How to Motivate People to Bid on Your Silent Auction Items

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You’ve spent months planning and preparing for your silent auction, and you’ve recruited all of your items. Maybe you even have a really good-looking auction setup. Now what? How do you get people to bid on your silent auction items? The goal is to raise as much money as possible at your event, so how is that done through your auction? Our team believes that how you name, describe, and market your auction items is essential to its overall success.

Today we’re talking about how item descriptions and even your bid increments can be used as powerful tools that will motivate your bidders to bid high and often so that you can raise as much money as possible in your silent auction. 

Learn how Handbid’s charity auction platform can work for your nonprofit!

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Make your auction fun

When you host a silent auction, it’s important to make it fun for your bidders to engage with. So, how do you accomplish this?

Recruit items that interest your bidders

When getting auction items donated, keep your audience at the forefront of your mind. What are their interests? What are the age range and demographics of your guests?

If your guests are outdoor enthusiasts, try to get experiences they will enjoy. If your audience consists of mostly younger families, they will likely want to bid on things like tickets to Disneyland or a day trip to the children’s museum with gift cards to a family restaurant. If your bidders are older and retired, chances are that they won’t have fun bidding on any of these items. Your audience and their interests are the first things to think about when trying to make your auction fun. 

Get a mobile bidding app that will notify bidders when they are winning or losing items

A mobile bidding app will allow your guests to keep track of what's happening in real-time, and it will notify them when they are winning or losing items. It's exciting and keeps them engaged, which means they'll be more likely to stay involved with the auction as it progresses.

Display a leaderboard

If you have access to any kind of multimedia at your event, it can be helpful to display a leaderboard of hot items you know your bidders will be interested in, items in a bidding war, or items that have very few bids or no bids at all.

Make your guests think they can win

People are much more motivated to bid on silent auction items they feel that they can win. So, how can you influence this? It’s all in how you value your items, and where you set their starting bids and bid increments. If you start with a really high bid on an item, it’s likely that the item will get fewer bids. 

Similarly, if the bid increments (the next-highest bids) on your items jump too high, bidders may abandon hope on the item altogether. Set your bid increments at a level that will get them bidding at least twice. In our experience, once guests start bidding on one item, they’ll bid multiple times, and on multiple items. Then, you tap into their competitive spirit and the bidding wars begin!

Jeff has an example of a woman who kept bidding on an item she didn’t even WANT. Tune into the episode above to hear the story!

Get people emotionally attached to the auction items

While it’s important to have auction items that people get excited about and can actually use (like gift cards), one strategy to get them motivated to bid is to pull on their heartstrings. Secure a few items that have specific meaning to your organization. 

For example, if your organization promotes the arts in schools, auction off an opportunity for some of the students to perform at a corporate event, or commission a student to create a custom art piece to be auctioned off. 

If you find a way to connect an auction item to your mission and tell the story well, people will be moved to bid away!

Be specific with your auction item description

When describing your auction items, include as much information about them as possible. What’s the background? Is it an antique? Where did it come from? For example, if you are auctioning off sports memorabilia, it’s important to describe it in very specific ways. Let’s imagine that you’re planning to auction off an autographed football. Here are some things to address in the item description:

  • Who signed the ball?
  • What team do they/did they play for?
  • Are they in the Hall of Fame?
  • Did the ball see action during the game (is it a “game ball?”)
  • What color pen/marker was it signed with?

When describing wine

Three bottles of red wine is not a good description!

Use the year, varietal, value, rating, etc.

Is it vintage?

People will look up your wine and see what it’s worth. So, unless it’s an autographed bottle, or has some other value to it, look up the retail price of the wine when setting your starting bid.

The Handbid team has valuable advice when it comes to describing gift cards and experiences. Press “play” above to learn more!

Use clear images of your auction items

When using mobile bidding software especially, the images of your items could make or break someone’s decision to bid on them. Try to think like a marketing person when setting up your auction (or find a volunteer who works in marketing to help you!) Showcase your items well, both in person and online. Your auction should look like a marketplace where people are eager to shop. 

If you have a gift basket, don’t post an image of the shrink-wrapped basket on your auction’s website. Instead, use a spa-themed image. If you have a hockey stick signed by a famous player, show a picture of the player instead of the hockey stick itself. When auctioning off clothing or jewelry, put it on a model and take a photo of him or her wearing it.

All of these tips will motivate your guests to bid, especially if they are not in the room browsing your auction.

Highlight items and donors ahead of your auction opening

Give your bidders something to look forward to before your silent auction even opens. Send a marketing email or post items to your social media, giving potential bidders a glimpse into the items that will be available. This is also an opportunity to recognize and thank businesses and partners who donated your auction items. They might even be willing to share your items on their own channels.

Organize your auction items into categories

Whether your bidders are in person or bidding virtually, make it easy for them to find what they are looking for, and help them discover items they didn’t even know they needed! Divide your items into interesting categories so that people can browse their areas of interest.

Here are a few things to consider when brainstorming your silent auction categories:

  • Limit the number of categories to ten or fifteen
  • Try not to have more than ten items in a single category
  • Be clear when naming your categories, using titles like sports, food and drink, travel, etc.

Analyze the data on your silent auction after your event

Once your auction closes and your items have gone home with the winning bidders, there are some key metrics to consider. For example, knowing which items and categories had the highest number of bids will tell you what types of auction items you should focus on getting more of at next year’s event. Using auction software with custom reporting will help you to analyze data, like which guests bid the most amount of money and the most often, which will guide you in your stewardship and major gift efforts.

Silent auctions can be fun and full of energy, and they have potential to give you a high return on your investment. Use these strategies hand-in-hand with the right auction software, and your event will be a smashing success!