40+ Silent Auction Items You Can Get for Free for Your Next Fundraiser
Silent auctions are some of the most popular events to hold at nonprofit fundraisers — and for good reason. Not only are these events incredibly lucrative, you can start them days or weeks before your actual fundraising event. This helps build a ton of buzz around your upcoming gala as people keep returning to your website to bid on their favorite auction items.
Of course, this all means you need to get popular auction items that people want to keep bidding on, which can be a problem. Sure, you could offer the usual standby items — gift baskets, restaurant gift certificates, spa days — but if you really want your next silent auction to generate interest, your items need to be the type of prizes people really want.
Fortunately, we’ve put together this list of forty auction items your guests will absolutely love. And the best part? You can get every single one of these items for free.
That’s right: not only will the items below generate immediate revenue and marketing buzz for your nonprofit fundraiser, they’ll do so at zero cost to you. Intrigued? Then read on.
1. Private Cooking Lessons
Cooking classes have been a mainstay for many nonprofit and charity events. Some organizations go out of their way to hire a professional gourmet chef who can teach a class of foodies some of their favorite recipes.
But what if you already have a skilled chef or professional cook in your organization or community who’s willing to donate some lessons to your silent auction? The fact that many people may have tasted their dishes might just add to their desirability.
Bonus: In this age of social distancing, it’s easier than ever to offer these lessons through livestream broadcasts, allowing you to offer this auction item to bidders in different states and even countries. Now that’s a great way to start a bidding war!
2. Original Art
This auction item works particularly well if your nonprofit is centered around artistic activities like art therapy. Invariably, these activities are bound to produce some one-of-a-kind pieces that attract attention and admiration from many people.
Contact these people. If they’re willing to donate some of their paintings, sculptures, or collages, you could have a highly sought-after work on your hands. It doesn’t matter if the artist in question is a professional or not (although it may help generate greater brand awareness if they are).
3. Lunch with the Executive Director
Fancy luncheons are always nice to attend, but many people go to these events for the company.
Take advantage of this. Is there a board member, director, or manager many of your supporters would love to connect with? Auction off a private lunch with that person, giving the winner a chance to network and talk about important issues. The meal itself can be donated by a local restaurant in exchange for a sponsorship mention on your event website.
4. Date with a Local Celebrity
Charity bachelor and bachelorette auctions are popular at many events, so why not auction off one of these “dates” by getting a local celebrity to donate an afternoon or evening with the lucky winner? Meals and activities can be donated by local organizations (in exchange for sponsorship mentions), but the main draw for this auction item is the time spent with a popular figure.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to make this into a romantic event — simply offering a fun day out with a celebrated personality will be enough to generate interest among your bidders.
5. Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Tour
Can you contact local news or radio stations and see if they can donate a behind-the-scenes tour of their work areas for interested patrons? How about a zoo or the firehouse? Offering a private, one-on-one tour of a workspace people are curious about could be a really fun experience to auction off!
It’s important to realize that for the uninitiated, any business venue can be exotic and exciting. Maybe you have cooking enthusiasts who’d love to check out the kitchen of a popular restaurant. Or civic-minded folk who’d love to see what the mayor does every day. The possibilities for this one are endless.
6. Ceremonial Honor
Have you ever dreamed of throwing the first pitch at a baseball game? How about cutting the ribbon at the opening of a new community garden? Or breaking a bottle of champagne against a boat during its christening?
Ceremonial events like these offer one-of-a-kind experiences that can be highly desired items to auction off at your next silent auction if you can partner with community organizations that will offer these experiences. Just the fact that people don’t get to do these activities every day (or at any time in their lives) makes them eye-catching offerings.
7. Classic Memorabilia
Odds are you’ve held a few garage or rummage sales to raise money at some of your other nonprofit events. If so, you’ve probably seen some unusual and potentially valuable items show up during these fundraisers. From autographed movie posters to vintage music instruments to rare first-edition books, people regularly (and often unknowingly) donate some real treasures.
Keep an eye out for these items. If you spot them early on, hold onto them. They can make some very valuable items for your next silent auction.
