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Tips & Guides

6 Tips for a Successful Silent Auction

Hosting your silent auction online can save your organization valuable time, while also expanding your reach to help you raise more funds. Whether you’re new to running a silent auction or looking to maximize your dollars raised, Pledge It’s Customer Success team has some tips to help you get started.

Silent auctions are popular at galas, banquets, and fundraising events for a reason! Attendees enjoy the fun competition of bidding on items, and winners leave happy, knowing their money supports a favorite nonprofit.

Traditional “pen and paper” auctions require your organization to handle everything from deciphering handwriting, identifying winners, coordinating payments, answering follow-up questions, and reminding winners to pay, which can be quite a task.

An online silent auction with mobile bidding simplifies this process. It offers real-time SMS updates, secure payment processing, and automated receipts, saving you valuable time. Plus, it broadens your auction's reach, allowing anyone to bid from anywhere, increasing your funds raised.

If you're planning a silent auction, whether as part of a larger event or a stand-alone fundraiser, follow these best practices to ensure a smooth and successful experience.

Tip 1: Choose an intuitive, mobile-friendly platform

Auction platforms can come with many bells and whistles—but not all of them are key to success. When selecting a platform, you’ll want to choose something user-friendly and streamlined for mobile bidding that also provides the tools you need to organize and quickly close out your auction.

We recommend prioritizing:

  • Streamlined, mobile bidder registration
  • Gorgeous item listings to showcase your items
  • Real-time SMS and email notifications to keep bidders engaged
  • Secure payment processing with instant receipts
  • Easy access auction reports to help you identify and follow up with winning bidders

Pledge It’s silent auction was designed with these priorities in mind. All Pledge It customers can run a stand-alone auction or enable an auction on any campaign style—giving you the ability to host your event’s registration, donations, and your auction activity all via one campaign, rather than juggling multiple platforms.

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Tip 2: Plan early to curate quality items

Successful auctions aren’t something thrown together overnight—they do take forethought and planning to ensure high-quality, engaging items relevant to your donors’ interest. We recommend you start planning your auction at least 3-6 months in advance to allow time for item procurement.

  • Forming a procurement committee of board members and/or well-connected volunteers can be an invaluable step. Provide them with a wish-list of potential items and let their networking skills shine as they solicit potential donors, sponsors, and businesses.
  • If you don’t have the time or capacity for a committee to assist, there are companies that provide auction consignment as a service—especially if you are looking to auction off unique “experiences” like destination-travel offerings, attendance to sporting events, concerts, or cruises, without upfront costs.
  • Regardless of how you procure your items, ensure they’re of interest to your donors. If you’re struggling to find higher-value items, consider packaging smaller, like-items together as a bundle to create a more desirable offering.

Tip 3: Showcase your items with compelling, engaging content

Silent auctions are highly visual, so make your items shine! Clear, polished photos and descriptions attract bidders and make promotion easier. Compelling content allows you to feature items prominently on social media and in emails, generating excitement.

  • Write detailed and engaging descriptions for each auction item. If there’s a story behind the item that connects to your mission, share it!
  • Provide multiple high-quality images that accurately depict the item or experience being auctioned off. Low-quality images or blurry pictures don’t inspire confidence in your bidders.
  • Make sure you don’t leave out key information. If there’s important details regarding pick-up, shipping, or specific dates an experience can be used, make sure it is clearly outlined in the item description.

Tip 4: Set starting bids and bid increments with intention

There’s a strategy behind pricing your items correctly to ensure competitive bidding and to maximize your auctions earnings. We recommend following these industry guidelines for your items:

  • Start by determining the fair market value of the item by researching its retail price or averaging the price of equivalent items or experiences.
  • Set your starting bid at 30-50% of the fair market value of the item—opting for closer to 50% for high-ticket items. This range will ensure the bid is low enough to generate interest, but will ensure you don’t miss out on funds by placing your starting bid too low.
  • Set your minimum bid increment at 10-15% of the fair market value of the item to ensure that bidding stays competitive. For example, if the fair market value of your item is $100, set your bid increment to $10 or $15.

Tip 5: Be strategic with your timing

Determining the length of an online silent auction depends on your event specifics. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you’re coordinating a fully virtual, stand-alone auction with no in-person component, consider having your auction live for no more than 7-10 days. This gives you ample time to promote the auction widely and for donors to browse and remain engaged in bidding. If you choose to keep your auction open for longer, be sure to have a strong communication plan in place to hold the attention of your bidders.
  • If you’re running your silent auction in conjunction with a gala, benefit night, or other in-person fundraising event, consider launching your silent auction 3-5 days before your gathering, and closing it before the end of the night. Showcase item displays at your event with easy-access QR codes for mobile bidding and have your emcee make regular announcements about the closing deadline to maximize bidding before close.

Tip 6: Don’t forget to follow up!

Hosting your silent auction online can save you valuable time when it comes to wrapping things up, meaning you can focus more of your energy on what matters most: expressing gratitude to those who helped make the event a success.

  • Thank all your participants—whether they went home with an item or not—and share the impact of your funds raised.
  • Coordinate item fulfillment in a timely manner and express gratitude to winning bidders.
  • Send personal thank you notes to the procurement committee, donors and companies who gifted items, and anyone who helped shape the success of your auction.

Whether you’re hosting your first online silent auction or if you’re looking to maximize your funds raised, Pledge It’s silent auction tools can help you create a seamless experience for your bidders. For more advice and tips about how to get started, contact our Customer Success team.

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Published on July 5, 2024

by Caitlyn Schuchhardt

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