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Best Practice Guide to Silent Auctions

If you’re reading this, you may very well be planning a silent auction as a part of your next fundraiser. And why wouldn’t you be? They are a fantastic and fun revenue generator to add to almost any event to boost fundraising.

Perhaps you’re feeling a little daunted, in which case you’ve come to the right place.

This best practice guide to silent auctions aims to take you through everything you need to do to make it a success.

What is it all about?

A silent auction can either be the ‘main event’ around which everything else is planned, or it could be an addition to another event as a means to get some extra fundraising in.

Either way, they are a lovely little revenue generator if done in the correct way.

And what is that make a silent auction, silent? It’s because there is no auctioneer – It’s all done on paper.

Items, items, items

It’s all about the items.

The way to make your silent auction a resounding success is to get amazing items that attendees are going to want to fight to win! They could be anything – A spa day, theatre tickets, even a boiler service! You can be really creative and innovative with this. The better the items that are donated, the more engaged the attendees will be with their bidding, and the more money you are likely to raise!

Generally, experiential lots are more popular with bidders rather than physical items. You want people to think that this is a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ – When are they going to be able to buy this ‘experience’ again, and for this price? Never! You want them to be desperate to win – To keep going back and upping their bids.

Try and match your items to your audience. If you’re a sports club, then sports tickets, signed memorabilia and a coaching session with one of the greats would be great items! Likewise, try and match the value of the items to the amount people will be able to spend. There’s no point in getting a celebrity chef to cook a meal of 8 guests if no one will be able to match the value by bidding big (remember you have to put minimum bids on the sheet!).

It’s also worth remembering that you don’t just want bids to make money… You need people to make bids to feel like they are participating in the event and having a good time. If they don’t want to bid on anything, they’re not going to feel good! Also, auction donors will be very disappointed if their item gets no bids. Not great for business, and won’t motivate them to support your cause in the future either.

Once you’ve got an idea of what items you want, based on your audience, then wherever possible it’s a good idea to try and recruit volunteers who are good at asking for things. If you don’t ask you don’t get! You need people who can really speak confidently to potential donaters and get the best offerings possible.

People

Yes, it’s about the items, but it’s also all about the people.

Bidders – You won’t get anywhere without bidders, and keen ones at that. You want the bidders to be enthusiastic about helping your cause, excited by the items available to bid on, and leaving your event feeling great whether they won an item or not. The more they enjoy themselves, the more they’ll be willing to come to your next event, and invite their friends next time too!

Auction Donors – While it’s probable that donors will be glad to support your organisation or cause, they will also want to see their donated item do well for their own benefit too. Awareness of their product or service is a great way of promoting their business, especially as they are also being seen as supporting a local charity of worthwhile fundraiser.

Your Organisation – Your cause is important and so are the people that will be helped from the money that you raise. To make all this work worthwhile for your organisation you need to maximise the revenue generated by each item, and ensure that everyone that attends has a great time!

Bidding Sheets

The information you need on each sheet is as follows:

  • Event or organisation logo
  • Organisation’s name
  • Organisation’s mission statement, or concise reason for supporting your cause
  • Event name, date and important information
  • Item name and description (including any expiry dates)
  • Donater information
  • Retail value
  • Guaranteed bid price
  • Terms (explain how payment works, when and how winning bids are to be collected and what the timeframes are)
  • Table with columns for Name, Address, Phone, Bidder Number and Bids

Do…

  • Share the cause and inspire attendees to support you. If bidders feel like they are really making a difference to your cause, they will feel even better about the bids they place and might even be prepared to bid more than they the item is worth to them. You also really want to make them feel like they’ve won, rather than paying for something.
  • Advertise. When you advertise your event, be sure to also advertise your items. Rouse people’s interest and make them excited to attend! If they already know that there are a few things of interest that they want to bid on, they’ll be ready and raring to go by the time they arrive.
  • Display your items well. Think about the layout of the room, how items that are not a physical product (a service, or experience) can be displayed in the most enticing way possible, and make it as easy as possible for potential bidders to see the items and move around the room.
  • Have a volunteer at each bidding station to make sure there is no cheating going on, and so sheets can be immediately collected when the bidding closes.
  • Have plenty of pens!
  • Consider using Mobile Bidding Software. This could be a convenient alternative for both your attendees and you. This software means that bidders don’t have to fill in the same information every single time they bid (which could get quite tedious and time consuming). It also means that when bidding closes, it closes, and there is no scope for sneaky last minute bids or cheating. The software will automatically find the highest bidder, notify them, and charge them the money. So all you would have to do is actually give the item to the right bidder. Well worth looking into!
  • Do the maths for your guests. If you want each bid to go up by at least £10, then start at the minimum bid and then fill in the column for all subsequent bids. Then all they need to do is put their details next to the bid they choose, and it also means that no one sneaks in bids of lesser value. There is a 30/10/13 rule (hotauctioneering.com) where you open the bidding at 30% of the item value, then each bid goes up by 10%. This way it opens at an absolute bargain, encouraging people to give it a go, but increases steadily with each bid. You could also have an Own It Now line at the bottom of the sheet where a bidder can go straight in and guarantee their win – this bid should be around 150% of the value.
  • Consider any legalities. You don’t need any licenses to run a silent auction, however you will need to think about the Sale of Goods Act when you are writing your descriptions of the items. You will also need to be aware of GDPR regulations as you will be collecting personal data from your guests which will need to be destroyed at the end of the event, or signed permission given by each guest to keep it on file if you wish to do so.

Don’t…

  • Have too many items for your number of guests. A rough rule of thumb is to limit the number of items to 60% of the number of bidders (couples count as 1). Don’t make the mistake of thinking the more items you have, the more money you’ll raise. Too many items will be too overwhelming – You’ll be better of with less items, but with more wow factor. There will also be a buzz created from the rivalry of everyone trying to win!
  • Change the timings. Close the bidding when you say you are going to close the bidding, otherwise some bidders might feel cheated or betrayed. Let the guests know when there is 15 minutes and 5 minutes to go to give them a chance to make last minute bids. Don’t be tempted to keep the bidding open if you see a rush of people trying to bid. Keep to those times.
  • Use volunteers who have no idea what’s going on. Make sure your volunteers are well versed in what items are available to bid on and who are good at naturally encouraging people to bid and have a good time! Also make sure that all volunteers know the layout of the venue and how to direct people who might ask them a question.
  • Remind people ‘times are tough’. They wouldn’t be at your event if they didn’t have any money to donate to your cause. They are there because they want to support you. They may well have a budget in mind, but telling them that ‘times are tough’ isn’t encouraging or motivating for your cause.

If you’ve lasted until the end then well done – You are obviously committed to hosting a wonderful Silent Auction and we hope that the information covered here will help you generate plenty of revenue for whatever your cause may be. Good Luck!