Episode 003: What to Avoid at Silent Auction

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What to Avoid at Silent Auctions: 6 Common Mistakes

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.

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.

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. 

Try mobile bidding software for your entire auction. It allows early bidding, giving bidders time to familiarize themselves with the process before the event. Even those unable to attend can participate, such as Grandma bidding on her grandson's school auction from miles away!

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

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3. Your starting bids and bid increments are too high

Common mistake: Setting high bids and bid increments can discourage bidding in auctions. For instance, if an item is worth $1,000 and the bid increment is set at $100, a bidder would have to jump from $500 to $600. Lowering the increment to $25 or $50 can encourage more bidding and tap into the competitive nature of bidders. 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!

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! 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. 

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!

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!

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

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