Organizations like non-profits, schools, sports teams, associations, and faith-based communities have been organizing and running silent auctions for years. And, it’s easy to see why. Silent auctions are a great way to engage and grow your community while bringing in revenue.
As you develop your own organization’s silent auctions, you may be looking to inject some fresh thinking into this tried-and-true fundraising method. Or, you may be wondering if silent auctions are here to stay as we enter the digital age and have access to more options and information than ever before.
We are going to examine the “Why’s” and “How’s” of silent auctions:
What are the benefits of hosting a silent auction? What can silent auctions do for growing your revenue and community?
How can you improve the logistics of your silent auction to keep it running smoothly and make the most out of the event?
Now, let’s dive into those benefits and logistics to help you drive revenue for your organization through silent auctions.
Fundraising Silent Auctions: The Benefits
Let’s start by examining the notion that silent auctions are “dead.” We understand that silent auctions demand a lot of time and effort to organize and execute. Obtaining items, organizing them, and getting them into the auction takes manpower. So we get why you might ask, is it worth it? The answer is a resounding yes! Silent auctions provide a number of benefits over other ways of fundraising.
By returning to the basics and understanding the benefits, we hope that we can shift your thinking on what a silent auction can do for your organization, and empower you to think creatively about how you can make a silent auction work for you.
We’ll talk about the three main benefits of silent auctions:
- Tap into a different part of a consumer’s budget
- Give your guests something to do at your event
- Connect with newcomers not immediately ready to donate
As you read through these benefits, take a moment to reflect back on how setting goals around these benefits can help you achieve success from your own silent auction.
1. Tap into a larger share of a consumer’s wallet.
While many aspects of fundraising have evolved over the years, one thing has remained the same: charitable donations comprise roughly 2% of the country’s gross domestic product and have averaged around 3% of a typical family’s household budget.
The average household income before taxes in the United States has hovered around $70,000. Let’s say this household allocates all of their income to expenses. According to the expense breakdown, then we can expect households to contribute 3% of their income or approximately $2,100 to charities.
Using data from the National Philanthropic trust, we know that on average, high net worth donors gave $25,509 to charity in 2015. By comparison, general population households gave $2,520 on average. While the average household donation might not seem that high, when combined, donors of all types gave a total of $410 billion in 2017, increasing 5.2% from 2016. And the numbers are rising.
It’s also worth looking beyond the funds that households allocate to charitable contributions. When you look at discretionary expenditures, households are spending on average $8,400 annually, amounting in trillions of dollars on a national level.
What does this mean for your charity?
If you hold to the assumption that the guests coming to your event are going to spend money solely out of their “charitable contributions” budget, then you are limited to a portion of that annual $2,100 budget we talked about earlier.
If all you offer is a paddle raise (direct donation/ask), then you are definitely going to be stuck in this portion of their wallet. Moreover, you will be competing for just a share of their charity budget with other causes they care about.
We invite you to think beyond the charitable contributions budget and think in terms of a silent auction participant’s annual discretionary spending budget.
Why would we think that? Because silent auctions offer guests the opportunity to purchase things that are most often discretionary, like entertainment, experiences, travel, food and dining, and merchandise.
Finally, keep in mind that you can do both an auction and a paddle raise. If your ultimate goal is to raise funds, give people options for how they can donate and support your organization. Paddle raises can be exciting and are familiar to a lot of people, making them a great option. The downside is that paddle raises can require extra effort from your staff for accurate recording during the event, and post-event checkout. Silent bidding, especially when used with software, can be a seamless, engaging experience that helps you raise money quickly and allows for easy checkout.
2. Silent auctions give your guests something to do!
Don’t take this the wrong way, as we are sure your event is fun.
However your guests will be at your event for hours, and attention spans grow shorter, not longer. In fact, recent studies show the average human has a shorter attention span than a goldfish: 8 seconds!
Over the course of an event, guests will partake in eating and drinking, mingling with friends and colleagues, enjoying entertainment, and listening to presentations.
Despite all of that, it would be dangerous to assume that they are not also browsing Facebook, checking email, texting friends, taking photos, and wandering outside of your event (yes, guests wander) in order to fill more time.
Giving guests something to do that will also generate revenue makes great sense.
What if I want guests to listen to the speakers?
Of course you do! However, it's not likely that most of your guests will pay full attention to the speaker or entertainment for the entire presentation. This is especially the case when some of these speakers talk for 15 minutes or more.
Often we see charities “pause” an auction during speaker presentations out of respect for the speaker only to observe guests doing other things on their phone instead if they’re not simply getting up and leaving the room altogether.
A silent auction, especially one run on mobile phones, will keep your guests connected to your event and help you generate more revenue!
3. Silent auctions are great for engaging newcomers.
Building on Benefit #1 (tapping into a larger share of your supporters’ wallets), another important point is that silent auctions offer the opportunity for guests that are new to your organization to contribute to your cause without requiring them to make a direct donation.
We love it when our committed donors invite their friends to attend, don’t we? Especially when those donors purchase a table and fill it with new faces. But, are they there for a party with their friends, or are they there to donate to your cause?
