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5 Surefire Ways to Ignite Bidding on Silent Auction Items

Posted by Jeff Cova

5 Surefire Ways to Ignite Bidding on Silent Auction Items

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:

Auction Catalog Templates

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.

3. Draw Attention to the Bidding Tables

A successful silent auction should be anything but silent. People will be chatting, eating, drinking and maybe even dancing. Many attendees will visit the silent auction area once and then get distracted, so it's critical to have the emcee or auctioneer periodically remind guests to visit the silent auction area.

While announcements to participate in the silent auction are essential, it's important not to be too repetitive. Here are some different reasons to get back up on the mic without being too pushy:

  • Remind guests how much time is left before the auction closes.
  • Provide information about how the bids will benefit the charity.
  • Update guests on bidding activity for big-ticket items.
  • Alert the audience to items that are a good bargain.
    Example: "I see Diamond Club Angels tickets with only one $100 bid over here!!"

4. Designate Helpers to Work the Crowd

Ahead of time, ask a few volunteers or staff members who are charismatic and enjoy mingling with attendees for their help. Assign them to hang out by the silent auction tables to answer questions, provide more information about auction items and encourage bidding. 

Coach these "Bid Assistants" to watch for guests who linger over certain tables and open discussions with them about the items they are interested in. Oftentimes all it takes is a little verbal affirmation for someone who is on the fence to place a bid

Encourage your assistants to talk with guests about their hobbies, vacation interests, musical preferences and more. Make sure your helpers are familiar enough with the selection of auction items so they can direct guests to items that align with their interests. This is also a great way to get feedback on your offering of silent auction items firsthand. Remind your bid assistants to take note of any ideas for what to include or change for next year's auction.

5. Eliminate Obstacles

The last thing you want is for people to pass up an auction item because of something entirely preventable. It's essential to make it fun and easy to bid. See the post "Displaying Auction Items to Attract Fierce Bidding" and consider the following tips:

  • The display should include all of the important information about an item so guests can make an informed decision on bidding.
  • Bid sheets must be clearly printed with a pen located by each sheet.
  • Plentiful lighting ensures guests can see items and bid easily.
  • Have volunteers on hand to replace lost pens, respond to questions about silent auction packages and organize bid sheets that get moved so it's clear which item goes with each sheet.

A successful silent auction depends on attendees perusing the tables and placing bids. Incorporating these strategies will help you position your auction to hit record-setting fundraising numbers year after year.

Do you have any strategies that aren't mentioned here? We would love to hear them in the comments below!

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Event Production, Silent Auction Items, Silent Auctions, Charity Auction
Jeff Cova
Jeff Cova
Jeff Cova, President of Winspire, Inc., has over 17 years of experience in the Nonprofit and fundraising industry. Prior to Winspire, Jeff worked for 5 years as the Director of Development at Cal State Fullerton before co-founding a company specializing in producing charity auctions for Nonprofits where he successfully produced the auctions for 250 of Southern California’s most successful fundraising events. In 2008 Jeff founded Winspre with the goal of helping non-profits across the country increase their event fundraising revenue and identify new fundraising sources. Jeff and his team at Winspire have helped over 12,000 non-profits to date.

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