Silent Auctions Simplified: Tips, Tricks, and Expert Advice


Silent Auction

Thinking about launching a silent auction to raise funds? You’re not alone. From home and school associations to non-profits and charities – everyone wants to include a silent auction as part of their events. That’s because having a silent auction is a fun and engaging revenue generating attraction.

However planning, promoting and executing a successful silent auction can be a daunting task. There are many moving pieces, so coordination and planning are key.

The aim of this guide is to go through the basics and help simplify the planning and execution of silent auctions. We’ll talk about what exactly silent auctions are, what you'll need to start out, how to secure great items, some expert insight into “Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Silent Auctions” and provide some additional resources.

So What Exactly Are Silent Auctions?

You’ve likely attended an event that has included a silent auction. Have you ever asked yourself, with all of the chatter and noise going on at your event, why they're called “silent auctions”? It’s because they are held without an auctioneer.

Silent auctions can either be the main attraction around which an entire event is based, or they can be a supplemental form of entertainment (and fundraising) as part of an awards ceremony, fundraising event, conference, etc.

During a typical silent auction event, items for auction are displayed for participants to inspect closely. In front of each item is a document called a “bid sheet”, where interested bidders can place a bid silently and anonymously using a bidder number. Many silent auctions add a “minimum increase requirement” to their bid sheets. This means that the next bid must be a certain dollar amount more than the previous one. For example, if the minimum increase is $5 and the previous bid was $50, the next bid must be at least $55.

A silent auction must also have a predetermined end point at which bidding is concluded. At that time, the bid sheets are collected by organizers and the highest bid on each sheet is the winning bid – and that person gets to go home with the item!


Silent auction basics

Here’s a high-level list of what you’ll need to get started with silent auctions:

  • Desirable Items: Your whole auction revolves around the items that are on offer. Sourcing valuable items that your audience will be excited by will help you get the maximum possible revenue from your auction.

  • Item Display: Displaying your chosen items appropriately will help you to accentuate them. Choose wisely from stages, platforms, easels and cases to make the items stand out and appear more desirable.  Keep in mind lighting and location when arranging your collection.

  • Item Description Sheets: It is best to accompany each item with an item description sheet, where you can give more details about what it is, who it was sponsored by and provide a photo (this is especially helpful if the item is not quite tangible like, for an example, a vacation package). You can also provide copies of these sheets in other places throughout your event venue or even put them together in a booklet and keep them at dinner tables, cruiser tables, the bar, etc. This will remind your event attendees about the silent auction and will encourage them to place a bid even if they're not standing directly in the silent auction area.
  • Registration: Registration is not by any means required, but there are two great benefits to having your silent auction participants register before the auction begins:
    • 1) Your silent auction can be anonymous  — after participants fill out the registration form, they will be given a bidder number, which they can use to place bids instead of using their names. Some people would rather not put their name on a public bid sheet for everyone else to see and this ensures that everyone can participate comfortably.
    • 2) You can collect information about each auction participant in case you need to contact them after the event. This is especially important since there is a chance that you'll need to get in touch with the winning bidders about their purchases. Some bid sheets will include a place for people to note down their contact information but, once again, not everyone will be comfortable with leaving their information in a public place. 
  • Bid Sheets: Bid sheets are where the actual auction takes place. If you choose to use a registration form, all you'll need to include on your bid sheet is the name of the item, its value, a minimum bid amount, and spaces for people to note down their bidder number and bid amount. names and bids. Some auctions also offer a "Buy Now" price. If someone really has their heart set on an item, they can buy it before the auction ends and take it off the market, so to speak. This is optional, but is a good chance to increase revenue, since the "Buy Now" is usually quite high. 

  • Volunteers: Silent auctions can be labour intensive. Recruiting well trained volunteers to help with soliciting items, inventory management, auction set-up, registration and  checkout will help make sure your event runs smoothly and your bidders have a good time.

  • Auction Monitors: If possible, experienced or trained volunteers or staff should act as auction monitors. As the bidding is “self service”, the monitors should be in charge of keeping an eye on the items and bid sheets to make sure that your guests are following the auction and bidding rules.

  • Checkout area: Having a cordoned off area that deals with the actual monetary transactions will help make transaction private (if requested) and secure. Be prepared to deal with cash, checks and even credit cards (using Square).

  • Silent auction software: Although it's not a necessity for every organization, auction software like Auctria can help you manage your fundraiser more effectively and easily.

Click here to download a free Silent Auction Templates package, which includes a sample registration form, bid sheet, item description sheet, auction rules, as well as 50+ auction item ideas. 

