5 Strategies for a Successful Silent Auction

During a non-profit fundraiser, the silent auction is often the biggest part of the event. It has the most items, takes the most time to organize, takes up the most space and offers the opportunity for the largest number of donors to participate in the fun. It also has the biggest potential return on investment for the organization hosting the event. Many organizations take a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality when it comes to the silent auction. This attitude could be leaving thousands of potential dollars in your donor’s pockets and not in your organization’s bank account. Here are 5 ways that you can tune up your silent auction to generate even more donations.

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Take a Look Back

Before planning this year’s event to procure items for the silent auction, take a look back at last year’s items. Which items had the most bids? No bids? Which items met or exceeded their value? Who donated items? During your review, if you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to send a personal thank you note to last year’s donors. If the items donated were successful during last year’s auction, it is also a great time to ask the donor for an item for this year’s event. Use this review to target more of the popular items and less of the items that didn’t draw much interest.

Get the Right Items

– Based on your review of last year’s items, determine what items were popular with the attendees. Many times, organizations are just happy to get an item for a silent auction without thinking about whether it will appeal to their donors. I’m not saying that you should turn away a donation from someone, but you should make a point to get items that will get bidders excited and happy to bid. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “Would I buy this?” if your answer is no or maybe, then it doesn’t belong in the auction.

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Think bigger

Many silent auction displays exist of the actual item or a paper certificate, a bid sheet and a pen. There might be 10 – 12 items per table. Why not change it up this year? Make your displays bigger (think a tri-fold foam core board). If it is for a dinner, why not set a small table with plates, silverware and glasses. Draw your bidders in to see what the item is. Signage for your silent auction is also important. Have large signs denoting the area. If possible, suspend them from the ceiling or use balloons to grab attention.

Set yourself up for success

Based on my past experience, a bidder on a silent auction item will return to bid on an item twice after their initial bid. It is important that your bid sheet is designed in a way that will make it easy for both the bidder to bid and the operations team to record the bids and winners. Start your bidding at about 50 – 60% of the item’s value. Include bid increments on the sheet. Don’t leave it up to the bidder to write in an amount. Increment the bids so that by bid 6 you have met the value of the item. Make sure and include a buy now price so that an interested bidder can purchase the item and not need to worry about being outbid. This buy now price should be 150 – 200 % of the items value.

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Close it down

It is important to stagger the closing of your silent auction. Close down your silent auction by section. Have your auctioneer or emcee make announcements starting at 10 minutes prior to closing and ending with a New Year’s Eve type of 10 second countdown. This will re-ignite your bidders to get in before an item gets away and make it easier on your volunteers to collect the bid sheets. Most bidding activity occurs in the last 3 minutes of the auction, so make sure that you are announcing the sections that are closing so that your bidders can get in on the action before it is too late.

Silent auctions are a big part of a fundraising event and in some cases the only part of a fundraising event. It is important to have the right items, displayed attractively and incremented correctly to get more of your donors involved and more dollars raised. Take a play from the big box stores playbook. Consider your silent auction as a store that will be open for 60 – 90 minutes. Within that time, you want to sell everything you can for the largest amount of dollars. Group like items together. Have a well-lit area with large easy to read signage. Use your own shopping experiences at stores like Target, Wal-Mart and IKEA to set your silent auction up for success. By utilizing these tactics, you can expect to increase your silent auction revenues by 10 – 50%.

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