The Do’s and Don’ts of Silent Auctions

Silent Auctions are a brilliant way of generating revenue for all kinds of fundraising. The really lovely thing about them, is that they can either be your main attraction as a stand-alone evening, or you can add them on to another event.

If done right, they’re lots of fun for the guests and a great money-maker for your cause.

Here are some of the things to focus on to make sure your silent auction is a success, as well as a few things to avoid.


  • Inspire, encourage and excite your attendees. Make sure you share the great cause you are fundraising for ignite your guests support. If your potential bidders feel impassioned by your cause and believe that by donating they will really be making a difference to your cause by bidding, they will feel even better about the bids they place. They might even be prepared to bid more than they the item is worth to them for that ‘feel good’ factor. These people need to feel like they’ve won a prize, rather than simply just paid for something. And remember – You may get some guests that just don’t want to bid on anything (there’s always one). In this case, if you inspire them enough to want to support you they might donate to your cause directly rather than bidding on something they don’t really want.
  • Advertise. Don’t just advertise your wonderful event – Hook in potential attendees by showing them what they would be missing out on. Tease them with the best items – The once in a life time experiences that they just can’t risk passing up. Make sure they are desperate to attend, and already excited about bidding before they even arrive! If they know there will be a few things of interest that they want to bid on, by the time they get there they’ll be ready and raring to go.
  • Display your items well. Remember you are trying to sell these items, and often they are not physical things for people to have a good look at. Experiences (one of the more popular bidding items, see our blog) can’t be a physical thing so make sure it’s not just a boring piece of paper with black text. Have pictures, tangible things and convince these bidders that it really is an amazing prize. Entice them! Think about the layout of the room too, and how to make it easy for people to flow between items. You want to make the whole experience pleasant and easy – Make it so people can move freely around the room and can easily see the items on each bidding station.
  • 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. It needs to be fair!
  • Have plenty of pens! Pens are just one of those things that easily go walkies. They’re accidentally put in pockets or fiddled with in people’s hands. Make sure you have plenty out on the bidding stations as well as spare supplies out of sight.
  • 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. This goes back to making things as easy for your guests as possible. 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 ( 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.


  • Have too many items for your number of guests. It’s tempting to think that the more items you have, the more money you’ll raise but that’s not necessarily true. If you have too many items, it will be too overwhelming, your guests may not even have a chance to look at all the items before making a decision as to what to bid on, and thus miss out. Instead go for the WOW factor. Take the time to find those amazing items that people will feel like they can’t live without. That way you’ll get more meaningful bids, and even be more likely to create rivalry between guests desperate to win! A rough rule of thumb is to limit the number of items to 60% of the number of bidders (couples count as 1).
  • Change the timings. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep things to schedule at events, but you must close the bidding when you say you are going to close the bidding. If you don’t, some bidders might feel cheated or betrayed, and anyone who feels like that is highly unlikely to come back to your next fundraiser. 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! You want your volunteers to be fun, gently persuasive, and good with people. It’s also important to 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’. You might be trying to be empathic and appreciative of their attendance, but 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.

These are some general thoughts for what to do, and what not to do, at your Silent Auction – We hope that your event will be a huge success! For more tips on Silent Auctions, check out our Best Practise Guide blog and out list of the best and worst items!

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