For nonprofit fundraising events, the silent auction has become a crucial fundraising tool. Not only do silent auctions increase financial support for your mission, they provide a fun form of entertainment, at a price point where virtually all attendees can participate. And when guests are having a great time, they're inspired to give support on a higher level.
If you are an event coordinator or auction chair looking to produce a winning fundraising auction, refer to these six essential silent auction forms that will help you conquer the event planning process.
1. Donation Request Letter
The Donation Request Letter (click to enlarge) is your primary method for soliciting individuals and businesses to donate auction items to your event. It is your chance to sell your organization and its mission.
In many cases, you won't get a "Yes" on your first Ask. This letter should serve to educate and inspire a potential donor in your absence, so that by the time you arrive for your second, third or fourth solicitation attempt, the donor is familiar with your cause, your event and what you are asking for.
Important elements to include in your request letter:
- Letterhead - Include your event logo at the top of your letter to set the stage for your donation request and to make if more official. If you don't have an event logo you can use your organization's letterhead instead.
- Tell a Story - Tug at their heart strings with a personal heartfelt story that relates to your cause. Be specific about what has been done or what will be done to help.
- Include a Picture - A photograph that relates to your emotional story adds credibility and dimension to your cause. If you choose to include a picture and have a colorful logo, it's probably worth it to have your letter printed in color.
- Bold Call to Action - Individuals you solicit are usually busy people. Make sure the main reason you're contacting them is obvious. It's also a nice touch to address them directly in the body of the letter.
- A Specific Ask - Asking for a specific item will take the pressure off the potential donors to come up with ideas and make it easier for them to say yes.
- How They'll Be Recognized - There are plenty of opportunities to recognize and promote your donors. Just make sure you follow through on your promise.
- Clear Return Date - This is an important date! Make sure it's easy to spot within your letter.
- Your Signature - Sign every letter with a pen in blue ink. Include your title and contact information below your name.
2. Donation Form
The Donation Form should accompany the Donation Request Letter. This form, along with the letter, are what you will leave behind with the donor if they are not prepared with an answer immediately, which is common.
The form should list the organization’s letterhead and event information, and the following items should be included for you or the donor to fill out:
✓ Contact Information
- Business/Donor Name (As it should appear in catalog)
- Donor Contact Name (If different from above)
- Email - Getting an accurate email address is absolutely critical! You will use it to send them a receipt, a thank you note and most importantly - add it to your database of active donors for future promotional campaigns and solicitations. It will also come in handy in case you or the winning bidder needs to get in touch after the event.
✓ Item Information
- Name of Item (As if should appear in catalog)
- Item Description - Leave plenty of space so you can include all the information you need about a particular item such as quantity, size, color, number of persons, days/nights and all restrictions
- Estimated Dollar Value
- Donor Signature & Date - This is a crucial step! It's how you solidify their commitment
- Delivery Method - Give the donor some options to choose from. Make sure you include options for non-tangible items, such as certificates or travel packages:
- Delivery of item by donor
- Item needs to be picked up
- Promotional material provided by donor
- Donor provides certificate
- Committee to create certificate
✓ Other Information
- Committee member info - Include a space for the committee member who secured the donation to fill in their name and contact information so you can follow up about a particular item if you have questions.
- Return by date - Make this big, bold and obvious at the bottom of the form so the donor is well informed about when they need to get their donations in.
- Federal Tax ID# - This is helpful to include at the very bottom of the form, because donors will typically ask for it. Remind your committee members not to give any tax advice. If a donor asks about how much they can write off, politely refer them to their accountant.
3. Silent Auction Bid Sheet
Once you’ve got auction items coming in, develop attractive and easy-to-use bid sheets for use during the event.
Silent auction tables can quickly become cluttered. If you're not using mobile technology, concise bid sheets will help cut down on unnecessary distractions.
For more information on the specifics of what to include on your silent auction bid sheets, check out this article from Winspire News: Bid Sheets 101: Improve Your Silent Auction With Better Bid Sheets
Some basic tips:
- Maintain the event’s theme on this form as you have on previous forms and letters.
