How to Plan a Fundraising Silent Auction

How to Plan a Fundraising Silent Auction

Of all the activities you can host for your fundraising event, silent auctions should top the list.

Why? Because silent auctions are a staple of nonprofit and charity fundraisers — and for good reason. Donors instinctively gravitate toward activities that offer friendly competition and great prizes. This allows silent auctions to potentially be one of the most profitable fundraising activities you can offer.

That said, hosting a successful silent auction requires plenty of planning and organization. You’ll need to be very clear with your objectives, assemble a reliable support team, and use a good online fundraising platform. And even if you’ve already hosted silent auctions, it still pays to assess your past events and work out how to improve them moving forward.

If all that sounds a bit intimidating, don’t worry. This article will take you step-by-step through the essential stages of planning a silent auction for your fundraiser. We’ll also offer additional resources and recommendations for the online tools today’s nonprofits and charities use in their auction events.     

The Benefits of Including a Silent Auction in Your Fundraising Event

Before we get started, let’s take a closer look at why so many charities and nonprofit organizations include silent auctions in their fundraisers. After helping countless nonprofits host successful silent auctions, we’ve found:

They’re versatile

You can literally host a silent auction for any type of charity or nonprofit. Schools, churches, museums, and more have all raised money using silent auctions to help fund their programs.

What’s more, you can now host silent auctions from anywhere — including virtual environments. Where before silent auctions may have required people to travel to an event venue and write down their bids on a sheet, today bidding on silent auctions is as easy as opening an app on your smart phone.

Silent auctions can also be held over a longer time period than your actual fundraiser, meaning you’ll have more time to collect bids and raise money. This makes them more convenient not only for your nonprofit but also your donors who can still support you even if they can’t attend your actual gala.

They attract more donors

Speaking of virtual environments — hosting your silent auction online means you’ll have more opportunities to attract a larger pool of donors. People can place bids while they’re at work, running errands, or participating in other activities at your fundraiser.

Even better, an online silent auction can entice people who aren’t even in the same city, state, or country and get them to add additional bids. As long as you can arrange a good delivery method, your bidders can come from anywhere.

They’re easy to host with modern fundraising technology

2020 forced technology developers to make vast improvements to fundraising software. Today’s online platforms are much easier to use when planning virtual or hybrid fundraising events and are specifically designed to make building a silent auction campaign a snap.

Want to know more? Sign up for a free demo of PayBee’s online platform. You’ll discover how intuitive our software is by participating in a mock live auction and be able to ask all of your questions about silent auctions to our team of experts.

Planning a Successful Silent Auction

As popular and beneficial as silent auctions are, it’s best not to host one on a whim. Successful auctions take time to plan, so make sure to start putting yours together early (we recommend five to eight months before your event) and use the following steps:

1.     Form your event team

Your event staff and volunteers should meet as early as possible to decide exactly what type of silent auction you want to put on. Be sure to determine:

  • Your revenue and performance goals: How much money do you want your auction to raise? How many donors do you expect to attract? How do these performance goals compare to your prior auctions?
  • What your budget is: Take into account the cost of your fundraising platform, event venue, auction items, advertising, and any entertainment or staff costs.

2.     Decide if you want to host an in-person, virtual, or hybrid silent auction

Virtual silent auctions may attract large audiences, but in-person auctions can generate more enthusiasm. Meanwhile, a hybrid silent auction could offer the best of both worlds, but requires additional planning.

Keep in mind, you may have to adapt your event to current events. For instance, if COVID-19 concerns become an issue, a virtual event may be more logical. Likewise, if you want to keep your costs low, an online auction can also reduce or negate event venue, catering, and in-person staff fees.

3.     Gather all your auction items

Choosing the right auction items for your audience is essential to hosting a successful silent auction. While you could go all out and procure expensive items like fancy trips or rare sports memorabilia, if your donors are more into spa treatments and fine dining, you won’t attract the kind of bids you want. By knowing your audience and coming up with a list of items you know they’ll want, you’ll set yourself up for success.

Equally important is knowing where and how you can get your auction items. If your budget is limited, you’ll want to see if your staff or partners can donate some of the items. Likewise, you can turn to local businesses and see if they’ll sponsor your event, not only with money but also by offering their goods or services as an auction item (popular restaurants make particularly good sponsors since they can offer free meals). Make sure to tell your sponsors their businesses will be promoted on your fundraiser’s online and offline materials.

Before collecting your materials, make sure you have a safe place to store all of them. You’ll also want to take photos of each item and catalogue them, not just for your own records but because photos and item descriptions are essential when promoting your event on social media and listing them online.

Finally, come up with good starting bids and bid increments for your items. We’ve found a starting bid that’s 40-50% of the item’s fair market value (FMV) helps motivate audiences to bid on your item. Likewise, bid increments set at 10-15% of each item’s FMV can help you reach a desired price reasonably quickly. That said, there are exceptions, which is why we cover this subject more extensively in our article “14 Strategies for Silent Auctions.”

