In popular ABC sitcom Last Man Standing, funny guy Tim Allen plays Mike Baxter, a marketing director for sporting goods retailer Outdoor Man. His wife, Vanessa, is a revered geologist doubling as leader of the PTA.
See below as Vanessa and Mike attend a fundraiser for the school that includes a silent auction - and one hilarious pen-and-paper bidding war. Then see if you can spot the 4 best practices we found in the clip, plus get free downloads for your next auction (like customizable bid sheet templates).
Silent auctions are a great way to build momentum for a fundraising event, supplement live auction revenue, engage local donors and delight supporters. And as the holidays draw near, people will be interested in buying unique gifts for friends and family (and treating themselves!) while supporting your cause.
As we noted in a recent infographic, most items bring in 40 to 60 percent of their retail value. So you want to follow silent auction best practices that spur final bids to the higher end of that range. If you're new to organizing auctions, you may have some of these common questions on pricing, bid sheets, timing and more:
Read on for expert answers and practical tips for turning your auction into an exciting, lucrative shopping spree.
1. Displaying retail values
Should we display the values on bid sheets? Is it illegal not to put the value? Are there any times when you would put a value on items?
This is a very common question among auction organizers—is it wise to display the item's retail value in marketing materials such as bid sheets, display materials, the auction catalog and online auction site?
Our take: It's typically not a good idea to include prices in your auction catalog and here's why.
Which type of fundraising event makes the most money in the shortest amount of time? Is it a golf tournament or gala, 5K run/walk or raffle? Our answer: events with auctions, and for one simple reason. They make it fun for guests to spend money quickly.
At a typical auction...
A nonprofit has set up a one-night-only storefront where everything must go. Donors arrive ready to compete for the best deals on unique items procured around the community.
First guests browse the silent auction tables. Throw in dinner, cocktails, socializing and a good cause, and the money starts to flow very quickly. The silent auction is then closed and items sold to the highest bidder.
Next comes the live auction. The energy of the evening is at its peak. A skilled benefit auctioneer taps into people’s competitive nature. She combines one-ups-manship and big egos with an eager audience to ignite bidding wars. Tens of thousands of dollars are generated in a matter of minutes.
These prestigious social events combine ticket sales, special cash appeals and winning bids to raise anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million in one night.
So, how do they raise that kind of money?
Welcome to the less glamorous side of event fundraising: Successful auctions require a ton of work and expertise. Committee chairs and legions of volunteers spend the better part of a year procuring donated items, creating displays, promoting the event, and more...all hoping the event will be both fun and profitable.
Auction planning is extremely complex, and many steps can be mishandled or overlooked.
The secret to navigating the process and acheiving your event's full potential is professional guidance. Imagine having an auction expert by your side to advise best practices, track logistics and suggest hidden revenue opportunities.
Wouldn't it be great knowing you've handled everything that needs to get done?
Silent auctions are your organization's "one night only" storefront. And just like a brick-and-mortar retailer, creating an immersive shopping experience is key to generating revenue.
Part of the process is setting up the overall decor, like tables, lighting and decorations. But the highlights of the night are those great silent auction items.
Do your silent auction item displays encourage people to stop, look and buy?
Attractive silent auction displays can have a dramatic effect on the item's perceived value and thus bidding. Using the same colors, fonts and layout on all your display sheets also gives the event a professional, polished appearance—and saves hours of precious time.
Fortunately, creating great silent auction displays is easier than you might think.
Below are 6 elements of an effective item display sheet, plus a link to receive ourSilent Auction Item Display Templates bundle, our easy-to-use, 100% customizable templates (with instructions) that will take your upcoming event to the next level.
What about running the event itself? While every event is bound to have a few hiccups, here are 3 things you can do before your silent auction that, when done right, will help the night go as smoothly as possible.
1. Designate these volunteer positions
Volunteers are an essential part of most organizations' operations year-round. Here are a few volunteer positions that can benefit any auction:
You are probably familiar with this common scenario: You’re going along planning your event, the venue has been secured for months, auction items have been procured, programs printed and everything seems to be in place... until you realize that you are running out of space for your silent auction tables!
You have more items to put out, but there isn’t enough room for additional tables - and getting more space does not appear to be an option.
What should you do??
Before you panic, ask yourself a few questions…
Are you sure you can’t get more space?
Where are the bars located? Can they be moved?
Is there another room, hallway or outdoor area that you can use?
How about making “islands” of tables in the middle of the room?
As you assess your event space and look for solutions to add more tables, let's make sure the tables you already have set up are done so properly...
The last thing you want is for your guests to ignore the exciting silent auction items you've worked so hard to secure. Here are a few tried-and-true strategies to help draw donors to the silent auction tables and encourage more bidding activity.
1. Arrange the Room Strategically
Popular retailers are very deliberate about the way they arrange stores and display merchandise to entice shoppers to spend money. The next time you walk through Nordstrom, take a look at the way items are presented in various departments. Observe everything from the amount of space separating displays to the little artistic knick-knacks that add to the "look & feel" of a collection.
The same concept applies to silent auction tables, where presentation is just as important for enticing donors to bid. Consider these tips when you set up your displays:
Arrange your silent auction tables with adequate space between them so guests can move freely.
Incorporate visual cues such as colorful balloons, lights or signage to mark pathways and other points of interest.
Set up drink stations on the opposite side of the auction-staging area so when guests want a fresh beverage they'll have to walk through the silent auction.
Spruce up your tables with decorations that compliment the theme of the event or the mission of your organization.
2. Distribute a Silent Auction Item Catalog
A great tool for all of your guests is to create a simple and attractive catalog in Microsoft Word with pictures and brief descriptions of all the items up for auction. Strategically place the catalog throughout the event on dining tables, at the bar and even in the bathrooms.
For a link to download our professionally designed, 100%-customizable auction catalog template for Microsoft Word, click below:
If you have a large selection of silent auction items, select only the top 20-30 to include in the catalog. You can also use this list of top items in the event program and to promote the event in email newsletters, on social media and on your website. The printed information will give all guests (even those who can't attend) a chance to browse the items, increasing the chances they will bid.
Winston & Winnie love to help Nonprofits raise money for amazing causes. They also love to travel and have a bucket list of amazing Experiences they are determined to complete in their lifetime. Winspire News is the result of this shared passion, offering fundraising advice, industry news and insight into charity fundraising with travel.