As a fundraiser, you’re continually learning and re-learning how to run a successful silent auction. Just when you think you have it down, trends change, hot new items pop up, donors are seeking something different, technology evolves, and more. So, you adjust.   

Silent auctions are one of the most popular ways nonprofits engage guests and raise money at fundraising events. There are a variety of ways to run a silent auction, but if you remember the key points below, you’re set up for success.   

Recruit and Train Volunteers 

It’s crucial to be mindful who you recruit to volunteer for your silent auction. Are the volunteers who are procuring auction items going to deliver? Do they have the connections you need to secure the must-have items or experiences your donors want?   

Then, you must think about event day. Will the volunteers who said they will help with checkout be there, or on the dance floor? Are these volunteers outgoing and will they encourage guests at the event to bid in the auction? Not only is it key that they show up to help maximize the auction, but that they know what to do. Training is a big component leading up to an event, especially if you’re using auction software, so don’t forget to incorporate that pre-event!   

Solicit Donations 

In addition to event night volunteers, you’ll likely rely on some volunteers to obtain donations. As you begin to plan your auction, it’s important to decide who is going to solicit a certain value of auction items. These goals should be clearly defined, so volunteers and staff are held accountable for fulfilling an auction catalog that will help you achieve your fundraising goals.   

It’s also worthwhile discussing what items or experiences your donors want and are interested in, as this will guide donation solicitors, and ultimately lead to more bidding activity. Highly sought-after items will increase the amounts that donors are willing to bid, compared to items (like gift cards) that have a set value. 

Your silent auction should be made up entirely of donations, if possible. Sometimes, organizations will use consignment companies when they can’t get a hold of items that are more difficult to come by (for example, Hamilton tickets or exclusive vacation packages). We recommend taking a strategic approach when incorporating consignment items.   

It’s important to understand the consignment company’s pricing structure and the extent their items are desired by donors. In some cases, the auction items you offer may draw a new audience to the event, which may make certain consignment items worth it. Understanding what donors want is key when curating a successful silent auction.  

Promote your Silent Auction 

Promoting your silent auction before your event is a great way to get guests excited about items and the event itself. If it’s your first time using a mobile bidding software, it’s important to let guests know that they’ll be bidding on their phones, so they remember to bring them to the event.  

Hosting your auction online with mobile bidding allows donors to participate from anywhere, so it’s a great idea to promote your auction items and donation page across social media. Your organization, staff, and volunteers should all share the auction on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other platforms on which they’re active. This will encourage people beyond your typical donor pool to donate, as the auction will reach new audiences across social networks. Perhaps your friends across the country want to support an organization you’re involved with, or they know just the person who will splurge on that signed jersey for a good cause.   

Set Up the Event 

It’s beneficial to have a homepage for your signature event that guests can come to for the event itinerary, tickets, contact information, auction details, and more. A landing page for your event is setting you up for success as guests, donors, and volunteers seek more information. GiveSmart provides organizations with a hub to sell tickets, sponsorships, make donations, bid on items, purchase merchandise, process payments, and run reporting. For processing payments and reporting it’s great to have a ticketing solution that integrates with your auction, so guests only need to log in and pay once.  

The physical set up of the auction on event day is as important as the digital. Is there a right way to set up a silent auction? Keep location and space in mind as you think about where guests will be mingling. Place the auction within view, ensure there’s space to peruse, and print display sheets in a legible font.   

Run the Event 

On event day the auction area should be a highlight, and this is where the auction staff or volunteers come into play, because it’s important for them to encourage guests to roam the auction area and browse the items as they arrive and head to the bar. As the event continues, communicate with guests throughout the evening, whether it’s over text or PA announcements. It’s a good idea to project a bidding visual on a wall or projection screen that will update in real time as bids come in. This stirs competition in the room and updates guests on where bids are as the auction clock continues to dwindle. A similar donation or thermometer visual can be displayed during a digital pledge or text-to-donate, so everyone can watch the donations pour in. It’s a great way to build excitement in the room and encourage donations of all sizes to be made.  

Setting an end time for your auction creates a sense of urgency and is exciting for guests to still be at the event when they find out they’re winners. When the auction ends, send a text message to winners through the Message Center. Filtering and directing winners to the checkout area will expedite the checkout process and eliminate congestion at the end of the evening. Guests will know whether they won and won’t need to bombard the checkout area inquiring about auction winners.  

Follow Up After the Event 

Thank you notes and tax receipts are important to send after an event, however, donors of all ages say that receiving an impact report is the most important follow-up message for them to receive, according to Community Brands Donor Experience Study. Donors want to know how their contribution directly impacted the mission your organization is serving – they want to see they’ve helped make a difference. For financial and tax purposes, receipts are a must. GiveSmart’s platform automatically sends receipts to donors and ticket purchasers after a payment is processed on an event site. This feature, alone, saves development teams hours of work and the hassle of manually compiling and sending receipts.   

Post-Event Evaluation 

Once the event is said and done, it’s important to look back and see how well auction items performed, how many of your guests participated in the auction, who were the most active bidders, and ultimately what was your ROI? Post-event reporting is important as you plan for next year. GiveSmart’s Event Dashboard provides real-time insights for auctions, users, and financials. The Reports hub is where organization admins can download a variety of reports in Excel, CSV, and PDF formats. These reports include, but are not limited to: unpaid balances, silent auction bids, donations, ticket orders, attendees, raffles, instant items, and more.  

Silent auctions are a great way to engage donors, provide unique experiences, raise money, and build excitement for your organization’s mission. Paying proper attention to each phase of the process ensures maximum success and minimum stress as you host an auction at your fundraiser.