4.     Use a reliable management software

Even if you decide to host an in-person silent auction, investing in a good fundraising auction platform is essential to make sure you event runs smoothly. PayBee’s online fundraising platform, for instance, makes it easy to not only build a website showcasing all your silent auction items but also promote your event through social sharing tools.

Guests can also place bids via mobile app and the PayBee system records all auction activity as it occurs. This not only makes checking out and following up with winning bidders easier, it also provides a simple way to assess your silent auction later and make improvements for future events.

PayBee also makes building your fundraising website simple. Our software lets you customize your design with your logo, banner, photos, and impact stories. And be sure to let visitors donate directly on your website so even the attendees who can’t bid on your more expensive items can still contribute to your cause.

5.     Make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities

While fundraising platforms can largely automate your silent auction, you’ll still want to ensure your staff and volunteers all know what they’ll be doing during the auction. Staff assignments may include everything from checking in guests to sending thank you emails to your attendees.

In addition, having contingency plans ready in case of emergencies is vital to running a successful event. This can include everything from turning your in-person auction into a virtual event to accommodate your guests to having the proper tech support on hand in case of any technical difficulties.

6.     Send out invitations

Once you’ve had adequate time to assemble your silent auction, it’s time to promote it. Start by sending out email invitations to your usual pool of donors and supporters. Once again, PayBee’s system makes it easy to not only reach out to the people on your list but also manage your guest list and get your bidders to RSVP.

Make sure to tell guests when your silent auction will begin. Since many silent auctions start days or even weeks before your main gala, it’s to your advantage to give donors sufficient time to bid on all the items.

7.     Publicize your event online and offline

Your silent auction guests shouldn’t be limited to your usual support network. Using PayBee’s social sharing buttons, promote your upcoming event on the social media channels your audiences frequent. Include photos and descriptions of your best auction items on Facebook and Instagram posts along with links to your website so everyone who sees your ads can participate. Your event staff should also reach out to their social networks too, and inform them of the upcoming event.

And don’t just limit your marketing campaign to online efforts either. Flyers, word-of-mouth, and other offline methods can also attract plenty of new bidders, increasing the likelihood that your auction items will fetch high prices.

8.     Rehearse your event

Rehearsing a fundraising event is crucial in order to make sure all your staff members and volunteers know what they’re responsible for during the actual event. In the case of silent auctions, make sure everyone who will be interacting with the auction platform is familiar with all your online and mobile tools.

You’ll also want to run your staff through multiple scenarios, including those that involve technical difficulties and guest issues. These run-throughs help you spot problem areas in your event that you can iron out well before actual guests are involved.

9.     Hold your event

This is where all your preparation pays off. A silent auction can run several days or weeks, and while a good online platform like PayBee can handle many tasks automatically, you still need staff and tech support available to make sure the entire activity runs smoothly.

Many event planners also like hosting a separate live auction on the day of your actual gala. If you plan to do this, it’s a good idea to end your silent auction before your live auction begins so the two activities don’t compete with each other. Make sure your emcee or auctioneer lets your guests know how much time they have to participate in your silent auction in the hours and minutes leading up to its close. Such announcements help build up excitement and motivate people to place some final bids.

10.  Follow-up with donors and assess your auction’s performance

Silent auctions are great events not only for the money they raise but also because they can attract a whole new pool of donors for your charity or nonprofit. In order to make sure you retain these donors, however, it’s important that you follow up with them after the auction.

Send thank you emails and notes to all the participants, letting them know how their contributions will make an impact on their communities and how online attendees can pick up their auction items. Inform them about any upcoming fundraisers or volunteer opportunities they can participate in. PayBee’s online platform makes it easy to connect with even hundreds of guests, increasing the likelihood that they’ll continue to donate to your programs.

PayBee also keeps records of your silent auction, allowing your team to review your auction’s performance. Take into account all the items that sold well or didn’t sell. Assess how many people participated in the auction and any reviews left by the attendees. All of this information can be valuable for planning your next silent auction and promoting it to even more guests.

Moving Forward

Planning a great silent auction involves so many important tips and strategies that we’ve written multiple articles on the subject. Feel free to check out the following to help make your next auction an even greater success:

Want to learn how modern fundraising tools can make hosting silent auctions and fundraising galas easier? Sign up for a free demo of PayBee’s online fundraising platform. You’ll be able to participate in one of our mock live auctions, showing you all the fun your guests will have. You’ll also be able to chat with our experts either one-on-one or in groups to learn all the ways PayBee’s software can improve your future fundraisers. Sign up today!

Online Fundraising
Nonprofit Fundraising
Michael Jung