7 Tips for a More Profitable Silent Auction

October 31, 2009

Posted in Fundraising.

A silent auction isn’t an easy thing to put on.

1. Get people to bid more than the item is worth.

You’re a charity, not a pawn shop. Avoid setting up items that have a clear dollar value (e.g., a $20 gift certificate) because it’s hard to rationally justify spending $50 on a $20 gift certificate. If you have gift certificates, use tip #6 to get bidders focused on the prize (a juicy steak dinner) rather than the cost ($20 at a restaurant).

2. Don’t make it about the items.

Some people will gladly spend that $50 on a $20 item, though. But you have to make those people understand that the bid isn’t a purchase price, it’s a show of support for your cause. If you do this well enough, the items won’t really matter.


3. Get items that can’t be bought.

You could arrange for lunch with a local celebrity or a chef’s tour of the kitchen at a nice restaurant. Backstage passes at a concert or an autograph don’t usually cost anything, but can be very difficult to get. The key to this tip is providing a unique experience or item that isn’t for sale (but doesn’t necessarily cost anything).

4. Create packages that have an inflated value.

A night out to a nice dinner might cost $75, but it can be worth far more. If you can pair dinner with tickets to an event or VIP treatment, the value of the package goes way up.

5. Create your own items for cheap.

Get a basket, bucket, or box. Into that container, put candles, lotions, cookies, pizza ingredients, or whatever themed package you can think of. These don’t have to be pricy, but have some variation. I spent $75 on a pail of barbecue stuff: wood chips, sauces, seasonings, grilling tools, and a cookbook. It felt like a great value, and it was right up my alley.


6. Show off the items, even with a picture.

This seems so obvious, but there are plenty of items that aren’t going to physically sit on a table to be examined. They might be event packages, a beach house rental, or a large item that you can’t fit. Print a photo of the item (or something representative), mount it on foam board, and display this on a small easel.

7. Stagger the finishing times.

If bidding ends at 9pm, you don’t necessarily know if won any of the auctions. But if half of the items close at 9pm and the other half at 10pm, those who didn’t win in the first round have a chance to pick up some of the other items. The disappointment of losing an item you really wanted can be a great incentive to make bigger bids later.

1 Comment

  1. Marty McKiernan — June 06, 2011

    Hey Chas. Sweet tips. Your lead-in sentence is incomplete, fyi.

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