14 Strategies to Make Your Next Silent Auction a Success

14 Strategies to Make Your Next Silent Auction a Success

When it comes to selecting activities for your fundraiser, a silent auction is one of the best choices you can make. Not only can you host silent auctions for virtually any kind of fundraiser, you can start them days or even weeks in advance of your main gala. This gives you the perfect way to start raising money and promoting your fundraising event at the same time.

There’s only one problem. Since silent auctions are so popular, every nonprofit or charity tends to use them in their event lineup. And with the increasing popularity of virtual and hybrid galas, your organization won’t just be competing with local charities but also nonprofit organizations across the country.

This means your silent auction needs to really stand out among all the others if you want to attract interest from your donors. To help with this, we’re putting together a list of winning strategies that are sure to generate plenty of interest for your event. 

1.     Learn from your past silent auctions

Since silent auctions are so popular, odds are you’ve held a few in the past already. Take advantage of this by studying the performance of your earlier silent auctions and assess what worked — and what didn’t.

Did certain items receive a lot of bids? Then you’ll definitely want to offer those in your upcoming auction. Which sponsors donated the most popular items? Are they willing and able to donate these items again?

Naturally, you don’t want to just keep repeating the same old strategies with every silent auction. Try offering new items or present your auction in a brand-new format to assess your audience’s reaction. As each silent auction offers new data, you’ll be able to assemble a better set of winning strategies for your future fundraisers.

2.     Offer auction items that your guests want

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at all the silent auctions that offer items that attract much interest — or bids. Even if you go to the trouble of getting high-end items like week-long cruises or trips to Jamaica, you won’t get a lot of interest if the auction items are out of your guests’ price range.

Instead, tailor your list of auction items to your guests’ specific interests — and budget. Are most of your supporters sports fans? Then, getting your hands on a lot of sports memorabilia autographed by their favorite athletes could get them to pay a visit to your website. Do your donors enjoy good meals and nighttime entertainment? Then adjust your offerings accordingly by obtaining reservations and gift certificates at popular restaurants, clubs, and playhouses.

3.     Give yourself plenty of time to obtain your auction items

Once you have a list of auction items, you still need to spend enough time finding these items. We recommend giving yourself anywhere from 9 to 12 months before your event to make sure the items you procure are high-quality.

4.     Develop a network of donors and sponsors

When seeking out these items, be willing to ask local businesses and partners for their help in providing them. Form a network of businesses and well-connected individuals in your community to make locating your auction items easier. And make sure your event team is persistent and willing to really go after the desirable and unique items your guests will want to bid on.

5.     Know how to approach donors

If you want to obtain great auction items from donors, you need to know the best way to approach individuals and businesses and get them to support your organization. This may involve meeting with a donor or sponsor in person or sending a donation request letter.

Whatever way you decide to do this, be sure to start by acknowledging the relationship you have (or want to develop) with your donor and explain the benefits of partnering with your organization. If you use an online fundraising platform like PayBee’s to host your event, point out that your donor or sponsor’s business will be advertised on your website in front of all of your guests, providing them with a lot of free advertising. Invite them to your event and provide them with a donation form. And don’t forget to thank them!

6.     Promote your auction items

Unlike live auctions, silent auctions don’t usually have an emcee or auctioneer promoting each item throughout the auction. Instead, the items are displayed online for the bidders, sometimes for several days. This gives your guests more time to engage in bidding wars and raise more money for your nonprofit — but only if you make sure those auction items catch their eye.

Fortunately, fundraising platforms like PayBee make it easy for you to bulk upload multiple auction items and supply each one with an enticing photograph and description. You should also take advantage of Paybee’s social sharing options which allow you to showcase your most desirable auction items (including your Buy-It-Now items) on social media, driving more interested bidders to your silent auction.

7.     Work out good starting bids for each auction item

This is one of the trickier strategies when planning out a silent auction. If your starting bid on an item is too low, it'll take too long for bidders to raise the price and you could miss out on a nice profit if it sells too fast. On the other hand, if you create a starting bid that’s too high, you could discourage bidders from competing with each other and miss out on a decent selling price.

To hit the “sweet spot” where your starting bid motivates many people to start bidding, set your starting bid at about 40-50% of the fair market value (FMV) or the estimated value of your item based on similar items in the market. This will let your guests know that they can get the item for half the price if they start bidding right away — and as the bids drive the price up, they’ll still feel like they’re getting a good deal.

Of course, if you’re offering an auction item that’s particularly popular with your audience, you may want to make the starting bid higher. Conversely, if your audience is used to lower starting bids, you might want to price your items at about 20-30% of the FMV to stimulate bidding. It all comes down to how well you know your guests’ bidding habits, so be sure to tailor your auction to their needs!

8.     Create bid increment guidelines that will help you reach your fundraising goals

Along with your starting bid, setting minimum bid increments can make or break your auction. These are the minimum amounts guests can increase their bids by on an auction item and you can program them into your online silent auction for your convenience.

