4 Essentials for Hosting a Silent Auction at Your Next Event

by Micaela Navarro,

22 September 2022

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If you’re looking for a surefire way to engage your audience and raise revenue, add a silent auction to your event calendar! 

A silent auction is a fundraising event that can take place in person, online, or as a hybrid experience. With a silent auction, participants compete to place the highest bid on a variety of items and packages. They’ll enter their bids using mobile bidding software (the preferred alternative to the paper bid sheets of the past). The highest bid wins the item, and your organisation earns the proceeds. It’s a classic win-win scenario! 

organisations of all types seeking to raise money and entertain a crowd can host a silent auction, including nonprofits, corporations, associations, and more. Your supporters or customers will appreciate the opportunity to engage in healthy competition and earn a prize, all while supporting a great cause. 

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However, silent auctions aren’t simple events. They require a good amount of planning in order to succeed and not overwhelm your team in the process. In order to successfully host a silent auction at your next event, you’ll need to understand the following essential elements:

  • Silent Auction Software
  • Planning Committee
  • Item Procurement Playbook
  • Gamification Strategies

With these tools and strategies, your organisation can take its fundraising to the next level. Let’s get started.

Silent Auction Software

The right silent auction software can streamline the event planning and execution process on your end. More importantly, it should come with engagement tools to boost donors’ excitement and encourage them to give by providing an experience that’s as frictionless as possible.

Here are some of the key features to look for when choosing silent auction software:

  • Mobile bidding. Mobile bidding has quickly become the new standard because of its benefits for both the front- and back-end of auction events. With mobile bidding, guests make bids right from their mobile device, which is particularly important when running a virtual or hybrid auction—your remote guests will appreciate the opportunity to easily submit bids and feel connected to your event, even if they’re far away. Plus, mobile bidding lets participants receive outbid notifications, experience instantaneous check-out at the event’s end, and more. 
  • Event registration. Collecting and tracking registrations and guests’ contact information often requires time, manpower, and complicated documents—but with the right silent auction software, it doesn’t have to. Choose a platform that collects and organizes sign-ups in a centralized and easily exportable format. 
  • Bid tracking. With so many items being bid on at once, it’s easy for your staff or volunteers to lose track. This is why using software with built-in bid tracking is essential. Your organisation can monitor how many bids have been placed, the top bid and bidder, and time left before bid closures. 
  • Reporting and analytics. At the end of your silent auction, it’s important to reflect on how it went so you can improve your fundraising strategies for the future. Take a look at how much you raised, how many participants placed bids, and other relevant metrics to determine if you reached your fundraising and engagement goals. 

Your software should provide an all-in-one solution to make running a silent auction as simple as possible. Check out the OneCause guide to selecting top silent auction software for additional guidance. 

Planning Committee

Before you can jump into running your silent auction, you’ll need to bring together staff or volunteers to tackle planning tasks. Your committee will create the foundation for your event so it can be as successful as possible. 

Your planning committee should work together to accomplish the following logistics:

  • Determine the event type. Your silent auction can take place fully in person, online, or in a hybrid format. With an in-person event, you’ll need to reserve a venue, catering, and items like decor and entertainment. A virtual auction requires less planning on the front-end, but you may need a live-streaming platform if you plan to present items or offer other virtual programming during bidding. With a hybrid event, your organisation will have to effectively engage both audiences. Consider your goals and determine which option will work best for your organisation. 
  • Create a guest list. Consider your target audience for the event. This will depend on your goals and the broader context of the auction, i.e. if it’s taking place as part of a bigger event. The event format will also impact the audiences you target. For instance, a hybrid gala and silent auction might invite a smaller group of major donors to attend in person while opening up the virtual experience for anyone to join.
  • Develop a budget. Determine how much funding your nonprofit will spend on the event and your expected expenses like the venue, food and drinks, auction software, auction items, and more. 
  • Market the event widely. If you’re opening up your auction to the general public, your planning committee will need to develop a strong marketing plan. Promote your event on relevant social media platforms and send emails advertising it to your supporters or customers. 
  • Look into sponsorships. A corporate sponsor can help nonprofits cover costs, offer services like catering or event space, and market the auction to its own employees and customers. According to Double the Donation, you can look for corporate sponsorships by researching local businesses and reaching out to ones with similar values. 

Your planning committee can break into smaller groups to focus on these specific tasks. For example, you can have a marketing team, event logistics team, and so on. However, they should all work in tandem to achieve your overall goal for the auction. Set a regular meeting schedule for your committee so individual teams can provide updates and everyone can stay on track. 

Item Procurement

You can’t host a silent auction without exciting items and packages! Brainstorm a list of items and packages that are relevant to your organisation’s audience. For example, if you’re an animal welfare organisation, you can offer a one-hour play session with puppies or kittens. Your items should relate to your audience’s interests and why they support your organisation. 

Don’t feel like you have to break the bank to get items that will bring in big bids. Ideally, your nonprofit will directly spend a minimal amount of money on items. Donors and corporate sponsors can help cover the costs of expensive items or even provide in-kind donations. For example, you can partner with a restaurant to provide a free dining experience. Consignment services also partner with nonprofits to offer items and travel packages that don’t need to be paid for until they’ve been won by donors.

To solicit items, send silent auction donation request letters to corporate sponsors and individual donors. Your donation request letter should feel personal and heartfelt. Explain your nonprofit’s need and how the recipient’s support can help your organisation better reach its goals. Then, provide a firm call to action requesting specific items and explain the benefits of your partnership. 

Gamification

Encourage bidding by adding gamification elements to your silent auction. This will help your audience stay engaged—especially your virtual attendees if you’re hosting an online or hybrid auction—and compel your donors to give more throughout the event. 

To make your auction more lively, add the following gamification strategies:

  • Countdown clocks. Create a timer that counts down until the auction’s scheduled ending time. This creates urgency and encourages people to submit more bids before the event is over. If you’re hosting an in-person auction, you can project this on a screen in your venue. For a remote or hybrid event, prominently feature the countdown in your mobile bidding application, website, or live stream.  
  • Leaderboards. Display your highest bidders on a scoreboard everyone can see to amp up participation. You can also feature your fundraising progress on a scoreboard so donors can see how close your nonprofit is to achieving its goal. This will encourage people to give more to support your cause. 
  • Prizes. Everyone loves winning prizes, so stir up some healthy competition by offering something special to top bidders. You can even divide your auction attendees into teams and reward the team that raises the most money before the end of the event. 

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Continue to offer donation opportunities throughout your event, along with incentives. This way, people that aren’t interested in bidding or can’t attend the event can still make an impact. Share your donation page link with event attendees and supporters through email and social media. 


Although silent auctions require thorough planning, they are well worth the extra effort! A successful silent auction will engage your donors and help them feel more connected to your organisation. Plus, they have excellent revenue potential, making this a great event for your organisation and its attendees. 

Get started early by investing in silent auction software and brainstorming item ideas. Keep in mind your target audience and make sure the auction is a memorable experience for all in attendance regardless of its format. When your donors are engaged, your organisation will be able to reach and even surpass its fundraising goal! 

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