8. Frequent Flyer Miles
Did you know you can transfer the frequent flyer miles you’ve collected to someone else? If you can’t use these miles for yourself, this is a nice way to ensure your frequent flyer miles are being enjoyed before they expire. As such, frequent flyer miles make an attractive auction item that can be donated by your staff, volunteers, or supporters.
Bear in mind that there are fees associated with transferring or gifting frequent flyer miles which should be taken into account before you request someone donate their miles. Nevertheless, many bidders hoping to do some traveling will appreciate being able to purchase some frequent flyer miles and lighten their travel bill.
9. Event Tickets
Offering tickets to sports events, Broadway shows, and concerts will definitely catch the attention of bidders. And these tickets can be acquired for free if you reach out to local venues in advance and request some donated tickets in exchange for a sponsorship promotion on your website.
You may also be able to offer tickets to your own upcoming events. For instance, if you’re planning on hosting a live or virtual concert at a future fundraiser, you can simply offer a pair of tickets to the show at your current silent auction. This is a great way to generate future buzz, particularly if these concerts and events sell out quickly.
10. Birthday Party Packages
Your event team is clearly skilled at hosting popular activities that get people excited. Why not offer their talents for other events — like birthday parties? Offering a party package in your silent auction can be a great way to bring in bidders who need help creating a memorable birthday.
Depending on your team’s skills and resources, you can offer packages for kids and adults. Do you have access to costumed entertainers willing to volunteer their time? Bakeries willing to donate cakes and goodies to a good cause? Extra party favors and supplies at your office? All of this can be assembled into some memorable events people are willing to bid top dollar for!
11. Childcare Services
Parents who support nonprofits and charities often have to balance their parental responsibilities with their desire to help the community. Why not show your appreciation by offering the services of a professional nanny or daycare center? These businesses make excellent sponsors, especially if your supporters are primarily families that need their services, making childcare service donations a great way to increase their brand recognition.
12. Family Photoshoot
By now, it should be apparent that one of the best ways to get free items for your next silent auction is to gage the talents and professions of your supporters and discover if they’d be willing to donate some of their services.
With this in mind, securing the services of a professional photographer would be a great way to offer a professional family photoshoot. Once again, this can be marketed as a win-win for both parties, since your nonprofit gets a popular free item for your auction and the photographer gets a publicized shoot that can lead to more business, especially if there are many families in your nonprofit who’d like group photos.
13. Donor Spots
Recognition plaques, engraved tiles, and memorial benches are all nice ways to recognize your donor contributions. What’s nice about this is that you can offer spots at multiple places, not just big locations like libraries and hospitals.
For instance, if your nonprofit or charity organization has a pleasant physical space like a garden, you can arrange for certain spots like fountains, statues, and bricks to be engraved with the names of winning bidders at your auction. This is a nice way to show recognition to your supporters.
14. Free Oil Changes or Car Maintenance
Exotic and unusual items might attract a lot of attention at auctions, but there’s something to be said about products and services that everyone needs at some point. Making arrangements with an auto shop or garage to provide free oil changes or car maintenance can be a very pragmatic item to include in your list of auction items. Sure, it’s not the flashiest thing you can offer, but who wouldn’t want to avoid the cost of auto maintenance for a year?
15. Free Christmas Light Decorating
If there’s one thing your volunteers can offer that’s of incredible value, it’s manpower. And if you focus that manpower on annual events people need help on, you’ve got a great auction item on your hands.
Take putting up the Christmas lights. Everyone loves seeing a decorated house, but getting everything set up (and taken down) is a hassle not everyone wants to (or can) handle. If you have skilled volunteers with experience assembling Christmas light displays, this can be a great auction item to offer folks who want to show off a bit more Christmas cheer but don’t want to strain their backs when the holidays come.
16. Free Halloween Decorating
On a similar note, assembling a team of volunteers to put up some spooky decorations during Halloween is a great service to offer at your silent auction. This can work particularly well if your nonprofit puts on haunted houses and other Halloween activities during the fall — you might be able to loan your own decorations, saving the bidder from some expensive shopping. Now that’s something worth bidding on!
