Guide to Silent Auctions

An efficient and fun way to raise money for organizations, the silent auction is a favorite of both fundraisers and donors. It’s no wonder that so many non-profits hold them annually. 

Still, to run an effective silent charity auction, you need to know the ABCs of silent auctions. We can tell you everything you need to know about running a successful silent auction. Plan your silent auction, promote it, run it, and collect your funds at the end of it, with our tips.

What is a Silent Auction? 

Live auctions are noisy and exciting. The auctioneer asks for higher bids while people shout out their offers or raise their paddles.

A silent auction is a quiet bidding method. People write their bids on paper or online instead of speaking them out loud. The highest bid wins, and the proceeds go to the organization or cause.

A silent auction is a great option for a live event where you might be having dinner, dancing, speeches, or performances. The silent auction can happen in the background, and winners can be announced at the end. This auction could attract more bidders who are shy or prefer not to reveal their spending limit publicly. The winners and their bids don’t need to be announced.

In-Person vs. Online Silent Auctions

There are a few different types of silent auction with slightly different formats. For example, you can organize:

  1. Traditional silent auction offline, in-person with bid-sheets
  2. Silent auction, in-person supported by a platform like CharityAuctionsToday that enables bidding via smartphone (mobile bidding)
  3. Silent auction, fully online via a platform like CharityAuctionsToday
  4. In-person silent auction with additional remote bidders supported by a platform like ours

A mobile bidding software like ours can make your life easier by saving you time. You can also check out our comparison of different online auction platforms to see which might work best for you.

You can, of course, go old-school and organize an in-person live auction using paper bid sheets. That being said, this type of event requires more work from the organizers. And unfortunately, paper bid sheets are also much easier to cheat on than an online auction platform.


Looking for your own bid sheets to print?

Dwonload, customize, and print our bid sheet template.

How to Run a Silent Auction 

Like any event, a successful silent auction depends on an airtight planning process. Our guide will help you with creating an auction committee, getting silent auction items, setting bidding rules, and more.

1. Create an Auction Committee

Chose a group of dedicated people and assign leadership roles. Below is an overview of the key positions. Don’t worry if you don’t have the people for all of them: we’ll cover ways to make this process as simple as possible.

  • Planning involves managing various aspects of an event, such as setting the date, time, and budget. Additionally, planners can act as project managers for the whole operation.
  • Prizes matter. Exciting gifts can boost donations and make a silent auction more successful. Essentially, the prize leader and volunteers are in charge of asking for donations and negotiating sponsorships.
  • Publicity: Spreading the word is vital to the success of your silent auction. The publicity team promotes your silent auction through various methods. They use social media, talk to the local press, make flyers, and network to generate interest.

2. Ask for Donations & Silent Auction Items

How do you find the prizes that will thrill your audience? How do you foster a sense of community with the prizes and sponsorships? How do you structure the auction for maximum bid potential?

First, you need to know your target audience. Encourage your committee to think about your attendees and start a brainstorming session.

  • Look for a range of items priced from low to high, as you want everyone to feel comfortable bidding. Keep in mind that gift baskets are generally crowd-pleasers because they can work for various budgets.
  • Have a wide variety of prizes. Prizes should be as diverse as your audience. For example, gifts like board games or water park tickets will be a hit for families. On the other hand, couples’ gifts like spa days or golf outings will always be popular.
  • Incorporate kid-centric gifts so that you can include the kids in the festivities. From game consoles to bicycles to tickets to local amusement parks, consider including kids’ items in your auction.
  • Ask your team to reach out to their personal network. Perhaps they know a chef that would donate dinner for two, or maybe they have a college friend who can score great tickets to a hot Broadway show.
  • Contact local business owners regarding donations. Most business owners receive requests to participate in local fundraising efforts and often gladly donate. In exchange for their donated items, you can offer free publicity during your marketing campaign and at the event itself.

We understand it can feel awkward to ask for items and prizes. Be sure to explore our tips on how to ask for donations to boost your confidence.

