Silent Auctions: A How-to Guide to Receiving More Bids

Silent Auctions
Learn how to plan a silent auction that will bring in big bids
and result in a more invested donor base.

Silent Auctions

What Are Silent Auctions?

Silent auctions are a type of charity auction and nonprofit fundraising event. During silent auctions, organizations raise money by taking bids on auction items and selling each to the highest bidder. Bidding is either conducted by using paper bid sheets or mobile bidding software.

Why Host a Silent Auction?

Silent auctions have a built-in donation incentive: the chance to walk home with a sought-after auction item! As such, they’re some of the best fundraising events for driving revenue. Plus, an interactive activity like bidding is sure to keep your donors engaged with the event.

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Silent Auction Formats

Bid Sheets

When most people think of silent auctions, bid sheets come to mind. They’re simply pieces of paper placed next to each auction item that include 10-15 rows for bidding. In order to place a bid, participants must handwrite their bidder number and bid amount in the first empty row.

If your organization would prefer to host a more traditional silent auction, bid sheets might be right for you.

However, because bid sheets require a more involved bidding process, organizations hosting paper auctions generally don’t raise as much money as those hosting mobile auctions. Not to mention, your organization will face a complicated checkout process at the end of the night.

Mobile Bidding

Mobile bidding has added a modern technological twist to silent auctions. With mobile bidding software, auction attendees can peruse items and place bids on their smartphones. They can either bid manually or set a maximum bid amount so that the software bids for them!

Silent auctions conducted with mobile bidding result in about 3x as many donations, because bidding is so convenient. Not to mention, since guests pre-register their credit cards, mobile bidding completely eliminates the need for an involved checkout process.

Budgeting for Silent Auctions

There’s no reward without a little risk! Though silent auctions are quite profitable, they can be relatively complex events to plan. There are a lot of moving parts to get in order to ensure that your auction runs smoothly.

As such, it couldn’t be more important for your organization to set a firm budget that takes all possible expenses into account.

To the right, we’ve listed out some common silent auction costs that organizations likely need to factor into their event budgets. Ideally, your organization will be able to get many of these materials donated, but be sure to give yourself plenty of wiggle room.

Auction Software

The Venue

Auction Items

Staff Hours



Tables & Other Supplies

Recruiting an Auction Team

Logistics Committee

  • Duties: The logistics committee, headed by the auction chair, will manage all logistics related to planning and promoting your auction. For example, they’ll book the venue, send out invites, coordinate supplies, etc.
  • Job Description: All of the staff and volunteers on the logistics committee should be organized and detail-oriented. As a whole, this team should be good at wrangling moving parts into a cohesive whole.

Procurement Committee

  • Duties: The procurement committee will be in charge of seeking out in-kind donations in the form of auction items. Provide them with a toolkit so that they’re prepared to ask for donations and know what items to look out for.
  • Job Description: The procurement committee should consist of outgoing individuals with extensive networks to leverage. They should be excellent communicators who aren’t afraid to ask for what they need!

Emcee & Auction Monitors

  • Duties: The emcee hosts the silent auction by engaging guests with a program and announcements throughout the night. Auction monitors are stationed around the item display to address attendees’ questions and to help the emcee keep the auction on track.
  • Job Description: Emcees and auction monitors should be enthusiastic people who can be assertive when necessary (after all, they might have to re-emphasize the rules to guests!).

General Volunteers

  • Duties: Your organization will need a team of general volunteers to take care of tasks during the silent auction itself. This team will set up the venue, run registration and item checkout, clean up once the auction is over, and complete other event-night tasks as needed.
  • Job Description: The general volunteer team should be composed of volunteers with various interests and skill sets. They’ll be taking care of miscellaneous tasks, so diversity is key.

Selecting a Venue


Considering that your organization will need to showcase dozens of auction items, the silent auction venue you choose must have plenty of open space for laying out tables, item displays, and other event stations.

Not to mention, it must be large enough to (comfortably!) accommodate your guest list. 


Obviously, the venue you end up selecting should be reflective of the ambience you’re trying to create. Consider the theme of your auction and the main demographics of your guest list when vetting out venues.

For example, it probably wouldn’t make sense to host a family-friendly, back to school night auction in a highbrow art museum.