While we’ve provided a high-level overview of what silent actions are and what they entail, we wanted to offer some expert advice for those just getting started with or are looking for ideas to refresh their silent auctions.

So, we turned to self-proclaimed “practical fundraising visionary” Claire Axelrad. The following is advice, tips and ideas based on a number of blog posts on Claire’s Clairification Blog.


Forewarned is forearmed – Before you start, understand the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Silent Auctions”

As Claire Axelrad suggests in her post, Fundraising Silent Auctions: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Easy, “Silent auctions are a bit like the story of the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: When they are good they are very, very good; when they are bad they are horrid.”  

Claire notes that the good news is that “Silent auctions can be a great way to increase event revenue and entertain your guests.” They are likely to be most successful, suggests Claire, when viewed as a primary form of entertainment for the guests. This means that the items you have on auction are valued by the attendees, whether the value comes through feeling they’ve contributed to your cause, found a bargain or had access to  “a once-in-a-lifetime experience they’d never have had access to anyplace else.”

On the down-side, Claire warns that silent auctions can also be “a complete time suck and not come near to generating the value of the donated items for your organization.” The rewards are limited when a well-intentioned team spends a lot of time soliciting items that are “non-saleable”.

“The Ugly” comes in when your  silent auctions inadvertently alienate donors or disappoint event guests.” Claire suggests:

A dreary auction is depressing in every way. It depresses your guests because there’s nothing there they want to bid on. It depresses your event revenue. And it even depresses further donations from auction item donors.

And by the way, if you have an event coming up, be sure to download our Ultimate Event Checklist for associations and clubs.

Silten Auctions Software


What to Do to Ensure Your Silent Auction Is a Success

Keep it mission-related

According to Claire, the first step is to be sure you are “tapping into the power of mission-related, or “funding a need,” items”. In other words, remember that, in general, folks are attending the event to support your cause. So as she notes, “if you do a good job inspiring folks about your cause at your event, your audience is primed to support you. Don’t waste the good feelings you’ve generated!

Create a win-win-win situation – with the right auction items

Yes, it is all about the auction items. But it’s also about how they make your guests feel. Your silent auction will be a success, if the items you’ve laid out for auction are valuable to your attendees or offer up a unique experience.

Claire suggests “if you’ve got the right items, the auction is a winner for all concerned: the bidders, the donors, and your organization.”

When a guest “wins” an item, they should truly feel more like they got lucky, rather than feeling like they paid for something. Make them have a good time and they’ll look forward to the next such event.

When planning for your silent auction, Claire reminds us to think about the needs and expectations of your various stakeholders. Here are some ideas she shared:


  • Your guests will look forward to browsing through, bidding on, and talking about items that they find interesting and fun.

Auction Donors

  • Donors will want to see their items do well and raise money for your organization; and awareness for their product or service.

Your Organization

  • Your organization wants to maximize the revenue produced from each auction item and make sure that everyone has a good time.

Of course you want items that sell well

Many associations, non-profits and small membership organizations have limited resources and staff, so it’s critical that you put them to good use by focusing on finding auction items that will excite people and give you more bang for your buck.

But, you ask, how can you figure out what will excite your guests?

Think about your event audience. For example, are they:  Young singles? Retirees? Big spenders? Art lovers? Sport fanatics? Wine lovers? Environmental enthusiasts?

If you know your audience fits into a particular niche, you can focus on finding items and services that would suit their interests. For example, if your organization is a sports club; signed memorabilia, sporting event tickets and sporting goods may be seen as desirable and are sure to sell well.

Regardless of your crowd, there are certain items that tend to sell well among many demographics, and some that don’t.

Some of the items that work across the board:

Based on her experience, Claire suggests that the following are usually effective across all audiences:
  • Restaurant gift certificates
  • Wine and wine collections
  • Vacation getaways
  • Hotel stays
  • Sporting event tickets –  especially VIP boxes that bidders would not otherwise be able to access
  • Entertainment (concerts, theater, symphony, opera, ballet) tickets – especially when these events tend to sell out
  • Gift packages of any of the items described above

Auction items you may not have considered

But in her post – Fundraising Silent Auctions: It’s the Items, Stupid – Claire also outlined some silent auction items you may not have thought of. These, Claire suggests, can be “Priceless items that resonate with your target audience”:

  • Personal services performed by your staff, your board or a group of your supporters – these may be babysitting by a favorite teacher, a party hosted by your board president for the winner and 10 friends at the board president’s house, monthly baked goods delivered by a staffer who is a phenomenal pastry chef, or a certificate good for 4 hours of IT support from your IT specialist. Get creative!
  • Unique community experiences – perhaps lunch with a respected professor, behind-the-scenes with a local broadcaster, a ride on a traffic helicopter, etc.
  • Once-in-a-lifetime experiences — if you have big spenders, then by all means look for that walk-on part in a movie… the dinner for 8 cooked by a celebrity chef in your own home… the box seats for the World Series… the opportunity to conduct the symphony. If not, don’t bother moving heaven and earth to come up with this item; you won’t get an appropriate bid, and the donor will NEVER give you another item.