What Is and What Isn’t a Great Silent Auction Item

As previously mentioned, you’ll want a variety of items that are as diverse as your audience. The more varied your prices and products are, the higher your chances of success.

Here are some of the auction items that always sell:

  • Experiences: Tours of pro teams’ locker rooms before big games or backstage passes for hit shows always create a buzz.
  • Travel: Vacations and even weekend trips are a hit at almost every silent auction. Want to add unique travel experiences to your auction? Check out our risk-free items that can be added for free.
  • Tickets: Day passes to amusement parks, concert tickets, or spa days are alwasy popular.
  • Unusual Items: Auction items like signed memorabilia or Broadway posters are always fun to display at an event and can really draw attention.

Here are some donated items to avoid during a silent auction:

  • Used (or broken!) items
  • Clothing
  • Furniture

Hot Tip: Got your items? Start building your auction right now, even if you don’t have all the details set in stone. Get your auction started for free!

3. Set the Date and Place

Then, you will need to determine the time and date. If you intend to host your event in person, you will need to find an appropriate and affordable space.

In general, school auditoriums and cafeterias are perfect for such silent auction fundraisers. However, if you’re social distancing, you might look at outdoor venues or online options. Fancier venues will stretch your budget even if you work out discounts with the hotel or banquet hall.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before choosing a venue for your auction:

  • How many attendees are expected?
  • Is there enough room to display the auction items aesthetically?
  • Do you intend to create a certain atmosphere?
  • Does the venue have good mobile and/or Wi-Fi connectivity for using silent auction software and mobile bidding?

Tip: Ask your nearby school about available spaces, whether you’re fundraising for school or not. Depending on the event, they will often rent or even donate the space.

Here you have some advice on how to choose your auction venue:

  • Search for a location with lockable doors or employ security personnel.
  • Check if the room is large enough for your guests to circulate freely, especially around auction items.
  • Double check facility rules such as mandatory end times, noise limits, alcohol restrictions, etc.

4. Choose an Activity or Entertainment

If you want your attendees to be engaged and entertained throughout your silent auction, you need to make it fun. If your event is not a sit-down dinner gala, you can still plan to keep people’s interest with ideas like these:

  • Music from a live band
  • A master of ceremonies beckoning them to grab a drink and join the fun
  • A raffle table with a bonus goodie or two that anyone can win
  • Great food set up on tables or being passed by waiters among guests
  • Beautiful flower arrangements from a local florist that they can win
  • A projection screen showing sweet and funny images of your beneficiaries
  • Beautiful silent auction tables laden with tempting bid items

5. Promote the Silent Auction

You’re championing a cause you’re passionate about. Now you need to actively market your event to get people to attend and raise funds. Here are a few ideas to promote your next silent auction:

  • Request Sponsorships from Media Outlets: Many media groups will provide free promotion for your event in exchange for sponsor recognition. You can guarantee that their logo will be placed on all promotional materials in exchange for an ad. Make sure they’re present in social media posts when possible and include them in all follow-up materials, especially the ones that celebrate reaching your goal and funding your cause.
  • Send Out Press Releases: A press release is a detailed account of your event that presents important information in an objective rather than a promotional manner. It should include your story, some compelling images, and even an embedded video. 

Leverage Social Media and Maximize Your Fundraising Profits

A must for event promotion in today’s connected world, social media can maximize engagement and dramatically boost your fundraising efforts. In fact, our four tips will help you enhance your organization’s social media presence:

  • Tell Your Story: Stories foster empathy and help people connect to your cause. In a few sentences, summarize your story and post it on social media. 
  • Post Shareable Content: Shareable posts increase your organization’s visibility. Set privacy settings to “global” or “all” if you are sharing from a personal account so everyone can share your posts. Still, you need to give your followers a reason to want to share your content. For example, you could post about the cause, the event itself but also about who will be there or what special activities will take place. 
  • Give a Call to Action: Tell your audience explicitly what you want them to do. (i.e., “Please support our school by sharing this on your timeline”)
  • Create a Sense of Urgency – People act quickly when they know there’s a deadline. When it comes to online auctions, you can encourage your followers with phrases such as: “Auction ends in two days.” or “Don’t miss out on this is a one-of-a-kind item.”

