Feb 13, 2019

How to run a successful silent auction

silent auction

As a fundraiser, you’re learning how to run a successful silent auction. Just when you think you have it down, trends change, hot new items pop up, donors are seeking something different, technology evolves, and more. So, you adjust.

Silent auctions are one of the most popular ways nonprofits engage guests and raise money at fundraising events. There are a variety of ways to run a silent auction, but if you remember the key points below, you’re bound to see success.

1. Recruiting and training volunteers for your silent auction

Be mindful who you recruit to run your silent auction. Are the volunteers who are procuring auction items going to deliver? Do they have the connections you need to secure the must-have items or experiences your donors want?

Then, you must think about the actual day of your silent auction. Will the volunteers who said they will help with checkout be there, or on the dance floor? Are these volunteers outgoing and will they encourage guests at the event to bid in the auction?

2. How to train silent auction volunteers

Not only is it key that your silent auction volunteers show up to help maximize the silent auction, but that they know what to do. Training your volunteers is a big component leading up to any event, especially if you’re using silent auction software.

GiveSmart’s online training academy is available for all of our non-profit partners, at any level of service.  Our full-service silent auction team arrives before your event to help set up the check-in area, train guests on the software, provide equipment, and ensure consistency between your silent auction website and the auction items available at the event.

Training also teaches volunteers and staff on how to use the GiveSmart platform so that they can bid and donate on behalf of guests who may need assistance.

3. How to solicit donations for your silent auction

In addition to event night volunteers, you’ll likely rely on some volunteers to obtain donations for your silent auction. As you begin to plan your silent auction, it’s important to decide who is going to solicit a certain value of auction items.

These goals should be clearly defined so that volunteers and staff are held accountable for fulfilling an auction catalog that will help you achieve your fundraising goals.

It’s also worthwhile discussing what items or experiences your donors want and are interested in, as this will guide donation solicitors, and ultimately lead to more bidding activity. Highly sought-after items will increase the amounts that donors are willing to bid, compared to items (like gift cards) that have a set value.

Your silent auction should be made up entirely of donations, if possible. Sometimes, organizations will utilize consignment companies when they can’t get a hold of items that are more difficult to come by (for example, Hamilton tickets or exclusive vacation packages).

We recommend taking a strategic approach when incorporating consignment items. It’s important to understand the consignment company’s pricing structure and the extent that their items are desired by donors. In some cases, the consignment auction items that you offer may draw a new audience to the event.

Understanding what donors want is key when curating a successful silent auction.

As you reach out to your community for donations for your silent auction, you can also enable the Item Donation Form on your GiveSmart site. This form expedites the collection of information from donors and automatically adds items to the queue for administrators to upload to the auction catalog. Utilizing technology in this way allows for easy submission of items to the auction and on-the-go mobile image uploads as you import items.

4. How to promote your silent auction

Promoting your silent auction before your event is a great way to get guests excited about items and the event itself. If it’s your first time using a mobile bidding software, it’s important to let guests know that they’ll be bidding on their phones so that they remember to bring them to the event.

GiveSmart’s silent auction platform allows you to communicate with guests through email or text message, so you can utilize this feature to promote your silent auction before your event. You can also open the auction before the event begins to engage donors in pre-bidding.

Bidding in advance of the event is beneficial because it gets guests used to the mobile platform, it gets them excited for the event, and it engages the bidding, allowing you to kick off event night with money already raised!

5. Hosting your silent auction online

Hosting your auction online with mobile bidding allows donors to participate from anywhere, so it’s a great idea to promote your auction items and donation page across social media. Your organization, staff, and volunteers should all share the auction on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other platforms they’re active on.

This will encourage people beyond your typical donor pool to donate, as the auction will reach new audiences across social networks. Perhaps your friends across the country want to support an organization you’re involved with, or they know just the person who will splurge on that signed jersey for a good cause.

6. How to set up a silent auction event

It’s beneficial to have a homepage for your silent auction event that guests can come to for the event itinerary, tickets, contact information, auction details, and more.  A landing page for your event is setting you up for success as guests, donors, and volunteers seek more information.

GiveSmart provides organizations with a hub to sell tickets, sponsorships, make donations, bid on items, purchase merchandise, process payments, and run reports. For processing payments and reporting it’s great to have a ticketing solution that integrates with your auction so that guests only need to log in and pay once.