Our event statistics show that roughly 30% of attendees participate in a paddle raise. However, we see higher percentages of attendees participate in other revenue-generating activities: auctions, raffles, and games.
In short, you want to provide all of your guests with a way to connect with your organization and spend money. While these newcomers may not be connected enough with your mission to donate directly, you can still generate revenue with these other activities.
In addition, by inviting them to participate in other activities, particularly ones that allow you to track users like silent auctions, you can grow your marketing database and convert newcomers to supporters. Don’t miss that opportunity!
Planning and Running a Silent Auction
Now that you understand the way silent auctions can benefit your organization, congratulations! It’s time to start planning, organizing, and setting up your auction.
We’d like to give you ideas for how to plan your auction so it runs smoothly and drives towards meeting your organization’s goals.
We’ll cover best practices for all stages of your silent auction including:
- Planning a silent auction
- Running a silent auction
- Promoting your event
- Leveraging technology
A well thought-out plan will minimize confusion prior to and during your event.
Step 1: Planning Your Auction Event
Establishing a plan for your auction will make it easier for you to optimize areas to increase your revenue and establish important relationships at your event.
There are many factors that affect your silent auction, some of which have very little to do with the auction itself (e.g., caterers and entertainment). However, the more you can understand these influences, the better you can prepare for a successful evening.
Focus on these questions when beginning your planning process:
1. Who is coming?
- How many guests do you anticipate coming?
- What is the makeup? Singles, couples, family?
- Is the invitation to your event open or closed? If it is open, anticipate how you might welcome new people to your organization’s event
2. Where is your event going to be held?
- Where will guests park? Free or paid parking? Valet?
- How will guests arrive (car, shuttle, etc.)?
- How far will guests travel?
- How accessible is the venue?
3. How will you collect payments?
- Will you collect checks, cash, and/or credit cards?
- Will you use software to process credit card payments?
- Are your transactions in US dollars or multiple currencies?
- Will you communicate payment options ahead of time to ensure guests come prepared to participate?
4. Is your venue optimized for technology?
- Is the WiFi stable enough to allow multiple guests to connect, as well as support any presentations or other technology support you’ll need for your event?
- Can the venue handle your capacity of guests?
- How is the cellular data service quality? Will guests have to leave the venue entirely to check their phones?
Your event timeline will help dictate how the auction runs. Start discussing this sooner rather than later. When will guests arrive? Will we open the auction early? When will the auction close?
Don’t wait until the day of the event to figure that out. And by all means, make sure your live auctioneer, volunteers, staff, and technology support are on the same page about the timeline!
Consider these questions when planning your day-of timeline:
1. Setting Up
- How long will it take for you to set up your event and auction area?
- When will the venue allow you to enter the premises to begin setting up?
- Who needs to be there to assist?
- When do vendors need to arrive?
- What is the timeframe for registration?
- Will guests all arrive at once?
- How many people will you have doing check-in?
- How will you be checking in your guests?
3. After Registration
- Are you giving people enough time to bid? (One critical success factor is giving your guests enough time to bid. We recommend at least 60-90 minutes before any programs start.)
- Will you have an accessible auction area to view?
- Are you doing a presentation?
- Will the auction be open during presentations?
5. Live Auction/Checkout
- Will you do a live auction and appeal?
- Will the silent auction still be open (ideally yes!)?
- When will people be able to begin checkout?
Now that you’re beginning to envision the big day, start thinking about how you’re going to promote your event and get people excited about it.
Step 2: Promoting Your Silent Auction Event
The notion of “we will set it up and they will come” does not work for events! You need to actively promote it. Communicate early about your event and do it often. You can’t just set up a registration page and hope and wait for people to sign up.
The following are considerations for your organization as you plan to promote:
1. How new is your event?
- If your event is new, it is not “routine” yet for some.
- For others, you have already established this as an “annual event” in the minds of your guests.
2. How connected are you with your guest list?
- Do you communicate with them regularly?
- Do you have email addresses and contact info so you can send out invites?
3. Registrations require persistence.
- What is your plan to be persistent? One email with your registration link is not going to get it done
- Emails, volunteers calling and leaving voicemails, more emails.
4. What is the culture of your market?
- Some cities/markets are simply “last minute”. Is your city that way?
- People in last minute cities are busy. They have a ton of obligations and often don’t register until right before the event when they can confirm that they can attend
It’s never too early to begin talking to people about your event. During your event, start to plant the seeds for next year’s event, ensuring repeat attendance.
Step 3: Running Your Event
Now it’s time to learn how to run the big day like a pro. Here are some best practices to follow to keep your event, which you planned so carefully, running smoothly.
Part 1: Check-In
The majority of issues with check-in are process related and can be avoided with careful planning and proper training of your check-in staff.
With the advent of technology, we can easily capture and store more information than ever from our guests. In order to ensure you have time to capture that valuable information, particularly if you’re using a mobile bidding software, add some leeway to your registration time.