- Don't crowd the the bid sheet with any more than 12-14 lines for bids. Too many blank lines can make it seem like no one is interested in that auction item. Allow just enough space for the bidders to write their name or auction number.
4. Sponsor Request Letter
Businesses who don't have a product or service to donate, such as financial institutions or B2B entities, might prefer to make a monetary contribution instead. This is where event sponsorships come into play.
Most nonprofits will offer multiple sponsorship levels in return for various perks and recognition during the event, such as advertising space in your auction catalog and a table for 10. It's common for organizations to have at least three tiers of sponsorship opportunities to give major donors a few options to choose from.
You can also offer potential donors the opportunity to underwrite an element of the event like flowers, the DJ, or a unique Winspire Experience.
You can name each tier whatever you wish; some organizations will have some fun with naming them to relate to their cause. At a golf event, for example, you could have a Birdie, Eagle for the bottom two packages and then a "Hole-in-One!" Sponsorship for the top tier.
The price and benefits associated with each sponsorship level should be determined by your committee and board members based on the demographic of your audience. If you're holding a community fundraiser for a small local private school, a top tier sponsorship package of $5,000 makes sense. On the other hand, if you know you will have a handful of corporate executives in attendance, then you might consider offering a sponsorship package for $25,000.
Like the Donation Request Letter, the Sponsor Request Letter should be on letterhead with the event logo, if possible. It should make an emotional tie to your mission and be specific in its request for support. Provide descriptions of the different sponsorship levels in the letter as well as in the Sponsor Form described below.
5. Sponsor Form
Similar to the donation form, this document is used to get specific information about the donor who is purchasing the sponsorship package. It should be presented along with the sponsor request letter and left with the donor if they need more time to think about it. (Tip: Always follow up a few days later, then continue following up until you get a definitive "No." Sometimes it can take as many as 5-6 times!)
The form should include space for all the Donor Information from above, as well as:
- Sponsorship Levels - List each of the sponsorship packages starting with the top tier package. Make sure you include a check box next to each sponsorship level so the donor can select which package they want to purchase.
- Description - Include a bulleted list of everything the donor would get for purchasing that sponsorship package.
- Company Logo/Advertisement - Include directions for submitting a company logo and/or advertisement information for event program and signage. (i.e. camera-ready artwork, specify size, etc.)
- Donor Signature & Date - Just like the Donor Form, this is a critical step that should not be overlooked!
Good news: We've developed free, 100% customizable templates for both the sponsorship request letter (#4) and sponsor registration form (#5)! Click below to request the free templates.
6. Thank You Letter
Last but not least, thank you letters sent properly and in a timely fashion go a long way to encouraging donors to participate in next year’s event.
A post-event thank you letter campaign is why it's essential to gather accurate contact information on the Donation Form and the Sponsor Form.
Hand written letters are always best if you have the bandwidth. If not, your next best option is a direct mail campaign. We strongly recommend signing each printed letter by hand, perhaps with a blue pen to stand out on the page.
It usually makes sense to also send out a thank you email to all your donors and sponsors (since you've already added all their email addresses to your database!). An email campaign makes it easy to share pictures and video from the event.
In your thank you notes, try to include their specific donation, whether it was an auction item or sponsorship, and how their contribution made a difference for your nonprofit organization.
BONUS: Other Helpful Items!
🖼️ Auction Item Display Sign: While the silent auction bid sheet acts as a marketing form for each item in the auction, you may want to feature an item separately from the rest of the silent auction. Each of of our Winspire Experiences, for example, comes with a display PDF which can be printed on an 8.5x11 or blown up to a poster-size. Prepare a display sign for that item and any other items that could benefit from additional promotion. The sign can be letter-sized and easily made into a cardboard easel.
We've created free auction item display templates that can be paired with our paper bid sheets and easily customized in Microsoft Word. Click below to download yours.
🕒 Clock: A clock that is visible to auction bidders can generate bidding excitement as the auction closing time nears.
🖊️ Legal Pads, Clipboards & PENS: BRING LOTS OF NEW PENS. There is nothing worse than running out of pens for your guests to use to place bids. Be prepared for tallying and organizing the results when the auction closes.
Make your life easier and more prepared with the proper silent auction forms and resources.