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What is a Silent Auction?

Updated on January 11, 2017
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Kathy is a freelance writer who loves volunteering in her free time. She has over 15 years of fundraising experience with local charities.

A silent auction is a fundraising method that is used by many charities, schools and other organizations to raise money to support their causes. It can be held as part of a larger event, or as an event all on its own.

In a silent auction, a display is set up on tables to show the products and services that are available to purchase by attendees at the event. People can bid on any items they are interested in purchasing, by writing down their name and the price they are willing to pay.

Bidding is usually done on a bid sheet where everyone can see what the current bid is for each item. Bidders then have to enter a higher bid if they would like the chance to buy that item. At a pre-determined time, bidding is closed, and the final, highest bid determines who takes the item home and the price they pay for the item.

Bidding can also be done so that people write down their bids on a piece of paper that others can not see, and the highest bid takes that item.

Silent Auction vs Live Auction

In a live auction, an auctioneer takes bids from the crowd, one item at a time. Bidding on each item continues until a final price is reached by the highest bidder.

In a silent auction, items are displayed on a table with bidding sheets, and people can place their bids until a pre-determined time. When the bidding is closed, the person with the highest bid is the winner.

Advantages of a Silent Auction over a Live Auction:

- Doesn't require the use of an auctioneer. Thus, charities save the cost of hiring a professional auctioneer that is usually required for live auctions.

- Can take place at the same time as other activities at the event, such as dancing, speeches, or dinner.

Possible Drawbacks of a Silent Auction:

- Some items may get overlooked or not generate as much excitement as they would if being auctioned off by an auctioneer, thus resulting in lower final bids for items.

- People have more time to think about their bids and are less likely to make impulsive purchases or bid up prices in a bidding frenzy - although this can still happen!

Many charities use a combination of silent and live auctions at events to maximize the bidding prices and enjoyment for all.

Example of a Silent Auction Setup

Silent Auction Tips

To have a successful silent auction, it is important to start planning well in advance. You will need to give yourselves lots of time to send out requests for donations for the auction, especially if you want to have a good variety of high quality items that will appeal to people attending your silent auction. You may need to arrange for pick up of certain items, and some items may need to be wrapped up or displayed appropriately, and it's preferable to have the items well in advance of the event to allow you time to get everything organized.

You will need to make up bid sheets for all of the items, and you may want to indicate a minimum or starting bid on the items.

Be sure to decide on certain things in advance of the silent auction, so that you can communicate them to bidders. For example:

  • What time will the bidding be closed off?
  • Will bidding on all tables end at the same time, or will certain tables close first?
  • What payment methods will be accepted?
  • Do winning bidders need to be present at the end of the auction?

It is often helpful to have signage up stating the above information, to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.

Silent Auction Display Tips

If your silent auction items include gift certificates, it is a good idea to display them in clear acrylic sign holders or on small easels. This increases their visability to potential bidders and will usually result in increased bidders and higher bids on the item.

Ideas for Silent Auction Items

Gift Certificates
Themed Gift Baskets
Hair salon or spa
Theatre tickets
Movie Night
Book store
Sporting event tickets
Small appliances
Book Worm
Department or big box store
Golf passes
Gourmet Foods
Local restaurants
Passes to local attractions
Sports Memorabilia
Sports Fan
Hot air balloon ride
Art & handmade items
Chocolate Lover
Photography studio
Cooking lessons
Designer Purses
All About Baby
Clothing stores
Private catered dinner
Family Fun
Fitness centre or gym
Winery tour
Children's toys or games

Gift Baskets

Gift baskets are popular items at silent auctions. Some companies will donate gift baskets already made up, but you can also get your committee members to make up gift baskets themselves for the silent auction from donated items, products the organization might already have or items purchased at discounted prices.

You will often get higher bids on items if they are presented in an attractively wrapped basket, than if the items were displayed on their own. Wrapped gift baskets also keep the items safe and clean.

Even something as simple as a big gift basket of candy and chocolate can result in bids much higher than the value of the actual items inside if it is wrapped nicely.

Wrapping up a Gardener's gift basket for a silent auction.
Wrapping up a Gardener's gift basket for a silent auction. | Source

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