Running a Silent Auction at Your Fundraiser

January 5, 2015

Planning fundraising events for your favorite charities can be a time-consuming task all on its own, and when you add organizing a silent auction for that event, you can increase your work by quite a bit. But, having an auction during your gala, concert or fancy dress ball is a magnificent way to boost donations to your chosen non-profit by hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

If you’re interested in having a silent auction at your next fundraiser, but have no idea where to start, take a look at the tips below for some easy inspiration.

  1. Set up a committee: It will take some time and effort to come up with auction item ideas, a list of possible companies to seek donations from and then to solicit those companies and run the auction. Even if your committee is only two people, that’s still better than giving all the probably-stressful duties to one volunteer or employee.
  2. Consider your event: The next thing to think about is attendee demographics, so you can tailor auction items to their lives as much as possible.
    • Will there be a lot of single people in their twenties at your function? If so, you might consider getting donations of more daring and out-there items/experiences like sky-diving lessons or VIP passes to the hottest night club.
    • If you anticipate an older crowd filled with parents, then family-oriented items, such as theme park passes, are sure to be a hit. And, if your fundraising event has a theme, be sure to include at least a few items in the auction that support it.
  3. Expand lives: Even when considering demographics and general event theme, it’s still important to have a wide variety of things on offer at the auction, because everyone coming to your event has many different interests. So, there’s no reason a week of free pet-sitting services can’t be on the same auction panel as dinner with a local celebrity or race-car driving classes.
  4. Draft a letter: Committee members might be soliciting businesses in person for donations, but it’s still a good idea for them to take along a letter explaining the who, what, when, where and why of your event and the non-profit you’re raising money to help. It’s also a good idea to include a list of possible auction items, just in case your contact at the business wants to help but isn’t sure what to donate. Sample letters can be found at and
  5. Include everyone: Don’t just diversify your auction items; diversify your solicitations, too, from all sizes of business. Many national chains make it a priority to help charities in the communities they serve, and have no problem giving away items for auctions. Check each store website, or ask at your local site for information on the donation process, and who to contact. Just keep in mind that donations from national stores may take longer to come in, so allow enough time for their response before your event.
  6. Organize: When the items begin to roll in, log everything into a spreadsheet so it’ll be easy to keep track of all the donations. Things to include on the spreadsheet are: item name, address and name of who made the donation, item description, estimated value, and minimum starting bid for the item. A sample spreadsheet can be found in the Microsoft Office Template section online.
  7. Publicize: You’re advertising the event, and you should also advertise the auction. A simple list based on your donated item spreadsheet can be added to your event promotion materials to get people excited for the auction, or you can add the names of a few items to posters, tickets and flyers for the event. When people buy event tickets, send an updated auction list along as well. You can also create an auction booklet with photos of the items, information from the spreadsheet and paid ads from any companies that didn’t donate items but still wanted to help with the event. The more people that know about the auction, the more money you’ll raise!
  8. Prepare for the actual auction: You’ll want to create a bid sheet for each item and have them on clipboards in front of the items, with a few pens at every station. Using a two- or three-part carbonless bid sheet will make it easy to keep records of who wins auctions and has paid for their item.
    • Group your donations by category (food and wine, entertainment, personal services, sporting events, high-end items, etc.), and have enough volunteers to work as auction monitors who’ll be charged with answering questions, making sure the minimum bid is observed, and reviewing bid sheets when the auction is finished.
    • It can be a good idea to close bidding on one category at a time, announcing the closings in five minute intervals. This will give people an additional opportunity to look things over and make their final decisions.
  9. Close it out: You want the checkout process to go as smoothly as possible, and setting up three separate lines for those paying with credit/debit cards, cash, and checks will help that along immensely.
    1. Have auction monitors make note of winning names and bids once their part of the auction closes.
    2. Let your event emcee announce the winners and what they won when all bidding has closed, and explain the checkout process for winners. Your winners will collect their winning bid sheets and bring them to the checkout.
    3. Mark their sheet PAID when the transaction is complete, give them a copy and keep the other copies for your auction committee and the charity you’ve raised money for. Then have an auction monitor collect their item for them.
  10. Be thankful: In the days following the auction, send thank-you notes to everyone who won an item, just as you would with all event attendees, sponsors, and donating companies.

There it is! Break the process down, have as many volunteers as possible help out, and run a silent auction that people will remember until your next successful fundraiser comes along!

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