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3 Tips for Attractive, Functional Silent Auction Tables

Posted by Summy Lau
silent auction display tips main

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." - Will Rogers, actor

In a fundraising silent auction, the way items are displayed forms guests' first impressions - and with them, how much donors are willing to bid.

As a result, sprucing up displays can have a significant effect on how much you're able to raise. Today we will look at 3 practical strategies for silent auction item displays rich in form and function:

  1. Describe items using concise, informative language.
  2. Visually unify the display and bid sheet templates.
  3. Think outside-the-box for beautiful displays.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the 3 strategies.

1. Describe items using concise, informative language.

"The language we use influences the way we think." - Steven Pinker, psychologist

Imagine your silent auction as a pop-up store: a "one night only" storefront where everything must go. Just like a brick-and-mortar store's window display, you want every item to be attractive and the displays urgent.

Silent auction luxury retailer

One aspect of auction item displays that goes a long way is how you describe the items. Keep descriptions simple, accurate yet exciting. The main components:

  • For almost all items, print displays on normal-size sheets of paper (8 1/2" x 11”) or less; any larger and the descriptions can overshadow the items themselves.
    • Some featured items, like large electronic items or a travel experience, can benefit from a poster-sized description - but use these sparingly.
  • Start with a Big, Bold Title. Use a font size that separates the title from the rest of the text, such as 24-30 pt.
  • If you're establishing required Minimum Bids, put that information near the top.Read Next: "3-Step Guide for Setting Minimum Starting Bids on Charity Auction  Items"
  • Package Details should be next. Presenting information in bullet point form allows guests to process information quickly. For intangible items like travel packages and dining certificates, you can "paint a picture" by writing a descriptive paragraph.
  • Mention restrictions, conditions and exemptions. These include expiration, redemption and blackout dates.
  • Leave a special space to recognize the item donor. If the item is a service or particular location (like a restaurant), include a map or specify the address.
  • Place the Event Name and Charity Name at the top or bottom of the display sheet; choose the option that makes the sheet look as uncluttered as possible.

2. Visually unify the display and bid sheet templates.

"Confused bidders don't bid!" - Scott Robertson, benefit auctioneer

Consistency is imperative for your marketing materials, from save-the-date invitations to the website, to flyers and more. You want to use the same colors, graphics and fonts throughout the event process.

Not only does this give your event a more professional flair, it saves you time! And successful events are all about using your time wisely.

If you're using paper bid sheets (not mobile bidding), try to keep displays and bid sheets visually unified. This creates a smoother shopping experience for your guests - and that's a key difference between auctions that meet their goals and ones that miss it.

To do: Develop an item description template to use on nearly every item to maintain the same colors, fonts, layout, look and feel - then replicate it on the bid sheets. Your entire auction table will then have a professional appearance that is easy for donors to navigate.


A post shared by Diana Levine (@photoshootforacure) on

Notice how this event used the same event logo, fonts and other cues (like a big black box with the item name in white text) to connect the displays with the bid sheets.

If you use Winspire's item display and bid sheet templates, we've done the work for you. You can customize fonts and graphics as you wish, but the basic skeleton of both of these resources reflects one another's sheet display matching

Just like the item display, be sure the bid sheet template includes:

  • The same Big, Bold Title as the corresponding auction item
  • The same Auction Item Number
  • 10-15 lines for bids, plus boxes for bidders to write their name or bid number. (Note: Bidders love competition and scarcity! Too many blank lines make it seem like no one is interested in that auction item.)
  • The Event Name and Charity at the top or bottom of the bid sheet - wherever it looks least cluttered.

Remember: Keep both bid sheets and displays simple and consistent. Sleek, professional displays facilitate continuity throughout the auction process and help minimize confusion.


3. Think outside-the-box for beautiful displays.

"Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success." - Christopher Lasch, historian

Just as mall shoppers react positively to a whimsical window display, the appearance and packaging of an item affects how likely the item is to sell, and for what portion of its retail value.


A post shared by Sandybeach (@sandybeach.5) on

Tips to make an item more visually appealing:

  • Silent_auction_displaysWhere appropriate, use a picture or two as part of your descriptions for silent auction items. A smart picture can dramatically improve the appeal of even the simplest item.
  • This is especially important for intangible items like dining, services, experiences, tickets. Imagine attending a charity auction this fall; the weather is cooling and winter is on the horizon. A picture of a sunny white beach with turquoise water and a lounge chair catches your want that item!
  • Use color. A simple color scheme helps brighten up item descriptions and is well worth any additional cost.
  • Use props. In addition to 2-D images and text, add a pop to your displays with related props (like coffee accessories and cute signs to go with an espresso machine). You can also add dimension to the tables using boxes of different sizes with cloth or fabric draped on top.

Bottom line: Create a luxury shopping experience.

While live auctions are meant to target roughly the top 15 percent of spending budgets, silent auctions are a good opportunity to engage virtually everyone at your fundraising event.

The tricky part: making sure the silent auction is a luxury shopping experience, not a bargain-hunting 'yard sale'. You want every item up for bids to be valuable, highly sought after and unique.

Once you've committed to being choosy about what items to offer, the next step is capitalizing on the displays. Utilize the above strategies to ensure your silent auction displays have the most impact possible at your event.


We hope you find these tips useful to help your silent auction become a lucrative part of your fundraising event. For luxury travel items to include in your silent auction with no upfront cost, see:

Luxury Properties for Silent Auction Tables

Silent Auction Bid Sheets, Silent Auctions, Auction Displays
Summy Lau
Summy Lau
As Fundraising Editor, Summy brings hands-on experience in nonprofit development, event fundraising, publishing, copywriting and design to Winspire News. She creates blog content, infographics, templates, eBooks and other resources to help fundraising professionals and volunteers exceed their fundraising goals. Her two favorite perks of working at Winspire: hearing nonprofit success stories and dreaming of new bucket list destinations.

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