The physical set up of the auction on event day is as important as the digital to consider.  How you display your auction items will have a direct impact on how well they perform.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Keep location and space in mind as you think about where guests will be mingling.
  • Place the auction within view.
  • Ensure there’s space to peruse the auction items.
  • Print display sheets in a legible font.
    • For experiences or certificates, you can print a customizable display sheet directly from your GiveSmart site instead of re-writing all of the information that already exists within your auction catalog.

7. Running your silent auction event

On event day the auction area should be a highlight, and this is where the silent auction staff or volunteers come into play.  It’s important for them to encourage guests to roam the auction area and browse the items as they arrive and head to the bar.

If guests would like to bid, you can direct them to the welcome text message they received when they arrived, offer to place a bid on their behalf, or provide any further instructions on bidding, if necessary.

As the event continues, utilize the Message Center to communicate with guests throughout the evening. Let them know when it’s time to sit for dinner.   Remind them that some items may not have bids yet.  Ask if they’ve checked out the awesome vacation package.  Tell them when the program is about to begin, or give them a time warning as the auction comes to a close.

Volunteers and staff acting as bidding assistants should continue to support guests throughout the event, beyond the cocktail hour, checking in to see if they need assistance bidding or donating.

8. The impact of a bidding visual

As the event is underway you can project a bidding visual on a wall or projection screen that will update in real time as bids come in. This stirs competition in the room and updates guests on where bids are as the auction clock continues to dwindle. A similar donation or thermometer visual can be displayed during a digital pledge or text-to-donate so that everyone can watch the donations pour in. It’s a great way to build excitement in the room and encourage donations of all sizes to be made.

9. How to end your silent auction

It’s a good idea to set an end time for your auction, as it creates a sense of urgency and is exciting for guests to still be at the event when they find out they’re winners. When the auction ends send a text message to winners through the Message Center.

Filtering and directing winners to the checkout area will expedite the checkout process and eliminate congestion at the end of the evening. Guests will know whether they won and won’t need to bombard the checkout area inquiring about auction winners.

10. Following up with guests after a silent auction

Thank you notes and tax receipts are important to send after an event.  However, donors of all ages say that receiving an impact report is the most important follow-up message for them to receive, according to Community Brands’ Donor Experience Study. Donors want to know how their contribution directly impacted the mission your organization is serving –– they want to see that they’ve helped make a difference.

11. Providing receipts

For financial and tax purposes, receipts are a must. GiveSmart’s platform automatically sends receipts to donors and ticket purchasers after a payment is processed on an event site. This feature alone saves development teams hours of work and the hassle of manually compiling and sending receipts.

12. How to evaluate the success of your silent auction

Once the event is said and done, it’s important to look back and see how well auction items performed.  Here are a few things you should consider:

  1. How many of your guests participated in the auction?
  2. Who were the most active bidders
  3. What was your ROI?

13. Post-event reporting and planning for next year

Post-event reporting is important as you plan for next year. GiveSmart’s Event Dashboard provides real-time insights for auctions, users, and financials.

The Reports hub is where organization admins can download a variety of reports in Excel, CSV, and PDF formats.

These reports include:

  • Unpaid balances
  • Silent auction bids
  • Donations
  • Ticket orders
  • Attendees
  • Raffles
  • Instant items, and more.


Silent auctions are a great way to engage donors, provide unique experiences, raise money, and build excitement for your organization’s mission. Paying proper attention to each phase of the process ensures maximum success and minimum stress as you utilize an auction in your fundraiser.

We invite you to explore our products, schedule a free demo, or contact us with any curiosities, questions, or if you’d like to speak to someone on our team in your area!


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What our clients say

We needed a platform to make sales online and to track and display ads for our sponsors. GiveSmart was perfect. We ended up making close to $15,000 more than we had hoped for. Definite better ROI than we anticipated. The interface is easy to use and provides plenty of options to get help if needed.

Michelle M.

The Rotary Club of South Whidbey Island

Using GS has created ease in auction bookkeeping, payments, and generating post-event thank you/tax letters. While we were online during COVID, our interactions with our GiveSmart via phone, email, and zoom were seamless. A representative always got back to us within the day. I would recommend GiveSmart to anyone doing a large online event.

Julie G.

MicroFinancing Partners in Africa

GiveSmart is highly flexible - you can use it for [a] simple registration and check-in, to full-scale galas with complex order forms, onsite upsells, live auctions, seating management, and more.

Jamie F.

Hope Chest for Breast Cancer

GiveSmart is easy to use and ideal for virtual events and can be used for in-person events to manage the silent auction, seating charts, and check-in to the event. Being able to use the platform for unlimited events within the contract year is very useful and being able to add other users and volunteers for different levels of access is helpful as well.

Dawn L.

Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County