Be sure to check out our article on how you can utilize different social media platforms to boost your fundraiser (with examples).

6. How to Organize a Silent Auction 

Whether your event is in-person or online-only, follow these best practices:

  • Create group packages: Packaging, or grouping, prizes increases the perceived value, so donors feel free to give more. However, this only works if you create packages that make sense. For example, group the restaurant gift certificates with a bottle of wine and a pair of theater tickets for The Ultimate Date Night.
  • Create visually-appealing prize descriptions: Make sure the description card is uncluttered and has a balance of pictures and words. The item description sheet should include: the item name and number, a brief description, the market value, and the starting bid.
  • Write descriptions for attendees: You should write in such a way that helps attendees envision themselves using the prize. Take this Mother-Daughter mani/pedi description as an example: “Treat yourselves to a spa day that will leave you feeling refreshed and polished.”
  • Determine Silent Auction Rules: If you want to enhance the donors’ experience and simplify the donation process, bidding rules are a must. Here are some rules you might want to set for a smooth bidding experience:
  • Bidders can only bid up from the previous bid.
  • Bids that have been changed or crossed out must be initialed by the bidder.
  • No bids will be accepted after the auction ends.

Not sure how to describe your auction?

Online auction descriptions or notes in your event program can be tough. Download our silent auction description examples to see best practices.

7. How to Close a Silent Auction

Maximize your fundraising efforts right at the end of your event. There are three types of bidding closings that you can choose from:

  • Spontaneous closing: Not knowing when the bidding will end, creates a frenzy of activity among bidders that makes them put their best bids in and stay at the top of the bid sheet. If you want to add some thrill to your event, this is the closing for you.
  • Pre-planned closing: This type of closing creates a slow build of action throughout the event. If you plan on closing the bidding at a designated time, we suggest having a countdown clock visible or sporadic “countdown” reminders from the auction chairs. Get ready for some last-minute bidding wars as the last few minutes of the silent auction will be intense.
  • Staged closing: Closing the bidding for each category of prizes, one by one, can make the auction feel more exciting as the number of items to bid on gets smaller and smaller. Staged closings work best when you group prizes into categories, as naming the categories will help attendees follow along with your plan. 

No matter the closing you choose, make sure you make it memorable. For in-person silent auctions, committee members should immediately collect the bid sheets and announce the winning bid for each prize. 

For online auctions, on the other hand, the silent auction software will confirm the winning bids and notify the winner and the competing bidders. Moreover, since the auction software gathers bids and payment details for the auction items, it will be easy for you to process payments. 

8. Raise Awareness after Your Event

Your job doesn’t end after you close your silent auction. Now is the perfect time to increase awareness, and, hopefully, get some last-minute donations.

Here are some gestures that can make a big difference in how your organization is perceived, adn don’t take much time:

Thank Attendees and Donors

Send a personalized “thank you” note to humanize your organization. It can also serve as a last call for people who didn’t get to bid at the event or want to donate more.

You should send the note up to one week after the event when everything is still fresh in the attendees’ minds.

Share Your Thanks Through Social Media 

Social media is a great way to reach many people at one time and create a buzz. A simple post is all it takes.

Be sure to:

  • Tag your donors and/or attendees. Thank your sponsors too.
  • Mention the reason behind the event and any reached fundraising goals.
  • Include pictures, if appropriate.
  • Include a link to online giving if you have one.

Ready to Run a Silent Auction?

While running a silent auction may have seemed daunting at first, executing a successful charity auction should be easy now. That being said, a silent auction software will make planning and running your event easier.

A silent auction is fun way to raise funds as well as a great way to bring communities together.

Start Your Own Silent Auction

Use our platform to manage an in-person event, or go fully online.