17. Zoo Memberships
Offering an annual membership to the local zoo or aquarium can be a great item to offer at your silent auction. You can get these by partnering with local organizations who will be happy to donate an annual membership (with various tiers) to your auction in exchange for being mentioned as a sponsor. If your nonprofit organization already offers such attractions, you can provide bidders with access to your own institution.
Other great memberships include memberships to museums, national parks, theaters, concert halls, or amusement parks. Just consider your guests’ interests and the types of organizations in your area you can partner with.
18. Pet Services
We all love our pets, but sometimes fitting in walks or days at the dog park can be problematic. Being able to bid on pet services with experienced and reliable dog walkers and pet sitters can create plenty of enthusiasm among your supporters. You can arrange for some of your volunteers to provide a set number of walks or pet sitting days.
19. Parking Spaces
People regularly covet good parking spaces and love having a spot reserved just for them. Consider offering a reserved parking space in front of your community center. This is a particularly great auction item if you’re raising money for a school — what parent wouldn’t appreciate the chance to park in a prime location during school pickups and drop offs?
20. Closet Cleanouts
Spring cleaning’s a hassle, so why not give your supporters a break by hooking them up with your favorite declutter expert? Odds are you have multiple volunteers or staff members who are experts at cleaning out and organizing closets. See if any of them would be willing to donate a few hours or an afternoon to reorganizing a guest’s problem spaces.
21. Santa Claus Appearance
Getting a photo taken with Santa Claus is a Christmas tradition — but having Santa show up at your door can really make the holidays memorable. If your nonprofit is already equipped to handle holiday events, why not have a Santa performer make a personal appearance for the family that places the winning bid at your auction? You can even have St. Nick offer donated gifts for the children to make the appearance extra special.
22. Your Name on a Menu Item
Who wouldn’t want to feel special by having their name attached to a delicious ice cream flavor or a new sandwich? By partnering with local delis, snack shops, and restaurants, you can create this free but very popular auction item where winning bidders can get a menu item named after them. This can range from entrees to desserts to new drinks, giving you plenty of different options to offer during your auction.
23. Reserved Event Seating
Finding good seats is something everyone wants, but not everyone prepares for. You can take advantage of this by offering reserved seats at an upcoming popular event. This event doesn’t even have to be a major sporting event or concert — simply providing prime seating at a local baseball game frequented by the community can be enough to generate interest.
24. Pizza Party
Yeah, okay — so this might be a bit of a cliché. Still, what group of office workers or students wouldn’t want to take a break from their workday with a fun party full of donated pizzas? This is a fun auction item that will probably do well at many school fundraisers.
25. Cameo App-Style Appearances
Cameo is an app that allows celebrities to make personalized videos for a price. Movie and TV stars record everything from special birthday greetings to funny video roasts. While this might be a bit out of your price range, you can provide the same appeal by getting the manager or CEO of your group to agree to make a cameo-style video where they offer silly or heartfelt messages scripted by the winning bidder.
If there’s a local celebrity in your area (like a TV anchor or popular media personality), you might even be able to convince them to get in on the fun by volunteering their time too!
26. A Year of Free Dry Cleaning
Just like oil changes, laundry is something no one can escape from. Partner with your local dry cleaner to provide a year of free dry cleaning to a lucky supporter who makes the winning bid for this auction item. Their entire family will thank you!
27. Personalized Autographs
Autographed merchandise is nice — but what’s even cooler is when that autograph is personalized to the recipient. You can help provide this special item by reaching out to a celebrity and seeing if they’d be willing to sign something for one of your supporters.
Again, this celebrity doesn’t have to be an uber-famous movie or TV star. Sometimes, a favorite author, local sports legend, or media personality can provide the personalized memorabilia their fans love.
28. Breakfast at the Firehouse
You don’t have to break the bank by purchasing a fancy dinner at an upscale restaurant for your guests. Sometimes, the best meals are served at places you wouldn’t consider formal eateries. Consider partnering with community organizations to offer breakfast at the firehouse or lunch in the mayor’s office. You can bet the winners won’t have many dining experiences like this one!
29. Free Magic Lessons
Ask anyone, and they’d probably all love to learn just one great magic trick that can impress their co-workers or kids. If you have some magic professionals or hobbyists on your staff, maybe they’d be willing to break the Magician’s Code for a few lucky people who’ll finally learn how that amazing card trick was done. To further entice folks, show a brief video of your magician’s talents on your website to reveal what the winning bidder could learn.
