Silent Auction Guide

Thinking about running a silent auction? This can be a great way to raise money for your charity and to engage your supporters. Whether you are a charity, non-profit organisation, fundraising for a school or holding an event, silent auctions are a great fundraising technique for any event.

The aim of this article is to take you through the basics of how to run a silent auction and to give you an overview of the types of methods you can do to benefit your fundraising.

Table of Contents

— How Does a Silent Auction Work
How to Raise Money
— Bidding Styles
— Step By Step Guide to Organise a Silent Auction Yourself
Online and In-Person Silent Auctions

coins in the jar

How does a silent auction work?


Silent auctions are extremely popular at all types of events. They can either be the main attraction or take place in the background of the evening. Either way, they are a fantastic form of entertainment and a vital source of fundraising. A Superstars silent auction consists of a professional display of auction lots, letting your guests see if anything catches their eye. At the event, dependent on whether you go for paper bidding or electronic bidding your audience can then bid on the lots.
The silent auction aims to raise money for the charity: guests bid against each other throughout the event evening on the variety, raising money and winning prizes for themselves.

How does it raise money?

Product selection is the most important aspect of an auction as it can make or break the auction. Having desirable products for your audience to browse from should spark bidding wars. Also, make sure that there is something for everyone. The higher the percentage of participation – the more likely it is to raise more money from the auction!

It’s important to try to maximise the number of donated items you have in your auction. They can be sourced from your supporters and the local community. There are pros and cons to doing this: one of the pros is that you get to keep 100% of the proceeds raised. A negative is that it can take weeks to find desirable items for your event, and some items can be difficult to find, and companies may not be willing to give them away.

A solution to this is to compromise and work with a silent auction provider that owns their stock. They have done all the hard work for you! They are known within this area of business and can provide you with desirable lots that will sell well at events and, of course, raise you more money. You’ll find that auction lots provided by a silent auction company will be on a sale or return basis and come with a supply price, which is what they’ll retain if the item sells. The company will often add a 10% margin built into the first bid of an auction, which will be the reserve price on a lot. Anything above the reserve price will also go to the charity. This strategy will allow your auction to have the best of both and provide the extensive variety needed for a successful auction.

Bidding styles


What are the options?

The type of bidding style you go for is very important and is determined by the structure of your event. It is valuable to take the time to decide which bidding option would be best suited for your event and how it will suit your supporters. These two bidding types are very different from each other, both have many benefits, and each should be carefully considered.

Paper bidding

A traditional type of bidding is through a paper-based brochure, and many auction providers will offer this. To place a bid, the bidder will need to fill in their details at the start of the brochure and then bid on the items they like in the box provided. The brochure will show each auction item, a title, description, reserve price and section for the bid to be placed. It is a wonderful way for your guests to flick through and browse the lots throughout the evening.

This traditional method of bidding encourages your guests to bid high as they don’t know what any of the bids are. It is something we call blind bidding and encourages your guest to outbid any other potential bids. This type of bidding can work with events of all sizes and any type of audience. It is a very manual type of bidding style, so each brochure will need to be collected to determine who was the highest bidder.

Electronic bidding

Another bidding style is electronic bidding. At your event, iPad’s will be placed on the tables, and the bidding will be interactive. The iPad will act as a bidding platform showcasing all of the lots available. Guests then sign up by generating a PIN. Once they have this, they can bid throughout the evening. This style of bidding requires a lot of screen time to show a live leader board promoting the new bids and the auction lots on offer. It is an exciting style of bidding, and it can add competitiveness and excitement to your event.

This bidding style can be used as a form of entertainment for the evening. You could even showcase the auction items before the event or during to entice your supporters of what they can bid on before the auction goes live. It’s an exciting form of entertainment and can set a lively atmosphere for the event. This method would require additional support from a silent auction company and could potentially have a cost.

Step by Step guide to organise and run an auction yourself. The basics

You’ve now got an idea of what a silent auction is, how it can benefit your charity, and what style of bidding would work well. Now it’s time to plan! Here are the basics to planning your event with a silent auction:

Who are you supporting

Are you a charity or a non-profit organisation looking to raise money? Are you a school or golf club looking to hold a fundraising event? No matter what, you’ll have supporters willing to participate in your event but spark their interest! Let them know of the exciting things you have planned for the charitable cause!

Pre event

Prior to the event, it is important to communicate to your guests about what fundraising activities there will be on the night. At the point of selling tickets, this could be a good opportunity to let your guests know that there will be a silent auction on the evening.


Depending on your event, whether it is a gala dinner or a golf day, decide where would be best to set up an auction to showcase your products.


