Holding a silent auction is a lot of work. It takes time and energy to find and catalog all of those items that are donated for the auction. It takes a lot of effort to set up and tear down the event, generate interest from attendees, find sponsors, and coordinate the bidding. In fact, many organizations decide not to hold a silent auction event because of the amount of work involved.
As you can imagine, as the author of The Silent Auction Handbook, I like silent auctions. Primarily, I like them because they have the ability to raise a good amount of money for your organization in fun and engaging way that people really enjoy. Today, though, I want to tell you about a second reason I like holding silent auctions… they are a really easy way to get new donors into the pipeline.
Silent Auctions = New Prospects
As we all know, finding new prospects for your organization is tough. Then, once you find and engage a new prospect, you have to cultivate them, and then try to get them to buy in to your organization by becoming a volunteer, serving on a committee, or giving a gift. The goal, of course, is to create a real connection or relationship between your non-profit and the person or company you are pursuing.
Silent auctions shortcut this procedure by making it easy for new prospects to find out about, be engaged by, and get involved with your charitable organization. There are two main types of new prospects that silent auctions bring into your donor universe:
#1 Item Donors
It is relatively easy, with the right plan in place, to get local businesses to donate items to be auctioned off at your silent auction event. In many cases, these businesses may have never heard of or gotten involved with your organization. They are simply being good citizens and supporting a local cause in a relatively inexpensive way by donating a product you can sell.
In the process of making this donation, businesses (a) find out about your organization, and (b) take a positive step towards supporting your cause. Yet, many non-profits simply send a thank you letter and wait until the next auction to get back in touch with the item donor. This is a huge mistake!
Auction item donors represent a huge pool of new prospects for your organization. They have already heard a little about your organization, and already agreed to support it (albeit in a minor way). Now, engage and cultivate! Stop by to say thank you… send newsletters and event updates… call them… invite them to events… auction item donors are an amazing way to bring new donors to your cause cheaply and efficiently.
#2 Auction Attendees and Bidders
Because silent auction events are so much fun, you will find that many of your supporters bring their friends and colleagues to the event… and that these friends and colleagues get so wrapped up in the evening that they bid on items during the course of the event.
Event attendees (and particularly auction items bidders) are great new prospects for your organization. If your non-profit is doing its job, attendees will hear a ton about your organization at the event, whether from signage, the event program, speeches, etc. Like your item donors, these first-time attendees will often take a positive step towards supporting your organization by bidding on items. While this is a minor step (they are receiving something of value in return, and are often bidding simply because they want that particular item), it is still a step in the right direction.
After the event, your organization can and should engage and cultivate these attendees and bidders. Send them thank you letters, invite them on tours of your facility, and present them with volunteer opportunities. You will find that many of them stay involved long after the event is over.
Silent Auctions are Full of Opportunities
Silent auction events present your non-profit with a ton of opportunities. Many non-profits find that they raise $20,000 at the actual event, but they also gain dozens of new long-term supporters and donors as well. Silent auctions are a lot of work, but they can be a great addition to your development efforts.
Photo credit: Jayel Aheram