

3. What is the difference between a silent auction and a raffle?

A raffle is a game of chance. It’s a great way for an organization to raise money where typically, businesses or services donate an item to be raffled off. The organization holding the raffle collects money by selling tickets, and the winner is chosen at random. The more tickets you purchase, the more are your chances of winning the draw. However, the winner is still decided by a chance drawing and not whoever places the highest bid. A silent auction is completely different from a raffle. The bidders must be physically present and have the chance of examining the product before placing their bids. The one with the highest bid gets to walk home with the item.

4. How do you set up an opening bid for a silent auction?

It can be hard to put a price tag on auctionable items, especially if the item is priceless. To set up an opening bid for a silent auction, you must first consider if the item was donated or if it is a consignment item. For donated items, the opening bid can be 30%-40% of the fair market value (FMV). If you’re auctioning consignment items, then the opening bid can range between 10-20% above the fair market value (FMV). When it comes to auctioning priceless items, or something sentimental that cannot be marked with a price tag, its best to start low and allow the buyers’ emotional connection to drive the price.

Over to You

Running a silent auction can be a daunting prospect for many nonprofits but with the right planning, it can be a very lucrative event.

Holding a silent auction can be a fun way for your nonprofit to raise funds, and it can also be a smart move for engaging with donors.

Silent auction software can make it easier to organize and run your event, but there’s a lot you can do to streamline the registration and payment processes if you’re not using it.

And once it’s over, following up with your attendees can help build stronger links to your supporters. This builds on the success of your silent auction and shows attendees that you were grateful that they came.

For more tips on boosting your fundraising success, check out the resources on our nonprofit blog.

Sally Aquire is a copywriter with a background in crafting communications and fundraising for a women's center. She writes about fundraising, nonprofit management, and wellness initiatives.

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