How to plan and execute a silent auction

Fundraising isn’t easy. We will be the first to tell you that. Not only do we help numerous charities fundraise, many of our employees actively fundraise for their own charities. In fact, Handbid was built out of an identified need, by our founders, for better fundraising tools for their event.

It’s for this reason that we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on how to plan and execute a silent auction. Read on to learn about nearly every aspect of silent auctions.

There are a lot of ways to raise money, from online donations, peer to peer fundraising campaigns, email or direct mail campaigns, or special events. All of those methods are valid and can be combined for a complete fundraising strategy.

Chapter 1

The challenges of raising money through
special events

This article will specifically address special events (galas, golf tournaments, “a-thons”) and specifically silent auctions and online auctions run in conjunction with them. As it relates to special events, let’s address a few common challenges and then help you come up with ways to overcome those.

Chapter 2

Overcome these challenges with the benefits of silent
auctions

Perhaps the first thing coming to mind is a fourth challenge, “Silent Auctions are a lot of work!”. Well, we can’t argue with that. Silent auctions are a lot of work. You need to source items, organize them, display them at the event and manage bids and process invoices.

So why do them? There are several reasons why you should consider having one, starting with the fact that a silent auction will help you overcome the first 3 challenges we listed earlier.

What is Handbid?

The Handbid auction platform engages bidders, drives more bidding, and generates more auction
revenue – all while simplifying the auction process for you!

Chapter 3

How to plan a silent auction

There is no time like the present when it comes to get started planning your auction. If you are having an auction in conjunction with a fundraising event, you will want to have a separate (but connected) group in charge of your auction. Appoint an auction chair and have them get organized soliciting items.

Time to get started

It’s important to start thinking about your silent auction 4-6 months before your event date. When you ask for items, it’s essential to prepare a formal solicitation letter to give to the businesses and people. The letter should include information about your event and your Organization, your Mission, EIN number, who within your Organization to contact with questions, where to send the item and a suggested deadline for submitting items. It is also important to explain how the money that you make at your event will be used.

Where to find great items

Now, you think about the kinds of items you want in your silent auction. Put some thought into this:

  • What will your guests like? What is appealing in your area?
  • What new trends are hot that you can capitalize on (hot new restaurant, gadget, event)
  • While your team canvasses businesses locally, don’t forget about national opportunities. National Organizations are generous and all this requires (usually) are web searches! But, many of them have 4-6 month lead times, which is why planning in advance is critical.

Some items can be made instead

Items that have no cost but high appeal are great: five strong men to do yard work for a day, a free dog walker for a month, etc. If you are a school, you may not know it, but you have a number of items that will be popular that cost next to nothing: parking spaces, front of the line drop off spots, principal for the day, etc. We have a number of these ideas that we provide our clients during their ramp-up period. Here is a link to some great silent auction ideas to consider.

Ask your friends & family for HELP!

Businesses are more likely to support your auction if your cause is well known or the person asking for it (the solicitor) is well known. Be sure to leverage any relationships your friends may have with local businesses or craftsmen to secure great items for your auction. Consider the following options when asking your personal connections for donations:

  • Do you have an artist in the family? Ask them to create something!
  • Does someone in your family have a vacation home they would be willing to donate?
  • Do you know someone who works at a hotel who will donate nights? How about a local restaurant?
  • Do you know someone who can help you secure wine for your event’s wine wall or an auction basket?

Organize your items as they come in

Don’t let paper pile up on your desk. Setup a shared spreadsheet where your team can have a list of target items (things you want) and a method by which you can add both donor and item detail. When the item is secured, the spreadsheet can help you organize that for easy import into your auction system.

Meet with your Solicitors Regularly

Encourage the team to maintain a pace of collecting items through regular meetings (that you don’t reschedule!). Encourage rewards and competition amongst your team – and reward them!

  • Who can bring the most items secured by next meeting
  • Who brings the most fair market value in items for the entire auction (running tally)
  • Who brings in the most NEW items to the auction (not just same items from previous year)

Chapter 4

Executing your auction

1

Organize donations into item packages

2

Organize items into categories

3

Write item descriptions

4

Display items
& item sheets

5

Set starting bids &
bid increments

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

Others suggest you determine the size of your auction space and recommend 1 item for every square foot of auction space. There are plenty of other formulas that exist out there, but with mobile bidding, we have found that these rules don’t always apply. Instead, you need to know your audience, the types of items you have, and the nature of the event. When creating your packages, here are some things to consider.

  • Formal galas tend to work best with fewer items that are a bit higher in value. Your bidders in formal wear are not going to bother with the $15 gift card to a local coffee shop. Make the prizes meaningful.
  • School auctions should offer a more affordable range of items and lots of them. In fact, we find that school auctions blow the traditional “1 item / 2 bidder” ratios out of the water as most of them easily sell all 300+ items to an audience of 75-100 bidders.
  • Understand the demographic makeup of your bidders. If you are expecting an older crowd, trips to children’s museums and the zoo are not going to be good sellers, but wine tastings and larger trips will be. At a school auction, the museum and zoo items will do very well, but big expensive trips will only work if they are to Disney or is otherwise family oriented.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

Chapter 5

Bid sheets or mobile bidding?

Are you feeling nostalgic and want to stick with paper? Or are you ready to streamline your event and raise your revenue potential? That sounded rather biased, didn’t it? Well, we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t feel that mobile bidding was going to positively impact your auction.