30. Unique Gift Basket
We’ve all bid on gift baskets full of beauty products and food. But what if you offered some really unique gift baskets that catered to your supporters’ needs and interests?
Consider offering a car emergency kit gift basket complete with jumper cables, a tool kit, flashlight, and portable phone charger. Or how about a campfire activity gift basket with S’more mallows, graham crackers, a lighter, Duraflame roasting logs, and a book of ghost stories? The possibilities are endless — which means you can combine your donated items into any number of attractive gift baskets.
31. Reserved Pew
If your nonprofit or charity is connected to a church or other religious organization, offering special seating at a religious event might be a nice item to offer in your auction. Many people appreciate being able to provide their families front row seats during Christmas Mass or other ceremonies, so be sure to indicate which event this reserved seating is for.
32. Fitness Package
Fitness packages are a popular silent auction item, and while you might be familiar with the usual gym memberships or yoga classes, you can also come up with some more innovative fitness items based on your supporter interests.
For instance, if your audience includes several hiking enthusiasts, maybe you can find an experienced professional hiking guide to take them on a tour of some local natural landmarks. If you have some golf pros on staff, having them offer to share some tips can really motivate some target bidders to give generously. Be creative and build your fitness packages around what your bidders like to do to stay in shape.
33. Personal Chef for a Day
Chances are you’ve got some cooking enthusiasts in your organization who always seem to offer that special dish everyone loves during your community luncheons and social gatherings. If so, maybe your cook would be willing to act as a personal chef for a day and create the winning bidder’s favorite meal. It’ll be less expensive than paying for a restaurant certificate and much more memorable.
34. Storytime Sessions
Here’s another great auction item for families. Offer some story time sessions with volunteers who can really engage children with their readings of popular picture books and novels. These readers can also include activities along with the readings and perform in front of entire groups of kids, making this a fun mini-event in itself.
An additional way to do this is to find the author of a popular book and see if they’d be willing to do a reading of their own work. This can even be done through Zoom calls or livestreaming videos if distance is a factor.
35. City Tour
Seeing familiar landmarks becomes a whole new experience if they’re shown by someone with a unique knowledge of your city. Find out if anyone in your network knows a lot of interesting stories about your city’s history and is skilled at offering tours. You can even divide responsibilities among people who know more about certain districts and landmarks than others.
36. Taste Tour
Here’s something that can be offered in tandem with (or separately from) your city tour. Partner with multiple restaurants, eateries, and bars on a popular route and arrange to have them provide tour groups with some samples of their favorite dishes and drinks.
Winners of this auction item will get to try multiple cuisines while the restaurants will be able to advertise their offerings, possibly leading to some increased business. Depending on where you arrange the tour, you can theme this event as a wine tasting tour, ethnic food tour, dessert tour etc.
37. Tailgate Party
People love throwing tailgate parties at sporting events, drive-in movies, and other outdoor venues. Offer to supply the food and party supplies for these fun events using your own resources. If you can partner with the venue, you might be able to offer some free tickets to the event as well. This can be a free (or low-cost) event for people eager to hang out in groups again.
38. Book Packages
Plenty of nonprofits and charities arrange book drives where supporters can donate books to raise funds or supply community organizations with reading materials. Why not create themed packages of some of your best donations and offer them at your silent auction?
You could offer a package of multiple graphic novels and/or classic comic books that let people discover the source material behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or how about a package of vintage western or mystery novels for people who can’t get enough of either genre?
Incidentally, audiobooks and eBooks are both popular with readers today. If your supporters prefer consuming literature this way, maybe you can arrange for an annual subscription to Audible or get some free downloads for their Kindles.
39. Podcast Appearance
Podcasts are attracting huge audiences these days. Your nonprofit or charity may already have a popular podcast with thousands of listeners — or perhaps some of your staff members produce their own special podcasts with unique themes.
If that’s the case, you can offer bidders the chance to appear in a future episode of a podcast. This can be anything from a short mention of the winning bidder’s business to having the winner as a guest on the show. Everyone has a fascinating story to share, and getting the opportunity to chat about their interests for an hour is something many people would love to do.
