May 19, 2021
30 Silent Auction Items That Don’t Cost A Dime
Collecting silent auction items for your next fundraiser takes a lot of consideration — you need to know where to begin, fight donor fatigue, and think of refreshing items from past years. If you’re like other nonprofits, you may have cost concerns when it comes to getting auction items, too. But gathering desirable and exciting silent auction items doesn’t have to cost you much money at all!
GiveSmart has run tens of thousands of silent auctions at events. 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 30 silent auction items, including 15 socially distanced options. All silent auction items, even when they’re not typically something you can buy, come with an attached dollar value. These items will bring your organization profit at zero cost.
15 Free Silent Auction Item Ideas
Consider including the following free silent auction ideas in your next silent auction:
1. Reserved Parking Spot
Whether it’s driving the school carpool every day, parking farthest from the office, or being late to lunch, a reserved parking spot saves people the hassle of finding parking.Add this perk to the silent auction for a specific event, monthly or annually. A “good” parking spot is unique to each person, so it’s important to collaborate to find a parking spot many people will enjoy.
2. 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.
- Hitting up the jazz clubs in New York City.
- See more regional donation guides here!
One way to make a guided day out seem even more appealing is by working with local restaurants, seeing if they’d be willing to include a free lunch for your winner(s) and local expert. That way, bidders can also enjoy lunch and beverages to keep them refreshed for their day out. And, experts are more likely to volunteer their time if free lunch is included!
3. Reserved Seating At A Special Event
Like reserved parking, reserved seating is clutch at special events that demand a good seat. For instance, 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.
Take advantage of other organization’s holiday events like:
- The Fourth of July fireworks
- The Lighting of the Tree
Secure these seats by thinking about where the event happens and speaking to the businesses within the vicinity. Are there rooftops available? Storefront views? Someone’s front lawn that can accommodate seating or parking? Look at what’s available and see if the person or organization is willing to donate some of their space for your nonprofit.
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. Some examples of unique venue options that donors or leaders in your community can use to make their next event special are:
- Museums after hours
- Libraries for luncheons
- Breweries for retirement parties or birthdays
- Lobbies for talks or workshops
If you have volunteers, you can also market your venue with helpful hands such as cooking staff, servers, tour guides, maintenance and other crew members.
5. Naming Rights
Building a new park or playground? Renaming streets in your city’s historic district? Give the naming right of a new project to the highest bidder as a fun way to engage donors. Naming rights are often permanent changes, giving donors the opportunity to make a mark on their community and show they care. This prize works exceptionally well if your organization has a group of donors who like public recognition of their financial contributions.
Another example of naming rights is dedicating a memorial bench to your highest donor. Memorial benches are typically placed in parks with high traffic and engraved with a name or a short quote. Work with your local park to see if there is a bench you can dedicate as a memorial bench for the winner. Or find a company that specializes in memorial benches that can create one for you.
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 opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for donors and their kids, and it’s a perfect 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 is fun for all ages. Perhaps it’s a day with:
- The local news station or radio station
- The Mayor
- A zookeeper
- Local celebrities or athletes
These are unique experiences and great opportunities for younger people in the community to get a first-hand experience of what a specific profession is like. If you’re hosting a school fundraiser, you could include a day with a popular coach or the principal in the silent auction. 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 to enhance your auction. The bids on lessons will be higher if this person doesn’t usually give lessons, therefore making them invaluable. The lessons can include anything like:
9. Exclusive Tickets
Tickets to the big game are one thing, but tickets to events that aren’t for sale are another. If you can find the right connection, it’s no obstacle to give away tickets that don’t have face value. These experiences are hard to come by and highly sought after in a silent auction. Types of tickets to include are seats to:
- A show during Fashion Week
- Television tapings with a live audience, like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live and so on
- A gallery opening night party
- Tickets to an award show
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 be mindful of who you approach and whether they depend on the income from their art. Express the mutual benefit, where artists can potentially gain customers if they present their artwork in front of your bidders.
11. Executive Lunch
Executive lunches are silent auction items that give donors one-on-one time with someone they want to talk about important issues or common interests with. Examples of people to collaborate with for private lunches include:
- Your organization’s executive director
- A community leader
- A public figure
- A celebrity
This offering is another excellent way to connect with restaurants and see if they’re willing to donate a meal for your bidder.
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 bidders the chance to be the one who does the honors! These events are social and bring key people from the community together.
Also, ribbon-cutting ceremonies are often covered by the press, making this another way to spread awareness about your mission if you ask the winner to mention your organization in any press coverage.
13. A Vacation
Does anyone on your staff, board or volunteer base have a second home? Offering a vacation home for a weekend is a great way to obtain a vacation package without incurring consignment company fees. When using 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 potential bidders, depending on your outreach.