Your whole auction revolves around the items that are on offer! What will you include in your auction? You will need to have auction lots that your supporters will want to bid on. It is the heart of any auction! It can be challenging to create a wide selection of products for an auction that are desirable and have enough products to create variety. It can be difficult to find items for your auction without a provider. The best way to do this would be to ask the community or businesses to see if they would like to donate any items to your auction.

Here are a few ideas that you can do to get in donated items.

Ask the local community
Do you have a local cake shop or a keen baker in your local area? Cakes are a great lot to add to your auction! A cake is a must on any special occasion and will be a keen item for anyone to bid on.

Local Restaurants and family-owned businesses
A voucher for a meal out with the family or even a voucher for a free bottle of wine at your next visit!

Local Cleaning Services
Get your house cleaned for the day! A perfect auction lot to bid on to get your house cleaned from top to bottom!

Creative Arts in the area
Do you know anyone that is a keen knitter, a pottery maker, jewellery designer… the list goes on! There are always ideas out there for donated items for your silent auction!

Bidding Style

Bid sheets will be the best option if you are not after help from a silent auction provider. What you’ll need to include on a bid sheet is the name of the bidder, space for their email and telephone number, the name of the item, the reserve price of the item and a place for your supporters to make a bid!

On the night

The auction will require a team of staff members to make sure it goes smoothly and that guests understand what to do and how to bid. They must also understand what products are being auctioned to answer any possible questions. It would be beneficial for the host on the night to guide your guests through the auction process. At the end of the evening, let the winners know they have won, or they’ll get a surprise when you call them the next morning!

Payments and shipping

There are a lot of elements to a silent auction that you will need to take into consideration. Informing winning bidders of their prizes, taking payments, organising the prize to be delivered. Bid sheets will make the process easier as the winning bidders will have written their contact information there!

The process is down to you: you can either announce the winners to the audience and get them to come up and collect their auction lot. This strategy would work well if you are using the silent auction as a form of entertainment as it adds excitement to who has won the auction! If you would like your auction to be a bit more ‘silent’, then you can contact your winning bidder the following day and arrange delivery. It can be done either by phone call or even a winner’s text to say congratulations! 

Donated items and shipment: this can either be a voucher to send out to the winning bidder via post or, if it’s a physical item such as a pottery selection, you can do a hand delivery to the winning bidder or arrange delivery through the post office or local courier. 

different auction items

Online and In-Person Silent Auctions

Let’s talk about online auctions and in-person silent auctions and how they can impact your silent auction.
An in-person silent auction is commonly known as a traditional auction, and the main difference between the two is that one will take place at your own home and the other at a live event. An in-person auction, of course, is where you can physically see the items, and it gives you an idea of size, an opportunity for your supporters to ask questions about the lots! A silent auction at an event can create much more bidding activity as there’s more of an atmosphere.

Here are pros to an in-person silent auction:

— You can socialise with your audience.
— Guests can see the auction lots in person and bid – this clears any doubts they might have about the auction.
— Guests can take the auction lot away on the night!
— It can be a fun and competitive experience.
— With the competitive energy in the air, your guests might bid more!

Cons to a silent auction:

— It only lasts one night.
— Auction lots are only seen by those attending the silent auction unless you look at a hybrid of both – keep an eye out on future blogs to hear about this.

Online auctions are, of course, online! With the development in technology and events not possible due to COVID, this is a new fundraising approach. Online auctions are very convenient and can be set up for a longer amount of time, and can go out to a larger audience. It can also be convenient for your supporters as they can bid from the comfort of their own home! Think of an online auction like eBay: you see an item you like, and you fight to bid against your competitors to win the bid!

The good thing about an online auction is that it can reach a larger audience. Not only you can send it out to your supporters, but you can also promote your auction to the local community, on social media, in newspapers, radio, any marketing that with an audience that can view your website. Online actions open up the door not only to your supporters but also to any potential supporters.

Here are some pros of an online auction:

— You can run your online auction for as long as you like!
— The website can be promoted online to reach larger audiences.
— Your supporters might have their eye on an item for a few days before they bid!
— The costs to run an online auction are a lot lower than to hold an event.

— The bidders can’t see the items in persons
— The bidders can’t speak with a member of staff about the auction in person
— The atmosphere of a live event will be missing

Or do both!!
If you have an event planned, why not set up your online auction website so that guests can use their phones on the night to bid! You wouldn’t have to worry about bid sheets as it would all be online!


    Holding a silent auction can seem quite daunting, but it is and can be really fun, exciting and, of course, can maximise you’re fundraising. Remember there are two main things to focus on when holding a silent auction, your supporters and your product going into the auction! Everything else is an added benefit to help improve your event.