If we could give every single non-profit preparing for a fundraising event one piece of advice, it would be this: Don’t underestimate your silent auction. Something we see a lot of non-profits do is treat their silent auction like an afterthought or a bargain bin for donated items that don’t fit into their live auction. They’re leaving a whole lot of money on the table. With the right strategy, silent auctions can earn just as much or ever more than your live auction.
We work with non-profits to help them raise more money for their cause, and here are the 5 easy-to-implement strategies that will turn your silent auction into a major revenue generator.
Curate Your Silent Auction Items
Gone are the days of using your silent auction as a dumping station for donated items. Your fundraiser attendees can order anything they want from their phones at any time, so silent auction items need to be something unique. The items we see do well are vacations, experiences, sports memorabilia, etc.
Higher ticket items perform extremely well in a silent auction because it gives people a little more time to think over the auction item. We offer a lot of trips and experiences as consignment opportunities for silent auctions because a lot of the people attending fundraising events go away for vacation yearly anyway. So, this allows you to tap into their vacation fund as well as their donation fund.
Use Bidding Software for Your Silent Auction
Bidding software makes it more convenient for attendees to bid on silent auction items throughout the evening. Instead of having to get up and down to check on their bid, they can use their phone to check their bid without having to get up from their table or interrupt conversations. As a result, we see non-profits earn on average 30% more from their fundraising event, just by using a bidding software.
It also helps non-profits lower the cost of their fundraising event. Silent auctions often need a lot of space for the tables so people can walk around and look at the silent auction items. When you conduct your silent auction using bidding software, you can book a smaller venue.
Another huge benefit of using bidding software for your silent auction is that you can advertise your silent auction ahead of the event. You can get the event attendees set up before the event to browse the silent auction items and start thinking about what they want to bid on. If we continue to use international trips as an example, your fundraiser attendees have the chance to speak to their spouses and get excited about the trip options. As Trevor Nelson, our co-founder likes to say, you want them to start mentally packing their bags before the fundraiser.
There are a number of bidding software options out there, and we encourage you to choose the best one for your needs. Our bidding software, HGABid is $995, and we set all of your silent auction items up in the software, so it is ready to use. Contact us to schedule a no-obligation demo if you want to see it in action.
Have a Team Dedicated to Your Silent Auction
If you have the people available, have a team dedicated to your silent auction to help people bid. They will be on hand to answer any questions. They can even help people get set up with the technology if they didn’t receive their link or they struggle with technology. Make sure these volunteers are visible with a different colored t-shirt or standing near signs so attendees can find them when the need them. If you need to hire a team to come out to your event and help with implementing event software, Life Event Staffing is a good place to start.
HGAFundraising attended a non-profit event recently where they had an MC dedicated to promoting the silent auction items throughout the night. The MC would talk about each of the silent auction items and remind attendees when bidding would close. They used paper bidding sheets rather than technology, but you could see people flock to the table in response to the MC advertising the items. After the event, the non-profit told us that their silent auction earned 50% more than the previous year with similar silent auction items.
Choose Your Starting Bids and Bidding Increments Wisely
Pricing is an important factor in how much money your silent auction raises. There are a couple of prices you need to set ahead of time.
The first is the starting bid. This is the first bid that must be made on the item. Our rule of thumb is that your starting bid should be no less than 20% over what that item costs you. This ensures that once people start bidding on the item, no matter how bidding goes, you are making money for your non-profit.
The second price you need to set is your bidding increments. If your bidding increments are too high, it creates friction in the bidding process. If your bidding increments are too low, then you won’t raise as much money because each bid is small. When you use bidding software, you can set bidding increments based on total price. This will automatically update the bidding increment when an item moves into a different price range.
The third price you need to set is the instant win price. This allows your attendees to buy the item instantly instead of having to bid. Your instant win price should be at least double the reserve price. If it is an item that you can sell in multiples, like a consignment item, then you can set up the software to allow multiple people to select the instant win price.
Create Excitement Around the Silent Auction Close
One thing we’ve noticed is that most of the bidding in a silent auction will happen in the last 15 to 30 minutes, regardless of how long your silent auction is open. In order to maximize the amount of money you raise in your silent auction, you need to build excitement during those final 30 minutes.
We attend fundraising events where the MC has a calm, soothing voice which is lovely to listen to but doesn’t cut through the conversations. Many times, people miss the silent auction close even though announcements were made leading up to the close. You need an MC with a big personality who will capture attention and will be able to get people excited about bidding on the silent auction items.
These 5 tips on turning your silent auction into a major revenue generator was curated from a conversation between Jason Ledlow, Trevor Nelson, and Mark West during the HGAFundraising webinar. Listen to Episode 99 of our free webinar for non-profits to learn more strategies to raise more money with your next silent auction.
Want to learn about more ways to raise more money for your non-profit? Learn directly from the leading fundraising experts at HGAFundraising’s 2023 Fundraising Boot Camp.
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At HGA, we're dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations Raise More Money through coaching, auction items, and auction software.