Many foundations have historical memorabilia associated with the founding of the organization or famous members across time. Memorabilia are collectibles associated with a recognizable person or organization, like:
- Autographed baseballs
- Vintage guitars
- First-edition books
You might find memorabilia of legendary athletes for athletic foundations or world-renowned performers and artists for art organizations. Dig through your archives and see what history has to offer!
15. Sky Miles
Perhaps the most overlooked item is sky miles. Did you know you can transfer sky miles from one person to another? These are always popular items because everyone loves extra miles. Some sky miles expire depending on the airline, so it’s an easy item to donate if donors have additional miles they won’t be able to use before the expiration date.
15 Free Socially Distanced Auction Item Ideas
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s how to keep safe by staying socially distant from others. Offering social-distance-friendly items in your nonprofit’s silent auction broadens your reach, making bidders who value social distance feel more comfortable bidding. Consider including some of the following 15 free socially distanced item ideas in your next silent auction:
1. Virtual Private Lessons
Marketing a virtual private lesson rather than an in-person private lesson makes your silent auction items more accessible and possibly more appealing to bidders. Bidders don’t have to worry about keeping a 6-foot distance between them and their instructor. Instead, they can get the same level of information safely through their computer screen. Plus, bidders don’t have to take a large break from their daily routine. They can indulge in a private lesson from the comfort of their home or office.
2. Virtual Meetup With A Celebrity Or Organizational Leader
Does anyone in your community have connections to a celebrity? You’d be surprised at the well-known names someone has in their circle. Reach out to community members and gather insight on possible leads, and make the necessary connections to get your nonprofit in front of the celebrity’s eyes. Or reach out to the celebrity directly, like a famous comedian or sports player.
Another option is connecting with your local celebrities, such as organizational leaders or mayors. Many people are willing to donate their time to support their local nonprofit organizations.
Ask the celebrity or organizational leader for just a few moments of their time to connect with your highest bidder. A virtual meetup won’t require covering travel expenses for your celebrity or organizational leader, and it won’t come with obstacles of in-person meetups. A virtual meetup can include sharing each other’s lunch break or just a quick hour-long conversation — just make sure the meetup is something valuable to potential bidders.
3. Tickets To A Virtual Concert
Recent concerts have been virtual, using bold images, engaging camera movements and a live chat room to deliver a unique and immersive experience equal to in-person concerts.
Reach out to venues and see if they’re willing to donate any virtual access tickets to your nonprofit organization. Get tickets to live comedians or exclusive music concerts, something your bidders will get excited about. As a bonus, these concerts can be anywhere since your winner can enjoy it from the comfort of home. Choose well-known artists to gain bidder interest or chat around to discover what music many of your guests listen to.
4. Exclusive Virtual Tours
Think of all the exciting landmarks in your local or surrounding communities. Connect with other organizations and see if they’re willing to provide a virtual tour for your highest bidder. Examples of places to reach out to are museums, historic landmarks, ghost tours and anywhere else that attracts tourists.
Remember, virtual tours have no physical boundaries — through the right networking, you might be able to reach tourist destinations in other parts of the country or even the world!
5. Game Consoles
Over 3 billion people enjoy playing video games across the globe. Odds are, you have some enthusiasts in your nonprofit’s following. Or they at least have a child or friend that enjoys playing video games. Some consoles are more sought-after and harder to get than others, such as the new Play Station 5 or Xbox Series X. Connect with your community or local game store about the possibility of them donating one of these consoles for your silent auction.
If you can’t access a newer console, you could always go vintage. These older options inspire nostalgia for adult bidders and introduce younger generations to retro games of the past. Again, reach out to local game stores or your community to see if anyone has consoles to donate. Consider bundling the console with a set of vintage games to offer bidders a complete prize package.
6. Local Goods Sample
Creating a local goods sample is a great way to support local small businesses. Consider putting together a gift basket or an array of local goods, including:
- Spa goods
- Teas and spices
Be mindful that small businesses rely on their merchandise for income. Express that by participating in your silent auction, small businesses are making a marketing effort to get their merchandise in front of a large group of contributive community members.
7. Child Care Services
Parents love spending time with their children. But, they understandably deserve a break every now and then to recharge from their hectic daily routine. Including child care services in your silent auction may capture the interest of parents who dream of a date night or relaxing day doing nothing on the couch.
Connect with reputable local child care centers with safety measures in place and see if they’re willing to donate their services for your silent auction.
8. Family Photoshoot
Family photoshoots are special events for many families. They are great socially distanced auction items because the photographer doesn’t have to come into close contact with the family to take their photos. Network with local freelance photographers that connect with your mission, and see if they’re willing to donate some of their time and talent for your highest bidder.
9. Virtual Book Readings By Kids’ Favorite Authors
A rising trend in the children’s book industry is for famous authors to host a storytime, where they record themselves reading their most famous books. Make storytime more personal by networking with famous authors and having them record an exclusive version specifically for your highest bidder’s children.
Schedule a time for children and their parents to connect with their favorite authors one-on-one. Or, request the author to record a video of them reading their book(s), and send the exclusive video directly to the winner.