Chances are, some of the items featured in your auction are large or cumbersome. The venue you choose should be accessible so that it’s easy for your auction team to transport items.

After all, you wouldn’t want to have to carry a heavy item up five flights of stairs or find out that you couldn’t get one of your biggest-ticket sellers through the venue entrance on the night of the event!

Strong Connectivity

If you’re using auction and/or mobile bidding software for your event, your organization will need to select a venue with strong connectivity. Before booking, test out the wifi and cell service to make sure it’s reliable.

A venue that isn’t well-connected could mean that you and your guests are unable to access your software, and thus, the data and capabilities you need to run a successful auction.

Soliciting Auction Items

In order to raise as much money through your auction as possible, it’s crucial to solicit the most appropriate auction items. The items that receive the most bid activity:

  1. Appeal to your donors’ needs or interests.
  2. Fit into your attendees’ general price range.
  3. Possess an element of rarity or uniqueness.

Ultimately, the best auction items for your organization will depend on the makeup of your donor base. Claire Axelrad recommends asking the following questions about your attendee demographics, “Do you have young parents with kids? Grandparents? Young singles? Retirees? Big spenders? Not so big spenders? Art lovers?” and her list goes on from there.

The main takeaway here is that it is vital that you know who your potential donors are before you start soliciting in-kind gifts for your auction. But she also points out, “Regardless of your crowd, there are certain items that tend to sell well among many demographics.” And we agree!

We’ve listed out a few universally appealing ideas on the right to help spark your imagination! Once procurement is complete, you’ll need to organize item details, such as thorough item descriptions, for bidders to easily access. You can leverage your auction software’s item catalog tool to easily organize this information.

Arts & Entertainment

  • VIP concert tickets
  • Art or music lessons
  • Museum memberships
  • Shadow a movie director

Food & Drink

  • Wine tasting
  • Pig roast party
  • Dinner with a celebrity
  • Cocktail cart

Sports, Activity, & Fitness

  • Signed gear
  • Rare baseball cards
  • Championship tickets
  • Private yoga lessons

Travel & Adventure

  • Exotic getaway
  • Luggage set
  • White water rafting
  • Ski resort weekend

Promoting Your Auction

How Do You Promote a Silent Auction?

When promoting your silent auction, it’s important to advertise both the auction items and the event itself. After all, donors will be more inclined to attend if they spot an item they want to win!

The best way to promote items is by creating an auction catalog, which alongside including basic event details, lists out photos and descriptions of each item. To create a catalog, your organization should enlist the help of auction or event planning software.

Using the software, you can make item records and pull this data to populate an online event site branded to your silent auction. To promote, all you need to do is share the link to the site with supporters in auction-related outreach.

Why Create an Online Auction Catalog?

Your organization could certainly compile and print a physical auction catalog, but it’s more cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally conscious to create one online. You won’t have to waste money on printing costs or worry about the logistics of mailing out your catalog to supporters.

Plus, you can continuously update your auction site. That means you can easily add new items as they come in, allowing you to start promoting your event earlier than you would be able to with a printed catalog.

Not to mention, auction sites also support online bidding, so you could even choose to pair your silent auction with an online auction to raise even more money!

How Can You Boost Silent Auction Registrations?

There are several channels you can use to drive traffic to your event registration page. You’ll need to tap into both organic and paid advertising for the best results.

Your organic channels might include email, direct mail, social media, and so on. To tap into paid advertising, look into advertising programs for social media and search engines like Google.

Google Ads are a fantastic way to increase your event registration page’s visibility. Best of all, you can use this paid advertising platform for free through the Google Ad Grants program.

Partner with a Google Grants manager to apply and create ads that target keywords that potential attendees are searching. Professionals know how to use features like geotargeting to make sure you’re only spending money on advertising to local audiences. Getting your account up and running can take some time though, so make sure to reach out well ahead of your silent auction.

Ready to promote your silent auction on Google?

Setting Up a Silent Auction

Group Items into Categories

To create the most intuitive display, group your items into categories (for example travel-related items, baskets, food and drink, etc.).

