If you’re a nonprofit seeking to plan your first silent auction, look no further than this comprehensive guide to planning your next silent auction from start to finish.
What is a silent auction?
A silent auction is a type of fundraising event. The nonprofit organizing this fundraiser will provide event attendees with various silent auction items for bidding. In an in-person event, attendees can bid on silent auction items by recording their bids on paper. However, silent auctions can be hosted virtually, with bids placed using online bidding tools or apps. After the auction period closes, the highest bidders will receive their items, and the organization will receive the profits from the bidding process.
Why should I host a silent auction?
Silent auctions are optimal for fundraising because they mutually benefit bidders and your organization. In addition, these fundraisers are a great way to give back to your nonprofit’s supporters with unique items. If you can offer valuable silent auction items to your attendees, you have the potential to delight with unique gifts while raising a significant amount of funds for your organization.
Most of the functions of a silent auction are similar to that of a typical auction; there will typically be a starting bid amount for each item and a minimum bid amount. The main difference is that silent auctions, as their name implies, allow for a more orderly and calm bidding process.
How many items should a silent auction have?
The number of items you offer for auction depends on the attendees you expect. Creating an RSVP list beforehand or studying the turnout of similar silent auction events in your area can help you to determine how many items to offer. Generally, it’s a good idea to provide at least enough auction items to create a variety of starting bids, ensuring that all attendees can participate and find something within their budget to bid on.
How can I acquire silent auction items?
Quality silent auction items at an affordable price can be difficult to source, especially if you’re interested in offering vouchers or certificates for rare, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Luckily, numerous companies donate gift cards, inkind donations, gift baskets, and more to nonprofit organizations. Donation requests are undoubtedly one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to source silent auction items.
If you’re interested in acquiring silent auction items for free, we’ve listed information for donors to whom you can easily submit a donation request. Select any of the links below to find lists of donor companies who can support your next auction event.
Discover nine themed gift basket ideas—like a Globetrotter Travel Fanatic Basket or Craft Beer Sampler Basket—with a list of items to include in the basket. As a bonus, donation request forms for each item are linked!
If you prefer to find a pre-assembled basket instead, we’ve also included a list of companies that donate carefully curated baskets to you.
Find donation request information for 17 companies who accept donation requests via online forms or email. With nationwide chains to local favorites that donate various products—including gift cards, food, entertainment and sporting event tickets, gift baskets, arts and crafts goods, and personal care products – you’re sure to find some great ideas for silent auction items.
If you’re unsure where to begin your silent auction items, search for what things you’re looking for, and look no further than this list of donor companies that donate in every product category imaginable. See donation request form links for airlines, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retailers, beauty and fashion companies, and more than donate to silent auctions.
What are items that sell best at silent auctions?
You might be curious about what items will be most popular amongst your attendees. This depends on your expected audience and their passions. Consider your attendees’ interests in your organization’s values, their age, and what items or experiences might be attractive to them.
Some of the most famous silent auction items you can offer are those that attendees might not be able to get anywhere else. Consider luxury, rare, or high-quality experiences and products, which make for great silent auction items because of their exclusivity.
Some silent auction items might be less costly and more common, but they can be equally valuable to your attendees. You might consider food and wine pairings; for example, these are simple yet quality items for any winning bidder to enjoy.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of ideas for some of the most famous silent auction items you can offer at your next event.
- Luxury experiences and items
You can make your silent auction attractive by offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences that bidders might not find anywhere else. For example, luxury experiences might include travel or cruise packages, fine dining, relaxing spa treatments, or event tickets to see a show. If you’d like to auction products instead, consider designer bags and clothing, rare art pieces, or unique home decor accessories.
- Hotel and resort stays
Hotel and resort stays make vacations more accessible and affordable, making them a popular choice for silent auction items. High-end resort vouchers for a free night’s visit can be highly valuable but difficult to get your hands on. Don’t forget to look for unique hotel experiences, such as themed hotels with extravagant decor or boutique inns with a rich history. These can be just as attractive to attendees, depending on their interests.
- Travel experiences
Another valuable option is a travel package, which can offer your attendees the chance at a destination vacation. In addition, many commercial airlines offer ticket donations, making acquiring these silent auction items easier. Yet another benefit of auctioning travel experiences is that airline ticket donations and paper certificates are perfect for virtual events since they’re easy to mail to your attendees.
- Sports memorabilia or game tickets
Bidders might enjoy autographed or rare sports team memorabilia, perfect for a nostalgic crowd or silent auction events in a city with a historic sports team. But, if you’re looking to offer an experience instead, tickets to the next game can be an excellent choice for anyone passionate about your city’s team.
- Food and Wine
Artisan foods and fine wines are simple but effective silent auction items. Quality cheeses, chocolates, charcuterie, and wines—or all four bundled in a gift basket—are all excellent choices for any foodies at your silent auction that enjoy the finer things in life. If you’re not sure where to source these items, consider both luxury brands and local producers that might offer small-batch specialty products or regional favorites.
- Gift baskets
Look no further than gift baskets if you’re looking for a no-hassle idea for your silent auction items. Many companies pre-assembled gift baskets, making it easy for you to create a bundle of exciting silent auction items with little to no effort.
- Entertainment admission tickets
Tickets to museums and amusement parks can make excellent silent auction items for all ages, especially bidders with children. In addition, museum tickets—especially for admission to that niche museum in your area with one-of-a-kind collections—can offer an exciting educational experience.
- Group tours and activities
Vouchers and other certificates for group experiences are a great way for attendees to share the joy of their silent auction items with their family and friends. Wine and food tours, scavenger hunts in a city, or escape rooms can all be great opportunities for attendees who prefer quality time and experiences to physical gifts.
- Classes and memberships
Vouchers and classes are other popular choices. This is especially true for virtual events, where you’ll need to ship silent auction items to attendees; because they’re compact and lightweight, paper certificates can be quickly delivered in the mail. Classes can include anything from jewelry-making or knitting workshops to fitness or yoga sessions to gourmet cooking classes.
Memberships or subscriptions eliminate the hassle of shipping silent auction items to your attendees. Instead, you might consider classic magazine subscriptions or subscription boxes, which deliver a package of surprise goods every month. Most parcels are themed and filled with sample-size, trendy goods—with categories like cultural food, cosmetics, beauty, teas, coffees, or flowers—which makes it easy to select a subscription box that your attendees will love.
- Jewelry and beauty products
Skincare regimens are an emerging trend, which might make these beauty products a trendy silent auction item. Likewise, jewelry and watches can make for unique silent auction items, particularly if they’re hand-crafted, rare or historical editions, or made with amazing gemstones and materials.
About the author
This guide was authored by TheShareWay, a directory with over 800 donor companies and donation forms that make applying for a charitable donation easier. Sophisticated filters that allow you to sort by donation item type, your location, what causes a company prefers to donate to and more will direct you to the perfect donor for your next event.