10. Virtual Dollar Votes
In a virtual dollar vote for a silent auction, bidders can bid dollars that allow them to place votes on superlatives like:
- Best dressed
- Best front yard
- Best seasonal decorations
- Most creative costume
- Most likely to be the teacher of the year
- Most likely to be the volunteer of the year
Virtual dollar votes are fun and engaging ways to broadcast the talent and remarkable attributes of notable community members. Plus, more than one person can bid on dollar votes, quickly generating profit as more people choose to vote on a superlative.
11. Buy-in For A Virtual Poker Tournament
Over a quarter of the globe participates in gambling. Many enjoy playing poker tournaments and the convenience of virtual tournaments. Virtual poker tournaments sidestep the need for transportation to an elaborate tournament setup, as well as the extra costs of food and drinks. Virtual tournaments focus just on the game at hand.
Attract poker players by auctioning off a buy-in in your silent auction. Buy-ins refer to how much money a person buys in a single poker game, and there are usually rules on the minimum and maximum amount you’re allowed to place.
12. Virtual Cooking Demos
Following the idea of private lessons, think about offering virtual cooking demos in your silent auction. Cooking gives people a sense of purpose, providing an opportunity to express their creativity, and get something delicious out of the process. Although many kitchens aren’t open to visitors at the moment, bidders can still enjoy cooking demos virtually.
Talk to your local home or professional chefs and see if they’re willing to virtually meet up with your highest bidder and give them a cooking lesson. Or, if your chef is short on time, see if they can record a short demo packed with cooking tips your bidder can enjoy. You can even reach out to local stores or restaurants to see if they’d supply ingredients for the winner and chef to prepare a meal together virtually.
13. Kitchen Appliances
Going along with cooking demos, consider outfitting the highest bidder with kitchen appliances. Kitchen appliances include air fryers, blenders, stand mixers, pasta makers and other countertop devices. Get your hands on donated kitchen appliances by working with local businesses or seeing if you can make arrangements with larger department stores that have charitable programs.
14. Staycation Kits
Sending your bidder on a vacation may not be practical when practicing social distancing. Instead, make a staycation kit where your winner can create a stay-at-home vacation. Think about typical things people do on vacation and equip a kit that embodies those activities.
This prize is another excellent way to market local small businesses. Work with local spas and restaurants and collect any of their kind donations. Examples of some things you can include in a staycation kit are:
- Bubble bath
- Bath bombs
- Pool toys
- A food delivery gift card
- Famous movies
- Cozy throw blankets
15. Hot Air Balloon Ride
Odds are, there’s a local ballooning organization in your community or surrounding areas. Collaborate with the ballooning organization to offer your bidders an exciting hot air balloon excursion. For socially distanced options, try to get private rides where only the operator, your bidder and a guest or two will head to the skies.
Express the beauty and excitement of hot air balloon rides to your bidders. Hot air balloon rides offer amazing views and tranquility, as well as niche advantages like an ideal setting to propose to your special someone. And, rides are especially beautiful during the sunrise or sunset, which you can arrange with the ballooning organization.
Bonus Socially Distanced Auction Item Ideas
Aside from the above silent auction ideas, there are some staple items you can’t forget to include. Some of these are:
- Wine: Connect with your local wineries or stores and see if they’re inclined to donate a few bottles of wine and wine accessories for your nonprofit silent auction.
- Gift cards: Some small businesses will want to work with your nonprofit organization but may not know what to contribute. In these cases, accept gift cards, which your bidders may find attractive because they can select merchandise that resonates with their interests.
- Memberships: Similarly, some of your small businesses may not have anything physical to donate. See if they’re willing to donate memberships, like a membership to a golf club or fitness center.
- Sweet treats: If there is a renowned baker in your community, collaborate with them and ask them to make a sweet treats basket for your silent auction. Who doesn’t love a freshly baked cookie or macaroon?
Although these are smaller-ticket items, offering them will give all bidders an opportunity to contribute to your cause. You can even bundle them together or with any of the free silent auction item ideas above to create a more appealing auction package.
Generate More Profit With Bidding And Silent Auction Software From GiveSmart
Don’t let these ideas be your only guide! Check out our Ultimate Silent Auction Study for even more insights. There are many worthwhile experiences and ways you can make your donors feel engaged with your organization using fun and affordable auction items.
GiveSmart is here to help get the creative and innovative juices flowing. We’ve created industry-leading bidding and silent auction software that transforms the donor experience.
GiveSmart offers your nonprofit a technological solution that handles your auctions, donations, virtual or face-to-face events, and peer-to-peer campaigns. Our goal is written in our name — GiveSmart gives your donors a smart way to give with the ability to access your silent auction from any location and on any device.
Some of the things our powerful software allows you to do include:
- Run a silent auction
- Manage an event and ticketing
- Collect donations
- Voting contests
- Peer-to-peer fundraising
- And more!