Not only will this make it easier for bidders to find the items they came to your auction to bid on, but it will also make it easier for your staff to retrieve items and distribute them to winners at the end of the night.

Promote Traffic Flow

Since there are so many items to display, silent auction venues can quickly become cluttered up by tables.

Make sure you arrange tables in a way that promotes good traffic flow so that guests are able to check out (and bid on!) your items. In particular, avoid U-shaped arrangements, which can quickly jam up.

Don’t Obscure Visibility

In order for your items to have maximum appeal, your guests must be able to view them in their full glory!

Whenever possible, keep items to only one row per table so that guests’ visibility isn’t obscured. If you do have to double up on rows, make sure to put the bigger sellers in the front!

Create Table Tents

To help donors see the full value of your items, and thus spur more bid activity, you should place table tents next to each item.

Table tents should list out the item name and number, a brief description, any restrictions (such as an expiration date on a gift card), the market value, and the starting bid and minimum raise amounts.

Following Up After the Silent Auction

Express Your Thanks

Your silent auction could never have been such a success without your attendees, item donors, corporate sponsors, volunteers, and other supporters.

Make sure to thoroughly express your thanks to all pivotal contributors in a timely manner to keep fostering strong relationships with them.

Evaluate Your Performance

After your auction has ended, run reports with your auction software and survey volunteers and attendees to gain insights into your event performance.

Evaluating your performance is crucial, because it’s the only way to identify areas for improvement and actively work to hone your event fundraising strategies for next time.

How Mobile Bidding Increases Auction Revenue

It’s Convenient

When bidding is as easy as clicking a button (or getting software to bid for you!), donors will be more inclined to do it.

Because mobile bidding is so convenient, it results in about 3x as many bids as bid sheet auctions.

There’s Universal Access

With mobile bidding, all bidding is run online, meaning donors can participate in your auction from anywhere!

Being able to open up your auction to more supporters naturally results in more bids, since there are more people to provide funding.

Bidding Is Open for Longer

Mobile bidding enables guests to view items from their phones and eliminates the need for a long checkout process.

Since you’ll have fewer logistics complicating your night, your organization can keep bidding open for as long as possible!

Strategies for Raising More at Your Silent Auction

Team Up with Corporate Sponsors

Corporate sponsors act as allies during event planning and execution by providing your organization with funding, in-kind donations (think: auction items!), additional promotion, and other advantages.

In return, your organization offers them advertising in event materials and the positive reputation boost that comes with supporting a good cause.

Because of the fiscal support they can provide, corporate sponsors can help your organization make a higher return on your silent auction.

Conduct a Live Appeal

A live appeal is simply an in-person ask for donations. At the beginning of your auction, have one of your staff or board members get up and request that the audience help you meet a fundraising goal.

You can collect donations either using your mobile bidding software, paper pledge cards, or a text-to-give service.

Any way you spin it, a live appeal is the perfect opportunity for guests who aren’t bidding (or those who just want to give more!) to contribute to your cause.

Host a Crowdfunding Campaign

During crowdfunding campaigns, nonprofits aim to reach a clear-cut goal to be put toward a specific cause or project. They do so by collecting small donations from a large number of donors.

To raise more at your silent auction, consider hosting a crowdfunding campaign prior to the event.

You can use a crowdfunding platform to set up a personalized page and easily share it with your network over email and social media.

Sell Merchandise

Selling t-shirts, water bottles, and other branded merchandise can be an excellent way to supplement your silent auction proceeds.

Set up an online storefront on your event site and/or a physical merch booth at the event where guests can purchase items to remember your auction by.

Many people attend silent auctions looking to walk home with a cool item, so branded memorabilia is sure to please!

Additional Auction Resources

Charity Auctions Guide

Guide to charity auctions

Silent auctions aren’t the only type of auction that your organization can host!

Check out this guide to learn more about charity auctions and how you can raise more money.

Running a School Silent Auction

Running a successful school silent auction

Does your school or university plan on hosting a silent auction this semester?

Learn how you can make the most of your auction and raise more money for your school!

Auction Item Ideas

T-shirt fundraising is a unique charity auction item idea.

You’ll need silent auction items to sell off to your bidders and supporters.

Take a look at these awesome charity auction item ideas to get some auction inspiration!