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The Silent Auction: A Crash Course

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There are all kinds of fundraising formats. If you run a charitable group or some entity for which you’re trying to raise money, you first must pick one if you’re going to hold an event. Silent auctions are one of the most popular varieties, so that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Most people know how a traditional auction works, with individuals bidding on items. With charitable events, you’ll have to figure out what items or experiences individuals or entities can contribute on which people might want to bid.

The difference between a silent auction and a traditional one is that with the silent version, people can bid on the items or experiences through mobile bidding software or paper bid sheets. There’s no auctioneer present. You simply bid on the experience or item through the bid sheets or software.

Setting Up a Silent Auction

When you’re organizing and planning a silent auction, there are a few things to do to make sure that it goes smoothly and makes lots of money. First, you’ll want to collect the items or experiences that you feel will garner the most attention. Highly desirable events that a bidder can attend or things they can win will fetch the most money for your charity or organization.

You will also want to promote the event as much as possible. How you do that will depend on the organization you represent. For instance, if you’re trying to raise money for a religious institution, you might mention the silent auction after services. You can also post fliers about it and send emails to the congregation’s members.

If you’re attempting to raise cash for a school, you can mention the silent auction at PTA meetings. You can send promotional emails, or you can print ads for the auction and send them through the mail.

It Helps to Secure Corporate Sponsorship

If it makes sense based on the entity for which you’re trying to raise money, you can secure corporate sponsorship. Corporations definitely have a lot of power and influence. If you can bring some of them in on a silent auction, that will automatically raise its prestige.

If you utilize this strategy, though, you have to feel sure that the corporate entities you’re bringing in represent your value system. If you think the corporations you want to involve in this project have some questionable business practices, it’s probably best that you skip them in favor of others.

Organizing the Auction

You will also have to take pains to make sure that you have organized the silent auction down to the last detail. That means making sure you’ve promoted it enough and brought in the right sponsors, but also that you’ve selected a format that’s going to attract the most bidders.

During the pandemic, the silent auction format makes a lot of sense. You could almost say that this format is set up for a pandemic because, with a silent auction, people don’t necessarily need to gather in the same place. They can bid from remote locations, which means Covid-19 transmission is virtually impossible.

Make Sure to Follow Through on the Winning Bids

You need to make sure you have a way to collect the money from the winning bidders afterward. Generally, there’s an honor system in place. After someone wins, you quickly follow up over the next couple of days and figure out how they’re going to get you the money they promised.

Maybe that means collecting their credit card information, and if so, you have to make sure you can secure that sensitive data. Perhaps you agree to take a check or even cash. You’ll have to make sure you collect that money in the safest way possible.

Once you have that money, you need to hand over the items or set up the experiences as quickly as you can. The winners will be eager to get their items or to take part in the experiences they won. Sometimes, that might be a meal with a celebrity or someone they admire.

A silent auction is a valuable tool, but you also don’t want to overexpose it. It’s probably appropriate that you have one or two per year for your entity or organization, tops.

If you do it any more than that, the novelty will likely wear off, and you will not be able to generate as much interest. Part of why this works is that people view it as a special event.



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