Plan ahead by asking yourself these questions:
- How long of a window is check-in? (e.g. are 400 people showing up in a 30-minute timeframe?) How many volunteers or staff will you have doing check-in?
- How have you organized your check-in area?
- How will you manage Paddle IDs for your guests?
- What information are you collecting at check-in?
- Is everyone getting checked in or only those interested in bidding?
- Have you implemented pre-bidding?
While check-in and registration are important steps, we don’t want guests stuck there forever. Instead, we want to get them into the event as soon as possible after doing an efficient check-in process. Here are some tips to speed up check-in and avoid the dreaded “line:”
- Avoid “chit chat” and “hugs” at registration. Save that for later.
- Please don’t let your check-in staff eat and drink during check-in!
- Have your check-in staff use laptops
- Minimize data collection where possible and ensure your check-in staff can type on a keyboard.
- Please make sure your check-in volunteers stay through the entire check-in time
- If you have pre-bidding, invite guests to begin
- If you are using technology like mobile bidding, have volunteers help guests get set up, or let tech-savvy guests begin on their own
Part 2: Bidding During the Event
After check-in, your guests will grab food and drink and browse the auction area. Make sure they are able to do that with little problem or challenges.
Set your auction up for success by doing the following:
- Set up a good auction area
- Make your area spacious and roomy so guests can move around easily.
- Label your items properly with names, category, and item codes.
- Ensure top quality lighting and display your items with care. Presentation counts!
- Keep your auction area centrally located to the bar and other social areas.
- Set up a visible timer so people know how much time they have left.
- Make bidding easy, particularly if you’re using a mobile bidding app
- Have a designated support person to handle phone issues outside of registration.
- Confirm your support team can handle iPhone and Android operating systems.
- Have bidding helpers monitor iPads and help people bid.
- Ensure WiFi data quality in and around items.
If you can master the bidding portion of the evening, then you can move on to one of the least stressful parts— the checkout process!
Part 3: Checkout
Checkout can run smoothly if you are well organized and have time to get your items assembled and checkout runners comfortable with item locations.
When the timer runs out, checkout begins.
Consider the following to keep checkout smooth and guests happy with their wins:
- How will bidders pay for items?
- Will you be allowing bidders to pay from their phone?
- Will you collect cash and/or checks at the event?
- Organizing for checkout
- Your items should be organized for easy retrieval
- Consider coding your items to help (e.g all certificates in an item code group)
- Runners should know exactly where to find items when retrieving them
- If you have enough time, pre-assemble the items for winning bidders
- How will bidders get their items home?
- Is the weather bad?
- Do you have bags to protect items?
- Do you have staff who can help take items to the car?
- Will you ship or deliver bigger items?
At this point, pat yourself and your team on the back, whether you’re done for the evening or plan to help the cleaning crew late into the night.
Part 4: Day of the Auction
It’s auction day, are you ready to go? Consult this checklist early on in the day to leave you time to address any hiccups.
Auction Equipment and Technology:
- Check-in laptops/technology charged and working and on WiFi at the venue.
- iPads are charged, passcodes are turned off, WiFi is set up, apps are loaded, and you are logged in!
- Credit card swipers (if you are using them) are configured and setup on check-in laptops & iPads
- Sharpies and paddle number cards are all ready to go
Auction Area and Signage:
- All items are on display and auction items are properly labeled
- Auction signage is in place with instructions to help your guests bid properly
- You have a trash can at the check-in area (yes, really, trust us)
Volunteers and Staff:
- All check-in volunteers are trained and ready
- Tech support team trained and ready
- Checkout volunteers understand how checkout will flow (who is running, where items are, how people will pay, etc.)
- Designate who is entering Paddle Raises, Live Auction winners, and where that will be recorded.
- When will you close silent auction? Live auction, Appeal?
- Do you have a checkout plan in place?
- How will people pay for and pick up their items?
- Are you moving items?
Bonus Section: Setting Up Your Silent Auction Software
If you’re using a mobile app like Handbid to manage your event, track goals, and spike revenues, you’ll want to ensure it’s set up without any hiccups.
Auction app configuration should be easy to figure out once you have planned all of the auction stages. Here is what to consider when configuring your app (and be sure to work closely with the software’s team -- they have experience and can walk you through your set-up)
- Set your auction goals
- In the “benefits” section, we talked about how silent auctions can help you drive revenue and achieve goals for your organization.
- Ensure your mobile app is configured to track your goals throughout the event.
- Auction goals should be realistic and based on the number and value of your items.
- Configure ticketing
- Mobile app solutions like Handbid meet the needs of 80% of events
- Identify sponsors
- Showcase your sponsor and drive extra sponsorship revenue by using a mobile-sponsor banner feature
- Include multiple logos in the banner to increase the number of sponsors
- Determine payment options
- Determine if you will use a mobile app to collect and store credit card information.
- Determine if a credit card will be required in order to bid.
- Set a bidding threshold, or restrict bidding where necessary.
- Determine whether or not bidders need to check-in in order to bid.
We hope you found these ideas to be helpful in planning your best silent auction yet.
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