How to Run a Successful Silent Auction (Part II)

In the first part of this article, we discussed how to set up your silent auction, solicit items to auction off, and manage and track your auction donations. In this second (and final) part of the article, we’re going to discuss how to run the auction smoothly, as well as how to maximize revenue at the event.

Running Your Auction (Without Getting a Headache)

Depending on the size of your silent auction, you may have anywhere from 10 to 300 items up for bid. This can create quite a headache during your event. In order to make sure the event goes smoothly, follow these five tips:

1. Have Enough Volunteers – You’ll need a good number of volunteers (or paid staff) to run your event, especially if you have a lot of items up for bid. Recruit them early and train them well.

2. Appoint Auction Monitors – Task at least two of your volunteers with being “Auction Monitors.” These people are responsible for keeping an eye on the items during the event to make sure people are observing the minimum bid, answer questions about items, and collect the bid sheets when the auction ends.

3. Use Clipboards and a Lot of Pens – Sure, you can just put your bidsheets on the table and scatter some pens around, but if you really want to run a professional auction, put each bid sheet on a cheap clip board (these can be purchased at your local dollar store) and make sure each and every item has its own pen. Guests will bid more if you make it each for them.

4. Group Items by Category – If you’ve got a large auction, group your items by category to make it easy for your guest s to navigate your event. Have a section for restaurant gift certificates, one for entertainment, one for sports tickets, etc.

5. Close Out Your Bidding by Section – As you end bidding on your auction, close the bidding by section. Start with the section with the lowest average priced items, and move up in value as you go. For example, you might announce that the restaurant gift certificate section will be closing in 5 minutes, then close it out, then announce that sports tickets will be closing in 5 minutes, then close it out, then announce that your high-end section will be closing in 5 minutes, then close it out.

Auction Checkout 101

Next to tracking your silent auction donations before the event, the biggest headache you will have in running a large silent auction is the auction checkout. Be sure you have a procedure in place before the event, and either print up signs with the check out procedure that you can display at the event, or have the emcee announce the procedure to the crowd (or both).

One checkout procedure that I have found effective for large auctions is:

  • Have auction winners collect the bidsheets for the items they won off of the tables, and bring them to the check out area.
  • Set up your checkout area with multiple lines: several for credit cards, and one for cash and check only. If you have a particularly large auction, consider using stanchions or velvet rope to separate the lines.
  • When winners come up with their bidsheets, have them pay, then separate the two or three part carbonless bidsheets that you used. Mark their copy PAID, and keep your copy in a folder.
  • Winners may then take their copy, marked PAID, to an auction runner (one of your volunteers) who collects the items for the winner. If the person won a gift card or sports / entertainment tickets, they can take their PAID bidsheet / receipt to the Giftcard & Ticket Table, where your volunteers have all of the cards and tickets filed by item number.

Of course, no silent auction checkout procedure is perfect, and there are bound to be some problems at checkout. Train your staff and volunteers to handle these with grace, and appoint a “Problem Solver” to figure out tricky issues at checkout.

Maximizing Your Silent Auction Revenue

Ok, now you know how to run a successful and efficient silent auction event — but how do you maximize the fundraising revenue from these events? Follow these tips:

1. Take Credit Cards – Taking credit cards is a must for a large silent auction. Without this feature, your revenue will be severely cut.

2. Pre-Publicize the Auction Items – Preview interesting silent auction items on your website, on your event invitations, and in your event communications. You may even want to consider taking bids on some items online, with the caveat that online bidding ends at noon on the day of the event, and bidding at the actual event will start just above the highest online bid.

3. Motivate People at the Event – Your emcee should constantly be working the room, encouraging people to bid, and alerting them to items that are still real bargains.

4. Offer Another Opportunity – Many people will come to your event ready to spend money on some auction items, but will walk away empty handed because they were outbid. Give them a chance to spend that money on your cause – set up a table that allows them to sponsor a service you provide, pay for items your organization needs, or simply make a donation in lieu of buying an auction item.

More information on running successful silent auctions can be found here.