Fundraising Auctioneer - Scott Robertson Auctioneers Blog

Fundraising Auctioneer

Scott Robertson Auctioneers Blog

Silent auction ideas

Posted by Scott On June 21st

When it comes to fundraising events, silent auctions can contribute greatly to a charity’s bottom line – if they are conducted correctly. After nearly 20 years as a professional benefit auctioneer, I’ve refined the following “Silent Auction Suggestions” list and am happy to share it with you.  My goal, as is yours, is to raise as much money as possible for those who need it the most.  This list will help you accomplish just that.

1) Closing Times:
Knowing when to close out a silent auction is as important as the items themselves.
I have worked at events that insist on the silent auctions being closed after the live auction.  But, let me state unequivocally, this is absolutely the wrong thing to do. When the silent auction, dinner, and live auction overlap they are all competing for the attention of your guests. You need to close your silent tables prior to guests being seated for dinner.  If the event has serving stations or was designed as a strolling dinner, the closings can occur a little later in the evening. Consult your professional benefit auctioneer to discuss your best options for your particular room set-up and crowd size.
2) Closing in Sections:
Closing the silent auction down in 3 or 4 sections is key to success. There’s an old adage, “Save the best for last.”  Well, the same can be said for your silent auction tables.  Not only should items be sorted on tables based on value, and not themes, the overall value of each table should be increasing as each table closes.  Or in other words, the less expensive items go first and the most expensive items go last.  It sounds simple, but many silent auctions don’t follow this rule and loose out in the end.  If you have hundreds of people at your event and only 30 items available in the last section, you want to make sure the bidders have something to fight over.  The more bidding frenzy – the more money the charity will make.
3) More On Organizing Sections:
Easily identifiable.  That’s what every silent auction section needs to be when mentioned by the Auctioneer.  Sections with names like “Sports and Fishing” are not immediately clear to many bidders and can be difficult to find as time begins to dwindle down.  However, sections that are color coordinated are easy to find.  For example, “The Red Section” could have tables decorated in colorful red balloons, red tablecloths, red bid sheets and general décor.  This will truly highlight the section and make it visible from anywhere in the room in less than 5 seconds – giving bidders a direct path to it – and that translates into more bids.  Bottom Line – Use Color.
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4) Bid Sheets:
It’s as easy as one, two, three.  Bid sheets should always be printed in triplicate, and when possible, have the bidding increments pre-printed on each sheet. Luckily, most good benefit auction software programs can do this for you.  And don’t forget to use a sheet of colored paper behind the bid sheets to highlight or contrast the bid sheets.  As mentioned previously, the colors can correspond with the “section color.”  Finally, always leave the pink (bottom) copy of the bid sheet on the table after closing.  This will communicate to bidders who “won” the item and also promote the bidding frenzy as attendees can visualize the items that are no longer available.
5) Writing Utensils:
The pen is mightier than the sword.  So, when it comes to silent auctions, always use pens and never pencils.  And keep the caps off so the pens are primed for writing. Also, keeping magnifying glasses or “cheaters” on the tables can also prove to be extremely beneficial.  Purchasing a gross of these glasses at “Dollar Stores” is inexpensive and the potential payoff is great.  “They won’t bid if they can’t see.”
6) Bid Increments:
I like to use a set formula to determine opening bids and the subsequent bidding increments. Just think 40 and 10.  That is, start the bidding at 40 percent of the retail value and the bid increments should be 10 percent of the retail value.  If an item has a retail value of $99, the starting increment should be 40 percent or $40.  The bid increments should be 10 percent of the retail value or in this case $10.  When it comes to numbers, always round up. And keep the math simple with nice even numbers. There are exceptions to this rule, but this formula will work well for most items.  Ask your professional benefit auctioneer if you need help with establishing the opening bid.
7) Fifth Bidder Frenzy
Fifth Bidder Frenzy works like a charm to get your silent auction bids to 90% of the retail value of an item. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more details.
8) Bidder Info:
