Fundraising Tip – Running a Silent Auction

In charge of running a silent auction?

Here are the Silent Auction Basics:

A silent auction is most commonly run during a gala dinner, fete or another type of event where getting swept up in the heat of the moment isn’t really appropriate for the event and could get in the way of other activities.

In a silent auction, the bidder can use bid cards to write down their offer on a selected item. There are a couple of different ways this can be done:

Silent Auction Stall

Placing the bid card on a table in front of the actual auction item. People can then walk around and view, bid, outbid all the auction items. This can be less laborious for the volunteers working during the evening than some other options. It can also drive the prices up quickly. One disadvantage is that as the day or night wears on, bidders can forget and not go back to check their bids. A good MC will ensure this doesn’t happen of course.

Silent Auction 2U

Another option, at a dinner, is bid cards can be placed on each dining table, collected by volunteers during the evening. As bids are collated, the MC mentions what’s “trending” – for example, “A weekend for two at Grand Mercure Hills Lodge in Sydney is currently sitting at $350″. Participants can increase their bid by writing on the card as often as they like until the auction is called. A disadvantage is it required the MC to update bidders on the going price for the auctions.

Online Silent Auctions

There are now a number of providers that allow you to host your silent auction online either via a website or an app.  Taking your auction online has the bonus of allowing people who aren’t present to bid, those who are tied up with running stalls or catering to bid without leaving their post and also allows those who may be a bit reluctant to leave the comfort of the bar or their seat to bid.

These systems allow you to put multiple images of the item in so you can add the logo of the donor if you’d like, you can set a minimum bid, minimum bid interval and they notify those who have already bid when they have been outbid by text message to encourage further bidding.  No more having to return to the bidding card.  Some allow you to show the auction progress on a screen which is great to encourage those competitive people out there.  The MC can also help to remind when the auction is closing etc.  When the auction is closed all bidders are notified and can be given a message eg. how to go and pay and claim their item.  Unsuccessful bidders can also receive a message with thanks for their support, but also encouraging them to consider donating or supporting in another way – whatever you’d like that to be.

What’s the catch? It does cost money. That may be in the form of an initial deposit and or a % of purchases through the system.  When you consider the extra bids that you’ll receive by being able to share a link to the auction via email and on social media though – it can really be worth going online.


In order to get the highest bids, you should look at staggering the finish times, particularly on items of similar appeal. Unsuccessful bidders can then focus their desires on the next “prize”.

When sourcing prizes for a silent auction, don’t just look for goods – many within your community may offer a service which could prove to be a good money spinner. Some of our ideas are listed below;

  • Air-conditioning service – recently two of these were offered at a school gala dinner. Valued at $210 each, they sold for $195 each
  • Car servicing
  • Landscape Gardening consultation
  • Draftsman consultation
  • Eyelash extensions

Don’t forget to thank your sponsors during the evening – many may be in the room, bidding on other items!

Happy fundraising!

Originally published 3 December, 2014

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