Episode 003

Sit back, relax, and put on our “Elevate Your Event” podcast to learn a gazillion different ways to host more fun (and more lucrative) fundraising events.

Find Us Everywhere you find your podcasts

Apple Podcast logo
Google Podcast logo
Youtube logo


Silent auctions are hugely popular at fundraising events. When done well, they can help you raise a lot of money, but there are some critical mistakes that can have a negative impact not only on your auction, but on how much money you raise and possibly even impact your organization.

In this episode, Jeff, Lori, and Diana talk about key silent auction mistakes and how to avoid them. They give advice about auction item display, starting bids and bid increments, and ways you can make your auction better (or worse!) overall.

Silent auction mistake #1: Using paper bid sheets

We may be biased (because we’re a mobile software company), but there are many dangers of using paper bid sheets. You’re not only dealing with multiple sheets of paper, illegible handwriting, and not enough pens, you’re going to face way more human error, people forgetting what they bid on, and worst of all, BID BULLIES.

What’s a bid bully? Tune into the episode above to find out!

All of these things lead up to less money raised in your auction.

Silent auction mistake #2: Using a hybrid bidding system

Don’t use both paper bid sheets and mobile bidding software…we beg of you. Using mobile bidding for some bidders and not others, or paper bid sheets for only certain items will totally confuse your guests and may create chaos for you and your volunteers at the end of the night during checkout. 

Instead, use mobile bidding software for your whole auction. With mobile bidding, you can open up bidding on your auction early, before the night of your event. This will give bidders time to get acquainted with mobile bidding before the big night, and even allows people to bid on items who can’t make it to the event at all. Imagine Grandma being able to bid on an auction for her grandson’s school, all the way across the country!

Silent auction mistake #3: Your starting bids and bid increments are too high

We have run a lot of auctions, and a common mistake we see is when auction managers set bids and bid increments really high. For example, let’s say you have an auction item that’s worth $1,000, and you’ve set your bid increments at $100. If someone bids $500, you’re asking the next person to bid $600. For many people, this will feel like too big of a jump and they won’t want to bid at all. However, if you lower the increment to $25 or $50, you may get them bidding. Once you get someone bidding three or four times, it becomes less about the item and more about the competitive element. People want to win!

There are no hard and fast rules when setting your starting bids and bid increments, but we recommend the following formula as a starting point:

  • 40% of the Fair Market Value of the item is your starting bid

  • 10% of the starting bid is your increment

Learn what the REAL measure of bidding success in your auction is by tuning into the episode!

Silent auction mistake #4: You don’t put thought into how your auction items are displayed

When the night of your event arrives and your guests are perusing your auction items, your auction setup could make or break their experience, and even keep them from bidding on important items.

It’s important to consider your auction as a retail space. Make sure that it is well-lit, and that it looks less like a garage sale and more like an Apple store! You want your display to be clean, with little to no clutter. Make it aesthetically pleasing and fun for people to browse.

Your items and packages should be displayed with varying levels. Elevate some items with boxes underneath a tablecloth to put them on display. Space items out well, so people can peruse and read the descriptions. 

Be careful about which items you display, though! Protect those valuable auction items like autographed baseball cards and gift cards. 

Silent auction mistake #5: You don’t have an efficient auction setup

Even if you’re using mobile bidding, you want your silent auction display to jump out to your guests so they can see what’s available to bid on. Set up your event so that people have to walk through your silent auction to get to important places, like the bar.

Press play above to hear the team talk about a unique auction setup

Set up your items so that they are easy for volunteers to find during checkout at the end of the night. You will slow down your checkout process if your items are difficult to locate!

Silent auction mistake #6: Your silent auction item names aren’t clear

Your silent auction item descriptions should be clear and concise, so people know exactly what they are bidding on. You can be creative, but don’t make it hard for your donors to figure out what’s included in the item package. Be straightforward. Instead of calling your item, “Date Night,” simply call it, “Dinner for two at the steakhouse.” 

Don’t assume that people know what an item is. How much is the gift card for? How many people can play the round of golf? Bullet point what items are in the spa basket.

Having a successful silent auction that is well organized, well displayed, and that uses the right bidding systems can be the difference between a good fundraiser and a fundraiser that will knock your socks off. By avoiding the mistakes we outlined in this episode, your event is sure to be a smashing success!

Subscribe to the Elevate Your Event podcast for more silent auction tips!