Auction Tips
Auction Planning
Silent Auction Tips
Event Planning

5 Silent Auction Rules and Guidelines to Know (+ Template)

Your Essential Guide to Laying Down Fair Silent Auction Rules for Better Trust and Participation
A white-person with pink painted nails is using a red marker to check off boxes on a white paper that sits on a wooden table. This is meant to symbolize an essential checklist for hosting a silent auction.
Your Essential Guide to Laying Down Fair Silent Auction Rules for Better Trust and Participation

Picture this: You're hosting a silent auction and everything is running smoothly... until you let guests know they have ten minutes left to bid. After the announcement, one guest approaches your team and asks to remove their bid on a high-value item. What do you do?

With a good understanding of your silent auction's rules and general best practices, you can handle situations just like this. 

Sure, some rules may make you unpopular when you enforce them. But in the end, most of your bidders will appreciate your consistency and quick response and feel safer bidding as a result.

We'll discuss five helpful rules and best practices to outline before your next auction to set you up for success. Let's dive in.

Essential Silent Auction Rules for Fair Auctions

It’s important  to be clear and upfront about how your auction will run so all attendees can participate on equal footing and feel comfortable placing bids.

Every organization has its own spin on how it runs auctions, so there aren't any standardized rules. However, here are  five categories to consider when outlining guidelines for your next auction.

Wooden hammer banging down on $100 bills sitting on a wooden table. This hammer represents a gavel that's used during traditional silent auction bidding.r

1. Bidding Rules

With today’s technology, there are many challenges that can be mitigated by simply choosing the right mobile bidding software. Top auction solutions help you enforce bidding rules automatically by preventing guests from:

  • Placing bids with bad handwriting, raising the wrong paddle, or writing down the wrong name. With auction software, guests can submit bids on their phones, computers, or tablets—no handwriting required.
  • Bidding in incorrect bid increments. Silent auction software won't allow guests to place a bid under an item's minimum bid increment.
  • Stealing bid sheets. This is one of many reasons that bid sheets, in general, should be avoided. When you don't have bid sheets because bidding happens digitally, they won't be stolen.
  • Canceling bids. Make it clear that all bids are final before the first bids are entered, and your silent auction software will enforce this by not allowing a bidder to remove their own bids.
  • Being surprised by final bidding announcements. Your platform might have a countdown timer to keep guests aware of closing times and drive participation until the final few moments.

However, there is also expected participant behavior that can't be mitigated using software. To make sure every guest understands and follows a fair bidding process, set silent auction rules about:

  • Paying for items bid on.
  • Providing accurate contact information.
  • Minumum starting bids.
  • Unclaimed items. 
  • Unruly behavior. 

Outlining these additional bidding guidelines will bring much-needed order to your auctions. With these silent auction rules, all your guests can be sure that everyone else is following the same bidding procedures they are. This can make them feel secure, and maybe even competitive, when placing bids.

Blue binder with writing on the side: "Guidelines." Essential Silent Auction Rules 2: Item Guidelines

2. Auction Item Guidelines

While bidders are contributing to a charitable cause, there's still a monetary exchange involved. This means your guests aren't the only ones who need to follow silent auction rules! Your nonprofit should also establish and share seller guidelines to maintain transparency and earn your bidders' trust. 

Set guidelines relating specifically to items, as well as to the donors more generally. For example, you might set the following silent auction rules:

  • All item descriptions should be true and accurate. This includes both descriptions and photos. Be sure to report any flaws, alterations, or damages to bidders. 
  • You will establish the fair market value of auction items to the best of your ability. There is a chance that those who donate items might overestimate the items' market value, since they can use that number for tax purposes. Do your research! 
  • You won't manipulate the bidding process. This includes placing bids or causing bids to be placed with the express purpose of artificially inflating the bid price of an item. 
  • You will honor the transaction contract. This includes accepting payment for auction items that are won and delivering all auction items paid for. 
  • You will provide a receipt of purchase. All winning bidders should get a receipt at the end of the auction that lists all purchases with the fair market value of each item vs. the purchase price. The receipt should also identify you (the nonprofit) as the seller.

These guidelines are important for guests to trust you enough to participate in the auction. That said, you may also be bound by seller guidelines or an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) outlined by your mobile bidding software provider, even if you only quickly scrolled past it when not-actually-reading the Terms and Conditions. Check out the Handbid's AUP here as an example. 