40. Staycation Packages
With travel restrictions and lockdowns still an issue in different parts of the world, people still need ways to relax and unwind. Help them out by offering premium “Staycation Packages” that let your winning bidders feel they’re on vacation in the comfort of their own home or local hotel.
Just what you put in these packages depends on the needs and desires of your audience. Granted, you can include the usual bath bombs, fluffy robes, candy boxes, and other amenities, but you can also get a bit more creative. Consider adding an annual subscription to a popular streaming service, a mini projector to enhance movie night, or even a portable hammock that lets people sleep island-style in their backyard.
BONUS! About Charity Consignment Items
Some nonprofit charity auctions make use of charity consignment items. These can be high-ticket, rare items like vacation packages and autographed sports memorabilia that are provided by a third party for no upfront cost to your nonprofit or charity.
Charity consignment items have a consignment price (also called a base or reserve price) that’s collected by the third party if the item sells at your auction. Anything above that base price gets collected by the nonprofit organization.
For example, let’s say you offer a vacation package to Lake Tahoe with a consignment price of $2000. If you sell this item at your auction for $5000, the consignment company would collect its $2000 and your nonprofit would pocket the remaining $3000. And if the vacation package doesn’t sell, you don’t have to pay the consignment company.
This can be a good way to obtain popular or one-of-a-kind auction items like exotic trips or autographed sports memorabilia. Your nonprofit or charity won’t have to pay for anything upfront and if the item sells for a good price, you can pocket some profit.
Charity consignment auction items are also best when used in a live auction where activity levels are higher, although you can use them in both silent and live auctions. Be sure to keep the following things in mind:
Don’t Sell Auction Items for Less Than Their Consignment Price
If you accidentally sell your consignment item for less than its consignment price, you still owe the company the agreed-upon original price. Thus, if you sold a vacation package with a consignment price of $2000 for $1500, you need to pay the remaining $500 out of your own pocket.
Some auctions start the bidding at the consignment price to ensure they break even or make some profit. Others start the opening bid at a price lower than the consignment price, but make sure the auctioneer knows they can’t let actually sell the item unless it goes over the consignment price. (You’ll also have to make sure your silent auction doesn’t accidentally let these items go for below-base prices).
Invest in a Professional Auctioneer
A professional auctioneer can get an audience excited and stir up a bidding frenzy that drives up the price of items very quickly in a live auction. A less-experienced auctioneer won’t be able to generate this kind of hype. If you want your consignment items (or any of your auction items) to sell for good prices, hire a professional auctioneer and follow their advice.
Know Your Audience’s Needs
While it might be tempting to offer a trip to Paris at your next charity auction, you should keep your supporters’ needs in mind. If your guests are big travelers (with generous donating habits), then a consignment item like a Paris vacation would make sense. On the other hand, if your audience loves to collect items, sports or rare movie memorabilia might be a better choice.
Likewise, be familiar with how much your auction items usually sell for with your audiences. You don’t want to offer items that are out of your bidders’ price range. Make sure you have at least a few bidders in the audience who bid high on a regular basis.
If you’d like to look into charity consignment items for your next auction, be sure to check out our partners page to see which consignment companies will fit your needs the best.
At the end of the day, what makes an auction item popular isn’t its dollar value. It’s how special each item makes the winning bidder feel. By taking stock of your supporters’ interests, you’ll be able to determine what special experiences, opportunities, or services they really want. And as this list shows, a lot of what people want doesn’t have to cost you a dime.
Of course, there’s more that goes into hosting a successful charity auction than simply collecting great auction items. You also want an online platform that makes listing and promoting your items easy for your hardworking staff.
PayBee can help in this. Our online tools make building your silent or live auction campaign a snap. Plus, your guests will have the option of mobile bidding, encouraging higher bid prices for your items.
Learn more about how all of this works by signing up for a free online demo of PayBee’s platform. You’ll be able to participate in a mock live auction (complete with virtual money!) and ask all of your live and silent auction questions to our team of experts. Come discover how easy hosting a successful auction can be at your next in-person, virtual, or hybrid event!