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12 Ideas For a Silent Auction: The Ultimate Guide


By Contributing Author

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Published June 27, 2016 Reading Time: 6 minutes

Despite being on the quieter side of the nonprofit fundraising spectrum, silent auctions can be an effective way for your nonprofit organization to engage its participants and involve local businesses in your cause. This fundraising idea for nonprofits is also a great way to increase your event’s bottom line.

To help you employ this strategy and run the best silent auction event possible, we’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 silent auction 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 charity fundraiser and continue throughout the duration of the item. Great silent auction items will form lasting connections between your donors and the fundraiser, as donors will quickly begin to associate their fun memories with the moment they became the winning bidder 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 charity fundraiser.

Specific to the items themselves, here are five ideas for a silent auction that we find perform the best.

Top Auction Item Categories

1. Mission-Related Activities

When it comes to silent auction ideas, consider promoting your mission. This will give your bidders not only something to be excited about but also helps attendees a better understanding of your cause.

If you are an organization that focuses on forest preservation, you could include a trip to a national forest to explore the region and work with the organization on train cleanup. If your nonprofit organization works outside of the community, think about an opportunity that will immerse the bidders and allow them to be a part of the behind-the-scenes work you do. The options are endless.

2. Travel

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 package. 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

3. Outings and Experiences

Just as travel generates excitement, excursions and activities are also very popular auction items as they typically give the winning bidder a chance to try something new.

Outings and experiences can include a wide range of items, but some of our favorites 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

4. Sports Tickets, Memorabilia, and Activities

We also find that sports-related items tend to perform well at a silent auction event. Be sure to pay special attention to where your audience lives-you will want most of your sports memorabilia 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

5. Music

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

6. Food

Food-related items make an appearance at almost every silent auction fundraiser. 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 promotional 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 your silent auction ideas, 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 each silent auction item, 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 lowhanging fruit to gain some early momentum for your silent auction fundraiser.

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 or donation site can increase your reach, and will also create some early buzz and awareness around the cause you will be fundraising for. If you are wondering how to grow your nonprofit social media, posting on your personal social accounts can help move the needle.

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 obtain a charity auction item, having your committee do the same will massively increase your outreach efforts. This increase in outreach will ultimately lead to more silent auction items of higher quality.

Final Touches For Your Silent Action

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.

Yes To Silent Auctions, Yes To Classy

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! 

Get started with Classy today to unlock the potential for your nonprofit fundraising events. Whether you are hosting a silent auction at a venue or virtually,  Classy Live, our virtual and hybrid event platform, lets you execute on the auctions you’ve dreamed of creating for your nonprofit. 

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.

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