However, the question remains — how high (or low) should your minimum bid increment be? Offering $5 bid increments on a relatively inexpensive item will keep it from raising you a lot of money. On the other hand, asking people to increase their bids by at least $300 could prevent most people from participating.

As a rule of thumb, set your minimum bid increments at 10-15% of your item’s FMV. This could mean setting your increments at $10 for an item that would normally sell for $100 in a store or $50 for a more expensive item that usually sells for $500.

That being said — if some of the items in your silent auction are expensive but haven’t proven popular with your guests in the past, you may enjoy more success by lowering the minimum bid increment. This can stimulate interest and encourage more bidding.

9.     Offer a Buy-it-Now option

One great feature PayBee now offers with its silent auctions is the Buy-It-Now option. With Buy-It-Now, you create a set price that a bidder can pay to purchase the item immediately. This saves bidders the trouble of constantly returning to your website to place a new bid and helps you raise more money for your organization.

A word of warning, however — if you make your Buy-It-Now price too low, there’s a chance you could lose money on an item. This is because bidders could potentially place bids higher than the Buy-It-Now price, causing someone to snap up the item for the Buy-It-Now price before it can raise more money for you.

To keep this from happening, we recommend making your Buy-It-Now price around 150-200% of the item’s FMV. This will ensure you make a decent sum of money on the sale. In addition, don’t use the Buy-It-Now option on very popular auction items or unique, one-of-a-kind items and experiences. Since these items tend to attract a lot of bidding, it’s best if you save your Buy-It-Now options to items that attract impulse buys.

10. Include mobile bidding options

What’s the best way to get a lot of people to participate in a silent auction? Make bidding convenient for them. And thanks to the mobile bidding options offered by PayBee, being part of an auction just got even simpler!

Using mobile bidding, your guests will be able to place their bids quickly and conveniently from their smartphones and other mobile devices. Even better, your participants will receive text and email updates to let them know if they’ve been outbid (motivating them to place a higher bid) and when the silent auction is about to end. All this helps generate more excitement around your auction and encourage more bidding.

11. Offer an auto bidding option

To make bidding even more convenient for your guests, use PayBee’s new auto bidding feature. By enabling your guests to use this option, each guest can set the maximum bid amount, or the highest amount they’re willing to bid on an auction item. The PayBee system will then automatically bid for each guest using the smallest allowed bid increments until the bid reaches the maximum bid amount.

This frees guests from having to constantly return to your website to place a new bid while also helping your auction raise more money. Each person’s maximum bid amount is also known only to them, meaning other bidders won’t know how high the auto bids will go, keeping bidding lively.     

12. Show your bidders how much they’re contributing to your programs

Placing the winning bid on a desired auction item isn’t the only reason why people participate in charity auctions. They also want to know the impact their contributions are having on your fundraiser. To make sure your guests know they’re making a positive contribution, include items like a fundraising thermometer on your website. As bidding intensifies, people will see how they’re helping you reach your fundraising goals, which will just stimulate more bidding.

13. Make your silent auction an event from start to close

Silent auctions may be quieter affairs than live auctions (hence the “silent” in the name), but that doesn’t mean your emcee can’t generate some additional excitement for it. Since silent auctions usually close during your actual event (allowing you to start your live auctions and prevent the two events), you can get your emcee to remind your audience that your silent auction is about to close.

Make this a countdown event. Plenty of people can be motivated to place last-minute bids or make impulse Buy-It-Now purchases when they feel their opportunity to get those great auction items is closing. And thanks to mobile bidding, people can place those last-second bids from anywhere in your event venue or outside of it, so make sure your emcee makes multiple announcements and gets that audience excited about their last chance to bid on those items!     

14. Keep in touch with your bidders

Even after your auction closes, you can take steps to make sure you attract a big crowd to your next silent auction. Send congratulatory emails to all your winners. Inform them of how much money they helped raise — and the people and communities those funds will benefit. Finally, let them know when your next fundraiser will be held, and offer a preview of the type of auction items they can expect to bid on when it starts.

By staying in contact with your audience, you’ll be able to attract more bidders to your next gala as they start seeing your fundraising events as the go-to places for fun silent auctions with convenient bidding options and rewarding prizes. This will go a long way in distinguishing you from all the other charity auctions out there — and when you can start your auctions with a healthy crowd of participants, the bidding, and the money you’ll raise, will be much higher.

Moving Forward

Building an effective silent auction strategy is one of the best things you can do to make your fundraiser a success. By taking the time to acquire highly desirable auction items and then promoting them on a user-friendly online platform like PayBee, your next fundraising event will be able to generate high levels of income for your nonprofit or charity.

Of course, silent auctions are just the start of what an online fundraising platform like PayBee can offer. To learn how you can take your fundraising galas to the next level, sign up for a free demo of PayBee’s system. You’ll be able to participate in a mock live auction and see how intuitive PayBee’s platform is. You’ll also be able to ask our team of experts questions about the system and how it can benefit your next fundraiser. Come learn why hundreds of other nonprofits use PayBee to host their fundraisers by signing up for a free demo today!

Nonprofit Tips
Nonprofit Fundraising
Silent Auction
Michael Jung