Despite being on the quieter side of the nonprofit event spectrum, silent auctions can be an effective way for your organization to engage its participants and involve local businesses in your cause. They’re also a great way to increase your event’s bottom line.
To help you employ this strategy and run the best silent auction possible, I’ve compiled a list of tips that can help contribute to a top-notch event.
To run a successful silent auction, you need to identify and collect items that will excite your audience. When considering different categories of items, keep in mind that the more enticing the item, the more buzz and excitement it will generate.
In general, we’ve found that experiential items outperform material items again and again. Experiential items create memories and journeys for your guests that start during your fundraiser and continue throughout the duration of the item. Such great experiences will form lasting connections between your donors and fundraiser, as donors will quickly begin to associate their fun memories with the moment that they won the item at your event.
Even better is that your donors will tell their friends and family about the great experiences they had, and they’ll connect the prize to your fundraiser. This sharing creates amazing word-of-mouth recommendations for your fundraiser, resulting in an even larger donor base for your next fundraiser.
Specific to the items themselves, here are the five essential categories of prizes that we find perform the best.
Top Auction Item Categories
Travel-related silent auction items are always a huge hit. Whether you are able to collect an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean, or even just a weekend getaway in New England, fundraiser guests love the chance to win a vacation. Travel items are experiential in nature, and provide your guests with an opportunity to create new memories. Some great places to start include:
- All-Inclusive trips
- Weekend getaways
- Hotel stays
- Airline tickets or miles
2. Outings and Experiences
Just as travel generates excitement, excursions and activities are also very popular auction items as they typically give the bidder a chance to try something new.
Outings and experiences can include a wide range of items, but some of our favorite include:
- Spa days
- Local brewery tours
- Sunset or harbor cruises
- Museum tickets
- Comedy nights
- Hot air balloon rides
- Outdoor activities (hiking, kayaking, bungee jumping)
- Theme park tickets
3. Sports Tickets, Memorabilia, and Activities
We also find that sports-related items tend to perform well at silent auctions. Be sure to pay special attention to where your audience lives—you will want most of your sports items to relate to your audience’s home team. And don’t forget any athletic or sports-related activities—we’ve found these to generate high-bid frequencies too.
- Game tickets
- Signed memorabilia
- Chance to meet local celebrity athletes
- Golf outings
- Ski passes
- Yoga classes
- Spin classes
Whether your audience trends more toward country music, pop, or rock n’ roll, include music-related items to garner high-bidding traffic at your event. When thinking of music items, try not to limit yourself to concert tickets only.
- Concert tickets
- Backstage passes or a chance to meet the musician
- Signed instruments or albums from famous musicians
- Music lessons
Food-related items make an appearance at almost every silent auction. People love to go out to dinner, try new restaurants, and try new kinds of food. From a collection standpoint, most restaurants are more than willing to get involved in a silent auction as it is a promotion opportunity for their business. Here are a few ideas for how you can include food items at your event:
- Restaurant gift certificates
- Catering service certificates
- Dinner and wine pairings
- Cooking classes
- Food gift baskets
Silent Auction Item Collection
After you brainstorm the types of items you’d like to collect to entice the participation of your guests, your next step will be to collect the items to auction off.
Below is a quick guide on how to procure silent auction items from your network. Keep in mind that it’s important to stick to a process, stay consistent, and leverage all of the connections at your disposal.
1. Start With Friends and Family
As you begin your search for silent auction items, start with the people you know best—your friends and family.
When you tap into your network (and ask your friends to do the same), you are involving people who are already close to you and are more likely to provide items (for little in return). So take advantage of that low hanging fruit to gain some early momentum for your auction.
2. Post to Social Media Accounts
As part of your outreach to friends and family, don’t be afraid to post on your personal social media accounts to ask for donation prizes. While posting to your organization’s social media pages is a given, posting to your personal pages can increase your reach, and will also create some early buzz and awareness around the cause you will be fundraising for.
3. Identify Potential Item Donors
Once you’ve asked your friends and family for item donations, it’s time to get out there and approach people and organizations that you may not have a personal connection with.
Take some time to identify the entities that you think will be most likely to donate. Consider restaurants, local businesses, and even your own colleagues.
A great way to qualify potential leads here is to ask yourself which local businesses are eager to increase their awareness with the demographic that will be attending your event.
Do you intend to host mostly millennials at your fundraising event? If so, you may want to reach out to exciting new tech companies in your city. Is your crowd a bit older? Maybe it makes more sense to reach out to hotels or cruise lines.
4. Create an Outreach List
After identifying your potential targets, create an outreach list. This will allow you to track your outreach activities and determine which are working best.
As part of your list, include the date, your outreach activity (email or call), and the response you’ve received.
5. Begin Your Outreach
Now it’s time to get out there. Spend some time each day emailing and calling the people and organizations on your outreach list. Be sure to let them know about your cause and how this event will benefit your work.
6. Leverage Your Committee, Staff, and Volunteers
Our last tip here is to leverage your committee, staff, volunteers, and anyone else who is helping with your fundraising event. While using your own network is an effective way to begin collecting items, having your committee do the same will massively increase your outreach efforts. This increase in outreach will ultimately lead to more items of higher quality.
Another important tip is to tell potential item donors (especially restaurants and businesses) about the audience that will be present at your fundraiser, as this can act as an easy way for donors to promote their local business. One of our favorite ways to deliver this information is through a concise one-pager, outlining key details about your intended fundraiser audience. Be sure to include things such as age and the geographic location of your attendees. If this is not your first year running the event, include some information on your audience from prior years.
Finally, always send handwritten thank-you letters to the people and businesses that donated items to your event. This will go a long way to ensure your donors feel appreciated and want to help you with your next event.
In general, you will be off to a great start if you are able to identify silent auction items that are experiential in nature—this will help create positive memories and lasting relationships with your donors. From there, sticking to a disciplined outreach strategy will ensure that you collect the best items for your next fundraiser!
This is a guest blog by Zach Hagopian, the co-founder and COO of Accelevents, a mobile fundraising platform that enhances silent auctions and raffles through online and text-message bidding. An active member in the Boston fundraising scene, Zach focuses on improving traditional fundraising methods and increasing fundraiser proceeds.