Thinking about launching a silent auction to raise funds?

You’re not alone.

From home and school associations to non-profits and charities – everyone wants to include a silent auction as part of their events.

That’s because having a silent auction is a enjoyable and engaging fundraiser.

However planning, promoting and executing a successful silent auction can be a daunting task.

There are many moving pieces, so coordination and planning are key.

The aim of this guide is to go through the basics and help simplify the planning and execution of silent auctions.

We’ll talk about:

  • What exactly silent auctions are
  • How to run a silent auction

Let's dive in! 

silent auctions

Silent auctions can either be the main attraction around which an entire event is based, or they can be a supplemental form of entertainment (and fundraising) as part of an awards ceremony, fundraising event, conference, etc.

During a typical silent auction event, items for auction are displayed for participants to inspect closely. In front of each item is a document called a “bid sheet”, where interested bidders can place a bid silently and anonymously using a bidder number. Many silent auctions add a “minimum increase requirement” to their bid sheets. This means that the next bid must be a certain dollar amount more than the previous one. For example, if the minimum increase is $5 and the previous bid was $50, the next bid must be at least $55.

A silent auction must also have a predetermined end point at which bidding is concluded. At that time, the bid sheets are collected by organizers and the highest bid on each sheet is the winning bid – and that person gets to go home with the item!

How to Run a Silent Auction: The Basics

Here’s a high-level list of what you’ll need to get started with silent auctions:

  • Pre-Promotion: Start sending out invitations via email and rallying your community as soon as your silent auction date is set. You might also want to start sharing your item descriptions online once they're ready to give attendees a taste of what's up for grabs as well as encouraging new audience members to come by. 
  • Venue: You'll want to have a large enough venue to allow attendees to mingle and chat, especially if the silent auction is only one part of the evening's entertainment. Consider asking a restaurant to host, and then auctioning off a dining package there or a private dinner with their chef, to build additional interest. 
  • Desirable Items: Your whole auction revolves around the items that are on offer. Sourcing valuable items that your audience will be excited by will help you get the maximum possible revenue from your auction. (Later in this post, we cover which items your audience is likely to find valuable.) 
  • Item Display: Displaying your chosen items appropriately will help you to accentuate them. Choose wisely from stages, platforms, easels and cases to make the items stand out and appear more desirable. Keep in mind lighting and location when arranging your collection.
  • Item Description Sheets: It is best to accompany each item with an item description sheet, where you can give more details about what it is, who it was sponsored by and provide a photo (this is especially helpful if the item is not quite tangible like, for an example, a vacation package). You can also provide copies of these sheets in other places throughout your event venue or even put them together in a booklet and keep them at dinner tables, cruiser tables, the bar, etc. This will remind your event attendees about the silent auction and will encourage them to place a bid even if they're not standing directly in the silent auction area. 
  • Bid Sheets: Bid sheets are where the actual auction takes place. If you choose to use a registration form, all you'll need to include on your bid sheet is the name of the item, its value, a minimum bid amount, and spaces for people to note down their bidder number and bid amount. names and bids. Some auctions also offer a "Buy Now" price. If someone really has their heart set on an item, they can buy it before the auction ends and take it off the market, so to speak. This is optional, but is a good chance to increase revenue, since the "Buy Now" is usually quite high. 
  • Volunteers: Silent auctions can be labour intensive. Recruiting well trained volunteers to help with soliciting items, inventory management, auction set-up, registration and  checkout will help make sure your event runs smoothly and your bidders have a good time.

  • Auction Monitors: If possible, experienced or trained volunteers or staff should act as auction monitors. As the bidding is “self service”, the monitors should be in charge of keeping an eye on the items and bid sheets to make sure that your guests are following the auction and bidding rules.

  • Checkout Area: Having a cordoned off area that deals with the actual monetary transactions will help make transaction private (if requested) and secure. Be prepared to deal with cash, checks and even credit cards (using any nonprofit credit card processor).

  • Silent Auction Software: Although it's not a necessity for every organization, auction software like Auctria can help you manage your fundraiser more effectively and easily.