16 Silent Auction Strategies to Make Your Next Silent Auction a Success

16 Silent Auction Strategies to Make Your Next Silent Auction a Success

When it comes to selecting activities for your charity 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 potential donors, sponsors, and guests. 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 to your guests 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 tactics with every silent auction. Try offering new items or present your auction in a brand-new format to assess your guests’ 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. Host an online auction

Hosting your silent auction in an online venue is definitely the easiest and most convenient way to go. And these days, with so many parts of our lives moving onto the internet – most people go online to buy tickets to events like non-profit fundraisers and school auctions – your fundraising event guests probably expect it!


Fundraising software like PayBee is simple to use and set up. It works much like a paper silent auction, except the bid sheets are, of course, virtual. Each bidder in the audience can fill out their own personal bid sheet on the item they hope to win and submit it, all using PayBee’s intuitive online portal. It only takes a minute or two, which is a great advantage for guests if you decide to start the silent auction a few days or weeks ahead of the event. They can be at home, work, running errands, or going about any other of their daily activities and keep up with their online auction bid at the same time.


It’s also a great advantage for you! With an online auction, you no longer have to worry about keeping track of countless paper bid sheets and figuring out which of your bidders is in the lead. These and other tedious tasks are automated for you.

3. Offer auction items that your guests want

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at all the silent auctions that offer items that don’t 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.

4. 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 good and high-quality.

5. Develop a network of donors and sponsors

When seeking out items for your nonprofit, charity, or school auction, be willing to ask local businesses and partners for their help in providing them as official donors and sponsors. Form a network of businesses and well-connected individuals in your community to make locating good 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.

6. 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 donors or sponsors in person or sending a donation request letter. Businesses may have guidelines for the ideal method of reaching out to them posted on their website.

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. Officially invite them to your event and provide them with a donation form. And don’t forget to thank them!

7. Schedule when to approach donors and sponsors

Once you’ve created a list of potential donors and sponsors and determined how you want to reach out to them, develop a strategy for when to do just that. Prioritize the businesses and individuals on your list that you think would be most open to giving – and giving generously!

This is one of those tactics that is especially useful when you have a lot of people on your list, and only a small team to engage with them. You can enter into your virtual calendar what date you want to send an initial donation request letter or schedule an in-person meeting. Then you can notate that you did send the letter or call.

After the first contact, you should check your virtual calendar regularly. If two or three weeks pass and you haven’t heard from the intended recipient, it may be time to reach out again – just as a polite follow-up in case your letter was lost or your request for a meeting was forgotten.

Do all this as early as possible in your 9-12 month-long block for procurement of auction items. Chances are that the businesses and individuals you’re reaching out to have lots of other nonprofit and charity organizations requesting their help. You want to get your horse in the race as fast as possible!

8. 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 charity or nonprofit — but only if you make sure those auction items catch their eye.

Fortunately, a fundraising software like PayBee makes 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 online auction.

9. Work out good starting bids for each auction item

This is one of the trickier tactics 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 guests to start filling out your virtual bid sheets, 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!

10. Create bidding 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 your charity a lot of money. On the other hand, asking people to increase their bids by at least $300 could prevent most guests 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 engage interest and encourage more bidding.

11. 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.

12. Include mobile bidding options

What’s the best way to get a lot of people to participate in and engage with 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 close. All this helps generate more excitement around your auction and encourage more bidding.

13. 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.     

14. 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, school auctions, and the like. 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.

15. Make your silent auction a compelling event from start to close

Silent auctions may be quieter affairs than live auctions (hence the word “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 auction and prevent the two events from clashing), 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 (at the event and on social media) and gets that audience excited about their last chance to bid on those items!     

16. 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. Give them information about how much money they helped raise — and the people and communities those funds will benefit. Finally, let them know when and at which venue 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.

Download PayBee's Free Silent Auction Templates

PayBee's Silent Auction Bid Sheets

Download Paybee's Free Silent Auction Guide here 

Learn other silent auction strategies, tips and tactics by visiting our resources blog at www.paybee.io/blog

Take a little work out of your silent auction strategy with automated bid sheets

Building an effective silent auction strategy is one of the best tactics you can use 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!


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Nonprofit Tips
Nonprofit Fundraising
Silent Auction
Michael Jung


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