10 Tips to Make Your Silent Auction a Success!

One of the most loved fundraising events is the silent auction, a modification of a traditional auction, where bids are written on a sheet of paper alongside each item. At a fixed time, the auction ends and the highest bidder wins the item. Not only are these events popular and cost-effective to organize, they also present your nonprofit with loads of hidden opportunities. Here are ten tips to make your next silent auction a smooth success!




1. Get attractive items for your auction

Getting the best prizes for your silent auction is critical. Ask local businesses to donate items such as gift cards, event tickets, themed gift baskets, spa packages, etc. Obtain desirable items to tempt your audience and get maximum traction from your sale. A good mix of high ticket objects along a range of affordable ones is best. One caveat; don’t find yourself in the position of having too many identical things to offer – it makes an event boring.

An auction with 50 or more items is considered “large.” It’s crucial that items must be attractively displayed for maximum effect. Pick your props and arrange the lighting to make the objects “pop.”

2.  Create a buzz around the event

Silent auctions are exciting! There should be a constant ‘buzz.’ People at your event are ready to spend money in support of your cause. Part of the enjoyment for attendees is the “thrill of the chase.” If participants can score a bargain in the process, then it’s a win-win for everyone. Having an exciting host, concurrent raffles, and bargain prizes all add to the excitement of the event!

3.  Stagger the auction closing times

Experience tells us that spacing the times when bidding ends on items ensures a smooth payment and collection process for successful bidders. Staggering the closing times and putting high-ticket and desirable items at the end will also entice your guests to linger until the very last minute.

4.  Utilize mobile apps

Leverage all the technology you can to help your nonprofit hold its best fundraiser yet. With the free app, Cozi, you can create a calendar, make to-do lists and assign volunteers to that list. Keep everyone in the loop by using Cozi on your smart phones.

5.  Have consolation prizes available

Auctions always mean someone will be outbid and come away disappointed. Provide ways to support your mission by setting up an area where losing bidders can make a donation or sponsor a service. Make it mobile friendly by using a donation app. Another table can sell swag bags with low-cost goodies and souvenirs of the night. Be sure to include a flyer telling the charity’s story. These folks want to participate. Don’t let anyone go without having had a chance to contribute.

6.  Make it easy to bid

Every effort should be made to process bid sheets and payments quickly and easily. Designate several pay stations to avoid long lines. Cash, checks and credit card payments should be accepted. You can process credit cards using Square or Paypal. Without the ability to accept credit cards, your organization stands to lose a significant portion of profits.

 7.  Take it online

Use your online presence to advertise the event and offer pre-bidding. Splash it out on social media and promote it on your website. Top online bids will be the price-point where the bidding begins. Accept online donations from supporters who may not be able to attend and live-stream over Facebook it to encourage attendees to contribute.

8.   Place signs strategically

Many signs clearly marking areas and facilities will keep people moving smoothly and avoid bottlenecks. Signs should be big and bold. Have them printed and mounted on foam board. These can then be prominently displayed on stands throughout the venue.

9.  Rules and regulations

Nonprofit auctions – whether online, silent or traditional – are a proven way to appeal to a large group of supporters. But where it gets sticky is that organizations may not be aware of the compliance issues that accompany all auction situations.

There are rules for fundraising events, especially silent auctions, raffles or games of chance that every nonprofit should know about. These can vary from state to state and you need to make sure you learn about them beforehand. (Laws on silent auctions.)

10.  Thank your donors

One of the biggest challenges facing nonprofits is finding new prospects to engage and cultivate. By asking local businesses to donate items for the silent auction, you can introduce them to your organization. Don’t simply send a thank you letter and only get in touch when you need them again. It’s up to you to grow their budding interest in your group!

Attendees have also taken positive steps towards supporting your nonprofit simply by being there. After the auction, develop relationships with this group; many of them may stay involved long after the event is over. (Read 5 Ways to Avoid Donor Abandonment)


A silent auction is a popular, profitable fundraiser for your nonprofit, delivering plenty of bang-for-your-buck! If you’re holding an event, it just makes good, common sense to mine the occasion for every perk it can deliver.

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  1. Posted by Amanda Drew 19th October, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for pointing out that each state has rules regarding auctions. It’d be important to know those. My husband and I want to do something to help all the people who are hurting right now, and we thought that an auction would be a great option. Maybe, though, we should find an auction service to help us so that we don’t accidentally break any rules.



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