How to Run a Silent Fundraiser Auction — Your Top 7 Questions Answered

Thinking about raising funds for a good cause? Silent auctions may just be what you need.

From individuals and school associations to more prominent nonprofit and charitable organizations, many people have held silent auctions to raise funds and succeeded. Aside from being able to gather money to use for improvement and charity projects, this type of auction is also fun and engaging, which makes promoting the event a lot easier.

However, running a silent fundraiser auction is no walk in the park. From the planning to the promotion and execution, there are many processes involved in the event. All these can make a silent auction quite daunting to do on your own. Especially if you have other things to plan and worry about for the event.

To give you a good start at planning this fundraising event, you must first learn about the basics. To help you out, below is a list of the top seven questions people usually ask about silent auctions:

1.   What is a silent auction?

Wherever you are, you’ve probably already attended a gathering that incorporated a silent auction – you probably just didn’t know it. This is to be expected. After all, who would’ve thought silent auctions can get a bit noisy with all the chatter going on at the event?

Although it is called a silent auction, it is not necessarily a quiet affair. The reason why it is called “silent” is that your bid is confidential.

Rather than relying on auctioneers to managing the auction, organizers of a silent auction take bids via bid sheets (more on that later). This is why silent auctions are a bit more challenging to put together.

Of course, excellent planning can trump any challenge this type of auction may pose. With enough preparation and some help from auction management experts, setting up a silent auction can be easy and end up quite successful.

2.   How does a silent auction work?

As mentioned earlier, silent auctions make use of bid sheets to see who placed a bid on what item and how much they are willing to pay to take it home. But there’s more to it than that.

Unlike live auctions where participants sit while being presented with the auction lot from a stage, bidders in a silent auction can inspect displayed items in the venue closely.

Placed in front of the items are bid sheets, where bidders write their name and cell phone and the amount of their bid. This document also contains the name of the item, its value, a brief description, the minimum bid amount, and bidding increment.

Since everything is laid out for the bidders, placing bids can be quite easy and can even be done without much chatter. Bidders only need to write a higher amount than the previous bid until the scheduled end of the auction.

3.   How are the highest bidders determined during silent auctions?

There are two types of amounts you need to learn about when planning a silent auction: the starting bid and the minimum increment.

As discussed above, the starting or minimum bid is the lowest possible bid that can be placed for an item. This can be anywhere near the estimated value of the item as stated in the bid sheet.

The minimum bid increment, on the other hand, determines the amount that subsequent bids must reach to be considered valid. For example, if the previous bid is $50 and the minimum increment is set at $5, the next bid must be a minimum of $55. Of course, bidders can bid higher than the sum of the previous bid and the minimum bid increment, but never lower.

Silent auctions should also have a predetermined end, at which point the bidding for all items will be closed. Once the scheduled end time is reached, organizers will collect all the bid sheets, check the highest bid, verify its validity, and announce who gets to take the item home.

Once, the bidding is over, the winners can pay for their items at a check out table and take it home. If they already left, you can call them the next day to arrange shipping or pick up, thus the reason for providing a phone number on the bid sheet.

4.   What items can be auctioned off during silent auctions?

Silent auctions are usually filled with unique stuff that people love to buy. Among the silent auction favorites are alcohol, free passes to luxury hotel accommodations, and restaurant gift cards. Even better, the auction items can also be things related to the proceeds of the fundraising event.

Since there are countless possibilities on what you can auction off, you must also determine what sort of items don’t sell.

Signed memorabilia, photos, and fashion items are great items for silent auctions too because they are not necessarily something one would buy on their own. Due to the unique nature of the item and the fact that proceeds go back to charity, bidders are more inclined to bid.

5.   Can there be multiples of the same item during a silent auction?

While it is possible, having two or more similar items in the same silent auction is not recommended because it tends to “kill” the competition.

Having multiples of the same item can also cause a decrease in the value of those items, which can result in lower auction revenue. Remember that an item’s rarity makes it appealing and sparks competitiveness in people, and putting two-of-a-kind up for auction can make it a lot less attractive for bidders.

Of course, you should still accept what donors offer you for the silent auction. If you happen to get two or more of the same item, it is better to group the items together in a bigger package, like a luxury vacation for four, instead of auctioning them off separately.

6.   Where can I get items for silent auctions?

One of the most challenging aspects of raising funds for silent auctions is acquiring items that can be auctioned off.

A good way to start is to tap into local businesses and well-off individuals, like celebrities and politicians, within the community. Be sure to let them know where the auction proceeds will go as they will more likely be eager to help if they know the purpose of the auction and who will benefit from it.

Once you convince people to donate, be sure to ask for both products and services that you think bidders would want to acquire. For example, you can seek a free hairstyling gift certificate from a local salon. You can also ask for passes for a fitness center for one session of yoga.

Remember that the success of the auction is anchored on what items you offer. This means that the more valuable and useful an item is, the higher the chance you’ll be able to raise a larger amount by the end of the silent auction.

7.   Do I need manpower for silent auctions?


When organizing a silent auction, you should make sure to rope in volunteers as well as trained workers who have experienced working with a similar event in the past.

They will ensure that all the moving parts of the auction – from the soliciting of auction items and inventory management to setting up the venue and checking out the winning bids – run smoothly. Getting the right kind of help will also ensure that auction participants will have a good time.

Aside from volunteers, you can also employ auction management service providers. They are skilled, experienced, and well-versed not only in item valuation but in all other aspects of a silent auction as well.

The Takeaway

Starting a new endeavor, like a silent auction, means you have to learn all the information you can get about it. For this type of auction, getting professional help is most ideal to ensure that the event goes smoothly and boost the success rate of the fundraising event. Of course, learning the important bits yourself is also necessary for a fruitful fundraising event. Don’t brush it off until the end, because it is equally important to the event as everything else.


Darran Brown is the CEO and Founder of Go Charity. A graduate of UMASS Amherst, Darran has spent the last 20 years managing auctions across the United States. Having run some of the most successful live and silent auctions in the US, Darran has the insider know-how to every aspect of the industry. From memorabilia to trips and experience hospitality to fundraising 101, Darran is the leading expert on auction management and fundraising success.