Before you decide that your guests are too old to use technology, mobile bidding is too complicated, or that you can’t afford the software, consider the challenges with paper bid sheets:

Paper Bid Challenges

Challenge #1

Your guests MUST be physically standing over the bid sheet to bid. Sure, they must be present, but they
still can’t bid on a paper bid sheet from the bar or from their table. For that reason, even your local guests
have to interrupt conversations or get up from their table to walk over to bid sheets to bid. Why make it
harder for them?

Challenge #2

Your guests better have good handwriting. Even your guests with the best penmanship are known to get
sloppy as the night goes on when bidding on bid sheets. Do you want to be huddled up at the end of the
night trying to figure out if that bidder number was 172 or 122?

Challenge #3

Your guests all have to line up to pay at the end. This is where we see the most stress. Your event was
great! But now the auction is over, and you are scrambling to generate invoices and get guests paid and
out the door. Things are moving along, but slowly. And, you are stressed because the last experience of
the night for your guests is a 30-45 minute wait in line to pay and get their items. Some guests ditch the
line and leave, and you are left with items to carry back to the office and phone calls to make on Monday.
Who wants that?

Mobile Bidding benefits

Your guests can be anywhere, and we mean anywhere!

Don’t just restrict bidding to those in the room. Let your best supporters, who could not make your event in person, bid remotely! Why not let people bid from the bar, or from their seats at dinner? The more opportunities you give your bidders to bid, the more revenue you can generate.

Your auction can stay open longer

With paper, your auction can’t start until guests arrive and it must end with enough time for you to calculate winners and organize checkout. With mobile bidding, you can open up your auction days to weeks in advance of your event. Let your guests bid early. At the end, you can close your auction just minutes before you need to start checkout. Guests can view what they won and pay from their phone.

Your data will be much more accurate.

People don’t have to write numbers on sheets, and you don’t have to struggle to read it. You will capture valuable data through the mobile bidding service including the guest’s email and phone (and possibly their address if you want it). And, you don’t have to enter any of it! They will!

Finally, your checkout lines will disappear.

Well… for the most part. You still need to run an efficient checkout (check out our eBook on that!). Your guests can view their items and pay from their phone. When everything is on paper, your guests have no idea after the auction closes if they won anything, so they line up. With paper bidding, your line consists of both winners (and non-winners), and you have people waiting 15-20 minutes only to find out they didn’t win anything. With mobile bidding, that isn’t the case. Your guests will be able to view and pay their invoice right from their phone! Those that didn’t win will head home, and your checkout line will be much shorter.

Chapter 6

How to select a mobile bidding provider

Now that you’ve decided to go with a Mobile Bidding solution (great!), how do you find one that will work for you? There are quite a few of them, and their pricing (if you can find it online) varies quite a bit! While you are certain to have a budget, we urge you not to make price your
primary factor.

So many things go into how a mobile bidding provider impacts the overall success of your auction and the guest experience. Picking the cheapest option may end up costing you more than you think in the long run.

Here are some things to consider when selecting your mobile bidding provider:

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

Others suggest you determine the size of your auction space and recommend 1 item for every square foot of auction space. There are plenty of other formulas that exist out there, but with mobile bidding, we have found that these rules don’t always apply. Instead, you need to know your audience, the types of items you have, and the nature of the event. When creating your packages, here are some things to consider.

  • Formal galas tend to work best with fewer items that are a bit higher in value. Your bidders in formal wear are not going to bother with the $15 gift card to a local coffee shop. Make the prizes meaningful.
  • School auctions should offer a more affordable range of items and lots of them. In fact, we find that school auctions blow the traditional “1 item / 2 bidder” ratios out of the water as most of them easily sell all 300+ items to an audience of 75-100 bidders.
  • Understand the demographic makeup of your bidders. If you are expecting an older crowd, trips to children’s museums and the zoo are not going to be good sellers, but wine tastings and larger trips will be. At a school auction, the museum and zoo items will do very well, but big expensive trips will only work if they are to Disney or is otherwise family oriented.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

The first big task is to organize your donations into a set of packages that you can load into the software. To start, you need to think about:

  • How many items do you need for your auction?
  • What types of items do I have and what are my bidders most interested in?
  • What range of prices do I have for my items?
  • When determining a target number of items, the tradition has been to have 1 item for every 2 registered bidders.

You’re excited to get started. So what to do first?

Learn the software

The first step is to learn the software. Hopefully, your vendor provided you with a Get Started email with some videos or training articles you can read. These should give you an overview of the software and how it works.

It is important to note that software is designed to automate a process. The vendor who built the software you are using has a process in mind on how an event (and silent auction) should work. In some cases, you will run into a divergence of how you want the software to work (your way) and how the software does it (their way). Figure out if you can compromise on that because it is unlikely the company will modify the software to accommodate “your way” (whether it is a better way or not). Once you have an idea of how the software works and how it will work for your event, it is time to get things loaded and into the software

Final thoughts

There you have it! There’s quite a few mission-critical things that you need to remember, from planning your event, to acquiring items that your guests will bid on, displaying items, and much more. Everything described and shared in this comprehensive guide must be considered to ensure your auction is as effective as possible. If you don’t follow these tips, there is a chance you could see less return on investment from your event.

If you’re ready to take the next step and upgrade your silent auction, contact our to our team! We can create a plan to help your event’s staff prepare your event, engage more guests, manage item inventory, and more all to help your event generate a higher ROI.

Of course, if you have any questions, reach out to our team for support! We’re happy to help.

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