Knock out two birds with one stone (and remain compliant) by referencing your provider's AUP when outlining guidelines for donors!

A white person in a black suite sign a paper on a white desk. Also on the desk sits a statue of the scales of justice. Essential Silent Auction Rules 3: Legal Compliance

3. Legal Considerations 

There is a ton of gray area around legal compliance for auctions as there aren't major laws dictating how your auction should function. However, you may run into state-specific tax rules.

We can't provide the rules for each state here, but there are a few specific tax considerations that can be helpful to research before planning your auction. For example:

  • Will you be required to charge sales tax?
  • Is sales tax charged for all items or only some?
  • How is sales tax handled for bundled items?
  • Are items purchased by bidders tax-deductible?

Since these answers aren’t always straightforward, do not tell bidders that their purchases are tax-deductible. Instead, you can tell them that any purchases above the fair market value of items may be deductible and advise the bidder to consult with a tax advisor.

Another legal consideration to keep in mind is setting age restrictions on certain auction items, such as alcohol, overnight trips, tobacco products, etc. While these can be competitive items, you don’t want to get into any legal trouble by allowing a 17-year-old to win them!

A person wearing blue flannel and brown skin is typing on their silver laptop on a dark wooden table. There are graphics of tax-related icons, such as a calculator, a dollar sign, a globe, a receipt, percentages, and time. This is meant to symbolize all the considerations one should take when considering how to factor in tax for silent auctions.

4. Silent Auction Checkout Rules

Let's be honest, the last thing you want is to reach the end of a long auction event and be staring down a long line of winners waiting to pay for their items and leave.

Mobile bidding software will drastically improve the user experience, as guests will be able to check out directly from their phones once the auction is over. You can also set a few silent auction rules to speed things up, such as:

  • Credit cards must be on file before bidding. Alternatively, can require participants to input a credit card once they hit a certain benchmark (such as $100) before they can place any additional bids.
  • Staff and volunteers must be equipped with tablets. Do you have any loved ones that still use flip phones? Probably. Strategically station staff and volunteers equipped with tablets around your auction space. They can tell guests without smartphones which items they've won and for how much. 
  • Items should be numbered for quick distribution. Assign each auction item a number and train your crew to find items based on this system. Then, guests will give their number at checkout to receive the item. We recommend keeping it simple, such as assigning all gift certificates a number in the 100s, all physical items a number in the 200s, all bundles a number in the 300s, and so on. These categories help your team grab the correct item fast
  • Guests must show that an item has been paid in full. Before you send a volunteer running for an item, ask guests to show you the PAID IN FULL invoice on their phone. Not only will this show you that the item has been purchased, but it'll give you the code for the item. The last thing you want to do is to send a volunteer off to grab a large grill and have them drag it up to the checkout only to realize that the guest won a grilling gift card, not the heavy home item.
Image of a quarter of a silver clock on a white background. Essential Silent Auction Rules 5: Opening and Closing Times

5. Opening and Closing Times

When guests first sign up for your auction, let them know exactly when bidding opens and closes. This helps guests organize their schedules and can be especially helpful for your virtual auction attendees.

Make sure to finish your auction strong by providing your guests with a closing time warning, too. This can drive extra revenue from last-minute bids and give guests an extra heads-up. 

At in-person auctions, you can make a verbal announcement that bidding time is closing, but make sure to send text or push notifications as well to ensure everyone receives the message. For fully virtual auctions, you can stick to the text and push notifications.

Try to avoid extending auction close times, but if you must, give all bidders sufficient notice. Nothing frustrates a bidder more than to think they’ve won an item but find out the time was extended… and someone outbid them!

Diverse group of people high-fiving, perhaps for a successful event. Improve your auction with these best practices for using silent auction rules

Best Practices for Using Your Silent Auction Rules

Outlining a few guidelines before your auction will create a strong foundation for the event and give you a plan in case roadblocks occur. 

But what about taking your auction to the next level‚ hosting a truly successful, fundraising-goal-surpassing, guest-impressing event? Consider incorporating these best practices into your planning.

White woman in mint colored hoodie sitting and smiling at her computer. Silent Auction Rules for Success 2: Set bidding increments that encourage bidding wars.

Encourage Bidding Wars

Setting starting bids and bid increments is more of an art than an exact science. If bid increments are set without consideration and calculation, this could lead to reduced engagement. 

