5 Ways To Make Your Nonprofit’s Silent Auctions Amazing!

Silent auctions are a great way to engage donors and raise funds for your nonprofit. They are fun, engaging and a great way to interact with your supporters face to face. However there can be a lot of work between planning, hosting and securing items so you’ll have your work cut out for you. 

There are a few things you can do to make your live auction successful, and less stressful for you and your team. After all, they are meant to be a fun way to raise money for your cause and build a relationship with your supporters. 
 

1. Get Great Items 


Since you’re raising funds off of people’s bid for an item you want to make sure people want to bid for it. The more desirable the item, the more bids it’ll have resulting in more funds. But what is considered a good item fully depends on your supporters. Donor management software will be a huge help here by collecting donor data that can help you find your donors hobbies/interests.  

If you held a silent auction in the past, reflect back on what items performed the best or the least. Your donors shouldn't feel like they’re making a purchase, you want to get them feeling like they got lucky for having the highest bid. 

If you are still stumped on what to collect, some crowd pleasing gift ideas are:
  • Gift cards to restaurants 
  • Wines or liquors 
  • Vacation getaways 
  • Sports or entertainment tickets to a show, concert or play
  • Spa packages 
  • Gym or yoga passes 
These items are a good place to start but you want to make sure you are curating items that relate specifically to your target audience. The trick is to find the sweet spot of things that are unique, interesting and in your donors price range. Start looking early, as some of the best finds may take some digging.  

Include a starting bid to ensure that you are losing money in the auction. If you paid for the item aim to have a starting price of 20% over the purchase cost. If you have a lot of small items, group them together into a package to make sure you don’t have more items for them bidders. A little healthy competition is what makes an auction thrilling!
 
 Ask around and see what contacts your board or volunteers may have. Maybe someone is a great woodworker and can make some custom items to bid on, or if they have a friend who owns a restaurant that’s willing to donate a meal for two. Try to ask around, someone is bound to find something special!


2. Promote the Auction and Advertise Your Items!


You have to advertise. The goal here is to make your donors think that they are missing out on some great stuff if they don’t go to your auction. After all, you put in a lot of hard work  gathering these items, it’s time to show them off! The key here is to promote early and promote often. If you have a BIG item like a 4 night tropical getaway or the newest iPhone use it to your advantage to create buzz around your event. 
 
The best way to promote your auction is through an online event site with lists and descriptions of each item. You could also use the site to host online auctions so if you can open up bidding before the in-person event to raise even more funds. 
 
  • Your page should also include:
  • The where and when of your auction
  • A short description of your organization as well as what the funds will be used for 
  • A description,  high quality photo and the market price of the items (which is important when claiming charitable tax  deductions)
  • Mention if an item has any restrictions (for example to vacation only includes the hotel and not the flight) 
  • Any sponsors you may have should be given a some advertising space on your page as a thank you
Once you have your site ready, don’t forget to include the link in email newsletters, social media and any other channels you may have, so supporters can browse the items before the event!
 

3. Use Mobile Bidding


Traditional silent auctions normally have people place bids by writing their name, contact information, and bidder number on bid sheets next to each item. That means bidders would repeatedly have to write this information perhaps dozens of times depending on the amounts of bids they place. This can get tedious for your guests.
 
On top of that, your organization will have to spend time  making, printing and setting up bid sheets for each of your items. Then after closing the bidding you are going to ave to manually match numbers to the correct bidder, notify each winner, enter the data into your planning software and stagger items to prevent cheating. 

So skip the headache and try out mobile bidding! It allows supporters to place bids straight from their devices. Here is what you need to do: 
  1. Set up the software on the day of the auction, all the data on your event page will transfer over
  2. Briefly explain the interface and politely ask your guests to pre-register their card with the bidding software.  .
  3. When it’s time for the auction to start open the bidding on all items. They can browse and place bids all from their phones and receive text notifications when they’ve been outbid. They can also set maximum bids on items they like so the software will bid for them
  4. When you close the auction the software will automatically close all items and determine their winners. Since everyone’s cards are pre-registered they will be charged automatically and instantly receive an email receipt
  5. The only work you need to do now is distribute the items to the winners during checkout. All the winner data will be recorded onto the platform you choose so you can easily match items to the highest bidder.  
There are so many benefits to using an auctioning software, the best being it gives you more time and more money! Since the process of bidding is so fast and easy there is nothing to stop donors from bidding on the items they love.  
 

4. Have Other Opportunities to Give.


The auction itself should be the main fundraising effort but it doesn't hurt to implement some other strategies to get the most from your event. Here's how: 
 

Simply Ask For Donations 

There’s no better way to secure donations than to simply ask for them outright. Before your event you can politely remind your guests there is also an option to donate. You can even set up a test-to-donate service or have them donate through the auction app to keep things mobile. 

A fun way to encourage donations is to set a goal for the night and have a way to measure your progress like using a fundraising thermometer. Bidding for items will already show guests in the competitive spirit so goal meters will be another great way to get people excited! 

Host a raffle. 

 
Auctions and raffles make a great pair, you already spent time finding amazing items. Save one or two of them and hold a raffle. Before selling tickets check your jurisdiction's rules regarding raffles. Some places will have regulations around them so you want to make sure you are complacent with the rules. 

You can sell the tickets online before the auction on your event site or have raffle safes be a part of the mobile bidding app. At the even clearly indicate where or how people can submit their raffle tickets. You can have boxes in front of items or have a volunteer go around to collect them. Then at the end of the event, you just have to draw a winning ticket and give the winner their prize. Simple!

Sell Merchandise


Being an auction your guests are coming to your event with the hopes of leaving with something, so even if they don’t win there are other ways they can take something home. If they had a good time it’s a great little reminder of the night and it also acts as free advertising for your organization!
 

5. Follow Up 


So you’ve completed your auction, raised a ton of money for an amazing cause and celebrated all your success with your team. Now it’s time to thank your donors for making the night a reality, without them there would be no auction!
Sending a follow-up letter or email will show guests that you valued their attendance, regardless if they won a bid or not. You should send the follow-up no more then a week after the event so that it’s still fresh in their minds. 
 

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