When it comes to silent auctions a simplified bidding process means more bids.  Do not request bidders write out their names on bid sheets or supply their telephone numbers.  A bid number and the amount of the bid is all that is needed since all bidder information will be in your files along with corresponding bid numbers. Plus, as I always say, “There are no friends at an auction.”  If bidders see they are bidding against someone they know, which is often the case, they may be reluctant to bid against their friends.  Keep your eye of the prize – and that’s raising money as much as possible for your school or not-for-profit organization.
9) Draw Attention To The  Silent Auction:
A silent auction should be anything but silent.  Your guests will be talking with friends, drinking, eating and partying.  But, throughout all the distractions, it is the job of the Auctioneer to draw attention to the silent auction tables and their subsequent closing times and to remind attendees in a friendly way why they are there. When handled professionally, silent auctions can be fun, fast-paced, exciting, competitive, and perhaps most important, a significant moneymaker.
10) Too Many Items:
As a general rule of thumb, you should have no more than one item for every two people at your event. By building silent auction “packages”, instead of putting out single items, you can reduce the number of lots in your silent auction. But, don’t panic if you are slightly over.  Just try to avoid getting too far off target or your bid yields will diminish accordingly due to the fact you’ve created a Buyer’s Market. More items will not yield more money unless the number of bidders is increased at the same rate.  Remember, too many items is intimidating, clog your tables, diminish the competitive spirit and generally reduce yields.
11)    Traffic Flow:
The silent auction table’s layout needs to be designed like a busy intersection. Keep the traffic moving as quickly and efficiently as possible. Be sure your tables are arranged for good traffic flow.  Avoid corners and U-shaped table arrangements that are likely to cause traffic jams in the room once you have the room filled with people.  Time is money.  And the faster potential bidders get through the silent auction area the happier they will be and the more likely they will return to increase their bids. Always make it easy for your attendees to spend their money.
12)    Closing Times:
Procrastination.  It’s just the way many people operate.  Many people wait until December 15th to start Christmas shopping and yet are always finished by December 24th. And when it comes down to silent auctions you can anticipate much of the same.  Your attendees need plenty of time to bid.  For most auctions that’s 90 minutes.  But, many are going to wait until the last 5 minutes to really get down to the serious bidding. With that knowledge, plan on closing each silent bidding section in increments of 5 minutes.  This gives bidders just enough time to get from the Red Section to the Blue Section without the silent auction loosing that all-important momentum that everyone worked so hard to achieve.
13) Descriptions:
When it comes to item descriptions remember to keep them short and to the point.
Think of them as “mini-billboards.”  They need to catch the bidder’s attention as they walk by.  Although you can’t exclude the “fine print” on some items, short, bulleted points will better serve your cause.  Long descriptive paragraphs may be cleverly written, but making bidders read 30 seconds of copy only slows down a process that you want them to get through quickly.
14) Sound Systems:
An often-neglected element at a charity auction is the sound system.  I cannot emphasis enough the importance of having a professional sound system in place the day of your event. Do not rely on the in-house system.  They were designed for a single person to speak to a group of quiet attendees and at a charity auction the last thing you want is for the attendees to be quiet – you want them enjoying themselves.  And don’t plan to use the sound system for the music entertainment. They should be two separate set ups. Yes, there is a cost involved in a professional sound system – but it’s well worth the price. It gives the auctioneer flexibility and mobility while working the room and the crowd. It also assures every word spoken will be heard.   Auctions should be fun and fun means loud.  No one, especially people spending money at your event want to be shushed.  A professional audio system will assure bidders know exactly what’s going on at all times, which will increase your bottom line.
I sincerely hope this list of Silent Auction Commandments will be helpful to you at your next event. Just the fact you’ve read it demonstrates to me you are serious about your fundraising auction.  My ultimate goal is to be as accessible as possible to charities all across the country.  So, please feel free to drop me a line and let me know what elements of this list you found most helpful or assisted you in solving a particular past problem. You can reach me at (239) 246-2139 or via e-mail at srauctioneers at  And finally, if you really want to accelerate your event to the next level, contract with me to consult and conduct your next auction.  Good Luck

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