In the non-profit fundraising world, there seem to be two wildly diverging schools of thought on silent auctions:
On the one side, there are those who say that auctions are so time-consuming and energy-draining that they simply aren’t worth your time. There’s an element of truth in that view, because silent auctions really can be very time consuming for your team.
On the other side are those who love auctions and see them as a guaranteed way to raise money. Again, there’s an element of truth here, because silent auctions can be a great way to raise money, even though they aren’t necessarily easy to hold.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Silent auctions can be a great addition to your fundraising strategy, but only if you do them the right way. Far too many non-profits focus on the wrong things for their auction events and end up spending hundreds of hours while raising far less than they otherwise could be.
If you’re thinking about holding an auction event this year, use these 4 silent auction ideas to help you raise more money from your event, with less hassle…
Silent Auction Idea #1: Focus on Multiple Revenue Streams
Just because you’re holding a silent auction event does not mean that you should be raising all (or even most) of your money through the silent auction.
Every non-profit fundraising event – including auction events – should raise the majority of their money from sponsors and leadership gifts. To learn more about how to find sponsors for your event, read our recent article How to Get Sponsors for an Event.
In addition to sponsors and revenue from the auction itself, your event can also have other revenue streams, including ticket sales, a live auction, raffles, and a sponsor-a-service table. Be creative. The best events have multiple revenue streams, starting with event sponsors.
Silent Auction Idea #2: Find the Right Items for Your Auction
If you want to get people bidding at your event, you need to find great items for your silent auction. In order to find great items, you need to start early and cast a wide net. You can find the step-by-step process we use to find silent auction items in our article How to Find Auction Donations for Your Next Fundraising Event.
It’s also important to know what types of items tend to sell well in silent auctions. Generally, you’ll want to find a few “show-stopper” pieces that are higher-end and exciting for your audience. In addition to those larger items, you’ll need to find a good number of mid-range and lower-range items like gift cards, collectibles, jewelry, electronics, sports / arts tickets, etc.
For great ideas on items that are likely to sell well at your next event, check out The 20 Best-Selling Silent Auction Items (article at The Non-Profit Academy).
Silent Auction Idea #3: Continuously Market Auction Ahead of Time
Whether your auction is in-person, virtual, or hybrid, the more people you have at the event, the more people will be driving up your bids and buying your auction items. For this reason, it is imperative that focus on marketing the auction well ahead of time.
This means that you should do two things. First, market the event (via mailed invitations, e-mail, social media, an event committee, your board of directors, and elsewhere) to make sure as many people as possible attend.
Second, make sure everyone knows that this event will be a silent auction… you want people to come to the event ready and willing to spend money on auction items. Many non-profits hold events and “tack on” a small silent auction at the back of the room. This is fine if you’re looking for a small amount of added revenue, but if you want to raise five- or six-figures from the auction itself, you need to market the auction so that people arrive excited about placing bids and trying to win items.
Silent Auction Idea #4: Give People Reasons to Attend
Again, if you want your auction to be a success, you need to give people as many reasons to attend as possible. This means you need to make your silent auction event exciting, fun, and attractive to your target audience.
Some way to get people excited to attend include hosting a special guest speaker, allowing people to sample food from a locally-famous restaurant they may not be otherwise able to visit, announcing local celebrity or pro sports attendees, and offering unique gift bags for everyone who attends.
Again, be creative. The more excited people are to attend your event, the more likely they will buy tickets, come to the event, and spend money bidding on your silent auction items.