Hosting a silent auction? Start here.

Collecting silent auction items for your next fundraiser can be a challenge for multiple reasons: unsure where to begin, donor fatigue, the same items year after year, cost concerns. However, gathering unique and exciting silent auction items doesn’t have to cost you much money at all! 

GiveSmart has run tens of thousands of silent auction events, so we’ve seen what works in silent auctions and what doesn’t. Of course, it always depends on your audience, but we’ve put together a list of 15 silent auction item ideas that won’t cost your organization a dime. These ideas are general and can be used in almost any industry or market. Many silent auction items, even if they’re donated, come with an attached dollar value. These items will bring your organization profit at zero cost: 

1. Reserved parking spot
Whether it’s driving the school carpool every day, parking farthest from the office, or are always late to church, a reserved parking spot will save donors the hassle of finding parking! This can be in the silent auction for a specific event, monthly, or annually.  

2. Artwork
If your organization involves student artists or local artists who are willing to donate, a silent auction is a great opportunity to include their one-of-a-kind pieces. Most artists are willing to donate, but keep in mind who you approach and whether they depend on the income from their art. 

free silent auction ideas for student organizations

3. Reserved seating at a special event
Like reserved parking, reserved seating is clutch at special events that demand a good seat! If you’re fundraising for a school front row seats at graduation are always a hot item because families want to be as close as possible for that special moment, not to mention the optimal photo opportunities.  

Other organizations can take advantage of holiday events, like the Fourth of July fireworks, the Lighting of the Tree, or parades. Wondering how exactly you can secure these mysterious seats? Think about where the event happens and speak to businesses within the vicinity. Are there rooftops available? Storefront views? Someone’s front lawn that can accommodate seating and perhaps parking? A vacant apartment available that could host a group to catch views of the Macy’s Day Parade floats or parades on Fat Tuesday for Mardi Gras? 

4. Free use of the venue
If your organization boasts a beautiful space, you can auction it as a venue for donors to host their next event. Museums after hours, libraries for luncheons, brewery for retirement parties or birthdays, lobbies for talks or workshops. These are all unique venue options that donors or leaders in your community can utilize to make their next event special.  

5. Naming rights
Building a new park or playground? Renaming streets in your city’s historic district? Give naming rights to a new project to the highest bidder as a fun way to engage donors. Naming rights are often permanent changes, so this gives donors the opportunity to make a mark on their community and show that they care. This works especially well if your organization has a group of donors who like to be publicly recognized for their financial contributions.  

6. First pitch
Many of us dreamt of the big leagues as kids. Connect with your local baseball team and request a game where one of your donors can throw the first pitch! This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for donors or their kids, and it’s a great way to bring awareness to your organization. Throwing the first pitch at a game gives your organization a large and local platform to inform the audience of your mission and work. 

7. A day in the life
Auctioning off “a day in the life” with someone in a specific profession can be fun for all ages! Perhaps it’s a day with the local news station or radio station, the Mayor, a zookeeper, or firefighters. Are there local celebrities or athletes? If you’re hosting a school fundraiser, you could include a day with a popular coach or the principal in the silent auction. Not only are these unique experiences, but they are also great opportunities for younger people in the community to get a first-hand experience of what that specific profession is like. For adults, it can be a peek at something they’ve always been interested in or time with someone they admire. 

8. Private lessons
If there are individuals in your community who can offer lessons as a silent auction item it’s an opportunity that you should take advantage of. The bids on the lessons will be higher if this person doesn’t usually give lessons, therefore making them invaluable. The lessons can include anything like art, sports, music, cooking, photography, writing, fishing, craftsmanship, and more.  

free silent auction ideas

9. Exclusive tickets
Tickets to the big game are one thing, but tickets to an event that aren’t for sale is another. If you can find the right connections, it’s no skin off anyone’s back to give away tickets that don’t have a face value. These experiences are hard to come by and highly sought after in a silent auction. These types of tickets can include seats to a show during Fashion Week, television tapings with a live audience (The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live, etc.), a gallery opening night party, or tickets to an award show.

10. Guided day out
Find an expert in your community who can provide insight and expertise on something specific to your area. You can then offer an individual or group a private, guided day out doing things like hiking the canyons in Los Angeles, touring the architecture of Chicago, examining the ecosystem of the salt marshes, walking the historic Freedom Trail in Boston, or hitting up the jazz clubs in New York City. 

11. Executive lunch
A private lunch with your organization’s executive director, a community leader, public figure, or celebrity is a silent auction item that gives some donors the one-on-one time with someone they seek to talk about important issues or common interests with.  

12. Ribbon cutting rights
Is your community breaking ground? Opening a new library? Planting a community garden? Local events like these are perfect opportunities for ribbon cutting ceremonies and you can give your guests the chance to be the one who does the honors! Ribbon cutting ceremonies are often covered by the press, so this is also another way to spread awareness about your mission if you ask the winner to mention your organization in any press coverage. These events are social and bring key people from the community together. 

free silent auction items

13. Vacation
Does anyone on your staff, board, or volunteer base have a second home? Offering a vacation home for a weekend is a way to obtain a vacation package without incurring consignment company fees. When utilizing someone’s second home as an auction item it’s important to consider location; how long will it take to get there? Is it required to buy a plane ticket? If the distance is quite far you may eliminate a lot of potential bidders, depending on your group of donors.

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14. Memorabilia 
Many foundations have historical memorabilia associated with the founding of the organization or famous members across time. This could include legendary athletes for athletic foundations or world-renowned performers and artists for art organizations. Dig through your archives and see what history you have to offer!

15. Sky miles
Last, and perhaps the most overlooked item on this list is sky miles. Did you know that you can transfer sky miles from one person to another? These are always a popular item because everyone loves extra miles! Depending on the airline, some sky miles expire, so it’s an easy item to donate if donors have additional miles that they won’t be able to use before the expiration date. 

Don’t let these ideas stop you here! We’re here to help get the creative and innovative juices flowing. There are many worthwhile experiences and ways you can make your donors feel engaged with your organization with fun and affordable auction items.  

 

Let’s talk about how you can raise more.

Want more on silent auctions? This webinar on-demand will give you just that.

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Kelsey Woodworth

Kelsey Woodworth is the Content Marketing Manager for GiveSmart and an Auburn University Graduate. Her finger is on the pulse daily for innovations in fundraising, community building, donor relations, and event trends. Kelsey lives in New York City.
Kelsey Woodworth

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