Silent Auction 101

Running a Silent Auction can be a great way to fundraise for your school or team. There can be a high profit margin and can be very enjoyable for attendees. We want to help you learn how to do a Silent Auction if you’ve never done one.

You can run a Silent Auction in person or online, and you can tailor it to fit your community. If it’s in-person, it can be a casual event, held during daytime hours, where the whole family can attend. Or it can be a fancy, ticketed event, accompanied by dinner and geared towards adults only. If you decide to go virtual, there are multiple sites that do that. You’ll decide what works best.

What is a Silent Auction?

A Silent Auction is similar to its well-known cousin, a live auction, but the key difference is that all the items up for bid are on display all at once, and the bidders can bid on any of them over the course of the event, up to the time the auction closes. The auction closing time is a key part of this type of fundraiser, because that’s when the winners are chosen.

As with any type of auction, the highest bidder wins the prize. All the items are displayed alongside bid sheets, where all the bids are recorded, in order. Each new bid must go up by a certain set amount, and when the auction closing time is announced, whoever has made the last bid has won.

What happens next? The auction committee collects the bid sheets and prizes, and the winners are announced. Each winner must then pay for the items they’ve won, and then they’ll get to take their items home with them. After paying the costs of running the auction, your school or group gets to keep all the profits.

How Do you get Silent Auction Prizes?

Silent Auctions are the type of fundraiser that relies on donated items for prizes and gift baskets, so the profit margin can be high. Other types of fundraisers require you to invest in things your group can sell, but these prizes come to your group for free.

Getting prizes for the fundraiser can take some time, so it’s a good idea to plan in advance and have a strategy with your fundraising team. You’ll want to decide in advance how many prizes you want to have, what kind of prizes are ideal, who you’re going to ask to donate, and how you’re going to do it.

You can go to local merchants and shops and ask for donations. They may want to give physical products or gift certificates. Usually they will need a letter making the request formal, and giving them information about your group for their records. They will likely want to deduct the value of their donation on their taxes, so they’ll need to know your tax exempt number for sure.

Get our Free Silent Auction Donation Request Form Template here when you sign up for our email list!

Who Else Can You Ask for Donations?

The answer is almost anyone! Besides local merchants, you can ask local service providers as well. You could get a personal trainer to give a free set of sessions, or maybe a massage therapist would be willing to donate a massage to your cause.

It never hurts to ask, because their donation to your Silent Auction can actually help local freelancers and small business owners. How? It’s like free marketing for them. You’ll not only list them on your website, auction catalog, or in your newsletter, but at the event their donated gift certificate can be like a calling card, displaying their name, logo and contact information for all to see.

At the very least, awareness of their business will grow, and they may even get a few new clients that way. In fact, one of the little secrets about Gift Certificates, whether they’re won at a Silent Auction or not, is that most of them are never redeemed. It’s true! So there’s really no downside to a business when they donate to your auction.

Ask Your School or Group to Help

You can also ask your school community for prize donations. Some families will have access to great products, some can donate their expertise, or maybe they have a set of season tickets to your local team they are willing to donate. Or they may want to buy a prize or gift card to local merchants that they can donate. There are many options.

What if you get prizes donated that you don’t think are good?

Sometimes people want to donate things they have in the house but that may not be items you and your committee think will attract bids at the auction. You’ll want to try and avoid this kind of awkwardness ahead of time if you can by setting clear expectations with your team and your school community.

You can publish guidelines on what types of donations you’re looking for, or you can get very specific and create a list of items you will and won’t accept. That way, most people won’t be tempted to give things that aren’t on the list.

But that’s not always possible, so sometimes you’ll receive donations of things that aren’t as high-end or that simply don’t seem like a big enough prize by itself. This is when you’ll have to get creative with your packaging.

You can always make a gift basket of several things that alone may have seemed too small. Hopefully, you may be able to link some of them thematically, but even if not, you’ll end up with some bigger baskets that will appeal to the bidders.

In fact, making fabulous-looking gift baskets is something every Silent Auction committee needs to be able to do!

This is just the start of learning about how to run a Silent Auction fundraiser. We’ve got lots more content with lots of details you’ll need to know. Read on!

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