A silent auction combines the fun of a glamorous event with the high-minded ideals of charity. Unlike a live auction conducted by an auctioneer, a silent auction takes a more relaxed approach, inviting bidders to peruse items on display and write down their best offers. At the scheduled end time, the auction runner opens the bids to reveal the winner. The event can offer a dynamic way for businesses and nonprofits to raise funds, whether for a charity or its own mission. Your philanthropic efforts may shine a spotlight on both your company and your cause, fostering strong relationships with a community of like-minded individuals and organizations.
Zero in on Your Mission
Planning comes easily if you focus on the objective of your auction and your likely attendees. A silent auction might be the highlight of a glamorous charity ball for your company's biggest donors, or it may raise funds for the volunteer fire department over a spaghetti dinner at your town hall. If you know your mission and your audience, you can quickly brainstorm venues and potential donors. Private organizations can rent restaurants, hotels and banquet halls, or explore venues that celebrate the spirit of the mission, such as a gallery for a silent art auction. If your organization receives government funding, you may find you can get access to public spaces such as schools, libraries and parks. If appropriate, check into whether you can piggyback onto an established event such as a town fair or festival to boost foot traffic. Drum up donations by approaching groups with a shared interest in your cause. Local artists may donate their work to an auction for an arts nonprofit, while PTA members are prime participants if you're raising funds for childhood education. Local businesses often welcome the opportunity for involvement, contributing beautiful gift baskets, memberships and passes, and other goodies with broad appeal.
The Right Stuff
Acquiring auction items that spark the bidders' interest is crucial for success. Unique objects and high-ticket products or services make the best silent auction items and result in excellent marketing photos and bigger crowds. Low-end items encourage broad participation and ensure ample choices for bidding. Aim for a mix of both, and try to get items that appeal to your target audience, whether a rare vintage of wine or passes to a children's museum. To make your pitch, create packets that present potential donors with a vision of the event, its objective and details, such as the date and venue. Include a custom brochure for a polished presentation and event tickets to invite donors regardless of whether they contribute. Help stay organized by tracking each contributed item in a spreadsheet, including an auction number, estimated value, opening bid, and donor name and contact information. Make a note of intangible items such as services or event tickets, which typically require you to create a presentation sheet with the details to get people bidding.
Inviting the Bidders
Once you have items to auction and a space to hold your event, it's time to mail the invitations. Formal stationery adds a special touch for galas and dinners, while custom flyers and postcards get the word out to large crowds. Your invites could include photographs and descriptions of your best items to increase interest, as well as a description of the event itself. Charging for tickets is customary if food and drinks are included with admittance, but you can help maximize attendance at a casual auction by making the event free. Either way, ask you guests to register in advance. A list of registered attendees can help prevent chaos when the doors open, encourages crowds to follow the silent auction rules and helps you track down winning bidders who leave early. If you want to keep your event more open, allow for on-site registration to make it easy for last-minute attendees. Mail event tickets to your guests well in advance, and keep a printed registration list for those who forget to bring their tickets.
Simple Set-Ups for Smooth Bidding
Make a list of supplies ahead of time for orderly setup at the venue, including tables, auction numbers, bid sheets, clipboards and pens, as well as a cash box or mobile credit card reader. Display items on folding tables, and ask a volunteer to serve as an overseer at every table to answer questions and distribute and collect bid sheets. Label each item clearly with an auction number to prevent mix-ups, and display a corresponding card with the number, minimum bid and information about the item. Large items can be displayed on risers or partially roped off to prevent accidents during the event. Clipboards with attached pens encourage attendees to browse and help keep surfaces clear for other uses. Bid sheets should be on triplicate or duplicate paper so bidders can keep a copy. If you have many lots, consider staggering the allotted times by category or price, which encourages guests to bid on multiple lots and lets you save the top items for the end of the event. Announce when bidding is about to end to allow for last-minute offers before you collect the bids, and check sheets for an item number and name to prevent lost bids.
Organizing a silent auction is not a one-man job. Consider creating several committees to handle the unique aspects of each stage, including soliciting donated items, marketing the event and fielding registration, along with handling the physical auction, including the venue and set-up. Keep in mind that most successful auctions take several years or longer to reach their peak fundraising potential, and the job gets easier every year.
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