To facilitate a fun event and reach your fundraising goals, you want to start a bidding war. But make sure to do this thoughtfully by considering what increments will attract the most attention.  In most cases, this means setting bid increments as low as your nonprofit can bear. Here’s how you figure this out: 

  1. Set your starting bid to 30-40% of an item’s fair market value (FMV).
  2. Decide how much revenue you need using this formula: [Bid Revenue] = [FMV] – [Starting Bid] 
  3. Divide your bid revenue by the number of bids you want: [Bid Increments] = [Bid Revenue]/[Number of Bids]

Don't be afraid to play around with this formula and adjust the exact totals you get from it. Ideally, your bid increments should be low enough that they drive additional bids while still making sense for the item based on its value.

Stock image of a traditional bidding event. A man in a blue suit stands at the front of the podium, resumable announcing items and bids. A red-haired woman holds a paddle board with the number "3" written on it.

Have a Plan for Removing Bids

So far, this article has highly recommended emphasizing that all auction sales are final and that bids can't be canceled. This is for good reason, since removing bids can quickly get complicated. That said, your nonprofit should still have a plan in place for if the situation comes up. 

If a guest asks to remove a bid, here are  three options for how you might respond:

  1. Remind them that bids are final.  
  2. Encourage them to wait it out and hopefully get outbid. 
  3. Remove the bid (avoid this when possible).

Of course, use your best judgment for each scenario. It might be reassuring to know that there are ways to prevent these situations from ever occurring in the first place. Some silent auction software platforms let you put spending limits on certain bidders, preventing them from overbidding or canceling their bids last minute.

A blonde woman and brunette man sit on a white couch, smiling as the look at their iPad. This is meant to symbolize parti

Get Guests to Register Ahead of Time

While some auctions are equipped to handle a few last-minute sign-ups, you can save your team a major headache by encouraging guests to register in advance. By doing so, you'll be able to:

  • Create a faster checkout process. Checkout lines can turn into a bottleneck if your auction team isn't prepared. Have guests register a credit or debit card on file before your auction. That way, they'll be able to pay quickly, pick up their items, and move out of the way for other guests picking up items.
  • Train your event team. Your event team is likely composed of staff members and volunteers. But how do you know how many volunteers to recruit? When your guests all register in advance, you'll know how big your audience is and can recruit and train the right number of volunteers to meet your guests' needs.

You can speed up the registration process for regular auction attendees by using a platform with universal accounts. Then, when previous guests sign up for events in the future, they won't need to re-enter their personal or financial information and can get straight to bidding

A tan woman with brunette hair and a tan shirt is holding her phone, potentially placing a bid on an item in a silent auction!

Example Silent Auction Rules Template

Once your team decides on which rules to uphold, make sure your attendees receive the written rules prior to the event. We’ve got a template ready for you below, but feel free to make adjustments based on your nonprofit’s unique needs:

X’s Silent Auction Rules

  1. To participate in bidding, each attendee must agree to all event rules and regulations. By completing your registration for the event, you are agreeing to these regulations.
  2. [Name of organization] reserves the right to withdraw or add auction items without notice.
  3. A credit card must be placed on file prior to the auction. Payments for items purchased must be paid in full on the night of the auction.
  4. Minimum bid increments are $___, unless otherwise stated.
  5. Bidding will close following an X-minute warning.
  6. The silent auction will close at XX:XX p.m. Once the auction closes, additional bids will not be accepted or valid.
  7. The highest qualifying bid within the bidding guidelines at the close of the auction will be declared the winning bid for each item.
  8. All bids are final. No bids may be altered or removed before or after closing time. 
  9. All sales are final. Exchanges and refunds are not permitted. No item may be redeemed for cash. An item’s safety and security are the winning bidder’s responsibility once claimed.
  10. Auction item value listed is based on FMV (Fair Market Value). Unless noted otherwise, items have not been appraised.
  11. [Name of organization] will honor the transaction contract and provide proof of purchase.

Wrap Up

Though silent auction rules are often more guidelines than anything else, they can help your event stay on track and form an agreement between you and your guests. These guidelines, partnered with a few silent auction best practices, can help take your next event to the next level.

For more help planning your next stand-out silent auction, check out these resources:

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Testing image caption text
  1. Numbered list
  2. Numbered list 2
  3. Numbered list 3

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.