Home Fundraising Raising Money Through Silent Auctions: A How-to Guide

Raising Money Through Silent Auctions: A How-to Guide

by Steve Johns

Silent auctions can be highly profitable fundraising events for nonprofits. However, making the most of your silent auction definitely requires a little planning and strategy.

We’ll look at 5 essential tips for raising money at your silent auction so you can maximize your event fundraising:

  1. Choose the most appealing items.
  2. Implement mobile bidding.
  3. Pair your silent auction with an online auction.
  4. Make a live appeal.
  5. Highlight philanthropy.

And if you need a little help properly reporting the donations you receive from your silent auction to the IRS, make sure to check out this article on Form 990s. Let’s get started.

1. Choose the Most Appealing Items

While there are plenty of other strategies you can use to supplement your silent auction fundraising, a significant portion of your funds will come from the bids you receive on auction items. As such, it’s important to choose items that will appeal to your guests.

While some items are universally appealing (who doesn’t love an exotic vacation package?), you’ll likely have to do some research to pinpoint exactly which items will create the most competition. To better guide your item selection, start by consulting the data that’s available to you.

Evaluate Your Data

  • Look back on previous years
    Have you hosted a silent auction before? If you kept thorough records of your items, you can use your fundraising software to look back and see which items have performed well in the past.
  • Consult your donor database
    If you haven’t hosted an auction before, but you need to get some insights into your supporter base, try consulting your donor database. While the data there won’t directly reflect the information you’re looking for, you can use any data you have on your donors to deduce which items they might like most.

Know Your Audience When Procuring Auction Items

As you’re evaluating your data, you’ll want to look out for a few things. Generally, the most appealing auction items will:

  • Reflect your donors’ interests
    While it might seem obvious, the items that receive the most bid activity will reflect your donors’ interests, passions, and hobbies.
  • Fall into your donors’ price range
    Even if your items are absolutely amazing, your attendees won’t bid if they can’t afford to. Make sure you’re offering items that fit into your donors’ budgets.
  • Be unique
    The auction items that perform best are one-of-a-kind in nature, such as dinner with a celebrity or being principal of the school for a day. Consider which once-in-a-lifetime opportunities you could offer guests that align with their interests. If they know they only have one chance to win something they really want, they won’t be able to pass it up.

Keep in mind the items you feature will also be determined by what donors are willing to donate. However, as you send your procurement team out to start asking for donations, it can be helpful to give them a few ideas for items that will appeal most. A list of auction items will help guide the solicitation process so they know which type of items they should look out for.

Since most of the funds you raise from your silent auction will come from auctioning off items, do some research to help you figure out which items and experiences will result in the most bid activity from your guests. And once everything is finished, make sure you report your donations properly.

2. Implement Mobile Bidding

What if you could make about three times more money from your silent auction just from the bidding alone? With mobile bidding, you can.

Mobile bidding has completely transformed the format of silent auctions over the past few years. While bidders once had to write out their names, contact information, and a bid amounts every time they wanted to bid on an item, bidding is now as simple as accessing a mobile app.

So how does mobile bidding work exactly?

What Mobile Bidding Looks Like

  1. Your organization first sets up an auction site leading up to the silent auction to promote your event. This site is branded to your auction and includes all pertinent event and item information.
  2. All of the information on your auction site will be transferred to the mobile bidding interface. On the day of the event, your organization will show guests how to access the app and get them set up by pre-registering their credit cards at checkin.
  3. During the auction, guests can browse images and descriptions of all auction items on their phone. When they see something that strikes their fancy, they can place a bid directly through the app. Guests can even set maximum bid amounts on certain items so the software automatically bids for them. They’ll also receive notifications when they’ve been outbid on the items they’re watching so they know instantly when it’s time to bid again.
  4. Once it’s time to close the auction, bidding will shut down. Because attendees have pre-registered their credit cards, winners will automatically be charged.

Silent auctions that use mobile bidding instead of bid sheets usually see much more bid activity. That’s because mobile bidding software makes bidding much more convenient for people. Additionally, since organizations don’t have to worry about a complicated checkout process, they can leave items open longer to maximize bid activity. Therefore, organizations that implement mobile bidding during their silent auctions will see more funds from auctioning off items.