Some items that generally do not sell well:

On the other hand, some items that Claire has found don’t usually pull too well, include:

  • Professional services such as (unless the provider is well known and respected):
    • Interior design consultation
    • Pilates classes
    • A chiropractic session
    • Financial services consultation
  • Art (unless you have a crowd of art lovers and your art has been vetted by professionals).
  • Antiques (same rules apply as for art)

But how do you get the good stuff?

Once you’ve given some thought to your audience and the kind of silent auction items they might appreciate and value, how do you secure the right auction items?

Claire suggests “your staff and volunteers are the key to finding the very best items for an auction.” She recommends you get your team together and brainstorm based on their various networks of friends, business associates, alumni, etc. Together you can develop a list of possible donors and items and then assign volunteers to follow up and solicit those items.
Of course, dealing with item donations, bidders, and the silent auction itself can be a lot to handle at once for any organization. Having a single platform to manage all these moving parts can be an invaluable asset when planning your fundraising event. Make sure to consider
your options for auction software that could streamline the set-up and execution of your auction.

Questions that might help secure the “good stuff”

In her post, Claire offers a list of questions that might help “generate items that sell well and will excite your guests” – here are a few of her suggestions:

  1. What restaurants do you frequent? Could you get a gift certificate? Would the chef host dinner at the restaurant? Would the chef come to cook dinner in someone’s home? 
  2. Are you a subscriber to, or on the board of, a local entertainment venue? Could you get tickets… behind-the-scenes tour… lunch with the director… a performance?
  3. So you have season tickets? Could you offer up one or more pair? Could you get something special, like an autographed ball?
  4. Do you have any vintage or special wines you’d be willing to donate? Do you frequently buy from a vintner who might donate a case?
  5. What hobbies do you have? Can you offer a beer-making class? A gourmet cooking class? 
  6. What access do you have to special experiences? An afternoon on your private yacht? Two hours on your private jet? A signed television script (you know someone who works at the studio)? 

As your staff and volunteers consider their responses to these questions, remind them to think through their entire network of family, friends and colleagues – anyone they know who might have access to popular and/or creative auction items. Also be sure to check out our list of 50+ silent auction item ideas

We’d like to thank Claire Axelrad for her insight and ideas that we hope will help you host successful silent auctions this year.

Silent Auction Software


How to Set Up Online Donations Through Your Website

Along with holding silent auctions, modern nonprofits are also using their websites to increase charitable donations. They do this by educating their website visitors about their cause and making it easy for them to donate online.

If you'd like your website to accept online donations, consider trying a software called Membership Management Software. This type of software is an all-in-one software designed to automate the administrative tasks of small organizations (like donation processing, member management, and event registrations) and help them grow in members and revenue online.

Here's how Membership Management Software can drastically simplify the donation process on your website: 

  1. Someone comes to your website and decides to donate (Membership Management Software makes it easy to setup a Donation Page and donation buttons).
  2. The software sends the donation straight into your account and the donor's contact information is saved in a database.
  3. The software sends the donor a receipt for their donation and updates your financial records automatically.
  4. Now that you have the donor's contact information in your database, you can email them (straight from the software) more information about your organization and ask for future donations.

If you'd like to set this up for your organization, start a free trial of Wild Apricot. Wild Apricot is the #1 rated Membership Management Software used by almost 4,000 nonprofits around the word. You can get your free, 30-day trial here.

Silent Auction Software

Wild Apricot Review

"The combo of member management, donations, website, and email marketing is simply great. I highly recommended Wild Apricot for small to medium sized associations."

-Marechiel Santos-Lang, Philippine-American Association of Madison & Neighboring Areas (PAMANA)

And if you need help optimizing your website to increase donations, we've put together an easy, step-by-step guide here.


Creative Commons Licence
Silent Auctions Simplified by Wild Apricot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Based on a work at

Please include a link to if you copy, distribute or re-transmit any of the documents that make up this guide. For permissions beyond the scope of this license, contact us.

See for yourself how easy to use and affordable Wild Apricot is:

Take a tour >> Learn about our all-in-one solution
Pricing >> From $0/month
Free 30-day trial >> No credit card required


About results ( seconds) Sort by: 
Sorry, an error occured when performing search.