3. Pair Your Silent Auction With an Online Auction

Remember those auction sites we touched on in the last section? They have even more fundraising potential. While they’re often used to promote silent auctions, auction sites are mainly used to facilitate online auctions.

On your auction site, your organization can list descriptions and images of all auction items and allow guests to bid online. If you’re using mobile bidding, you’ll want to set up an auction site even if you’re not hosting an online auction, because the mobile interface will draw off of the data included on your site.

Organizations commonly pair their silent auctions with online auctions to make more money from their events. When you think about it, this is essentially two events for the price (and effort) of one, so why wouldn’t you host them together? Your organization can maximize this strategy in a couple of ways:

  • Open up online bidding before the auction
    Many organizations will allow guests to bid online before and even during the event. Not only will guests who are attending have more time to bid, but guests who can’t make it to the silent auction can also participate.
  • Host a fire sale after the event
    Perhaps some of your items didn’t receive bids, or maybe you just have too many to display at your silent auction. Either way, you can host an online fire sale after the event. People will feel like they are getting a bargain while still giving to your organization, and you can make sure everything is sold.

Whether your auction is a major donor dinner, a PTA fundraiser, or anything in between, hosting an online auction in tandem with your silent auction can help you make the most of your event.

4. Make a Live Appeal

Live appeals are one of the most common silent auction fundraising strategies organizations use to supplement the funds they raise from bidding. For those who aren’t familiar with live appeals, they’re essentially direct asks made during a fundraising event. During the silent auction program, the emcee or someone from the organization will get up and request donations from the audience. The hope is to reach a fundraising goal by the end of the event.

While donations can be submitted through a standard text-to-give platform, if you’re using mobile bidding, guests can make donations right in the interface. Most mobile bidding software includes a donation portal where guests can make standard donations. The organization will also often project a fundraising thermometer that updates in real time as guests submit their donations. Being able to visualize how their donations are adding up to reach the goal can be a great motivator to give more.

Live appeals are an excellent way to raise more money at your silent auction because they provide guests with an additional opportunity to give. Some of your guests won’t place bids, others won’t walk home with items, and many will have received complimentary tickets from corporate sponsors, so a live appeal still enables them to support your organization. Overall, live appeals will help you raise more from your silent auction because they allow your guests to donate to your organization in more ways than one.

5. Highlight Philanthropy

The fact that your organization is raising money for a good cause is an excellent motivator for donors to give. And while your donors know subconsciously the money they’re spending at your silent auction is going to further an important cause, it can be easy for them to forget that fact when they get caught up in all of the silent auction fun.

That’s why you should make it a point to highlight philanthropy at your silent auction. You are hosting a charity auction, after all.

Keep Your Cause at the Forefront

You can emphasize the philanthropic nature of your auction in a couple of ways:

  • On your event and auction site
    Include a brief blurb or video on the homepage, telling supporters a little more about your organization and cause. Make sure to let supporters know exactly which causes and projects the funds from your auction will go toward.
  • During the silent auction program
    During your auction program, have someone from the organization get up and give a brief speech about your organization and where you’re allocating the money you make from the auction. Don’t forget to thank supporters in advance for their thoughtful donations.

Highlighting philanthropy reinforces to supporters that it’s okay (and of course, encouraged) to bid on the items they want, since those bids will go to help those in need.  When bidders are more aware of the charitable aspect of your auction, you’re sure to see bids soar. And be sure to check out how Aplos’ solutions can help you stay on top of your fundraising event accounting.

These are only a few of the ways you can raise money from a silent auction. But at the very least, you have a few tested strategies to get you on the right track to hosting the most lucrative event possible for your organization.

Every now and then we feature content from outside contributing authors who help bring new insights into the world of nonprofits and churches. This article comes to us from Steve Johns at BidPal, the leading provider of technology that helps charities raise more money while adding fun and excitement to fundraising events.

You may also like

1 comment

Auction Technology 101: A Basic Course for Beginners May 26, 2017 - 4:43 pm

[…] already discussed the advantages of mobile bidding in a previous article, but since this technology is so central to auction success, it can’t hurt to […]


Leave a Comment