Silent auctions are a popular way for nonprofit groups of all sizes to raise money and to engage current and prospective donors in their fund-raising efforts.
Here are five strategies to help ensure that your next silent auction is a smashing success.
- Place tables in a prominent location. Silent auctions are often part of a larger event, and sometimes the display tables are tucked in a corner or a secluded area with little foot traffic. That’s a mistake, says Rudolph “Rudy” Rosen, professor of charitable organization management at Texas State University and author of Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising. “Silent auctions should not be silent and invisible. Put [your setup] in a prominent location instead of jamming it in a corner. If people don’t have enough space to get to the tables, most won’t push others out the way.” Make sure there’s also enough room between the tables for people to view all items and to place bids easily.
- Match items to attendees. Local businesses are common donors of auction items, but Rosen cautions against collecting goods that didn’t sell in stores. “Whatever they can’t sell are things that people don’t need or want; for instance, a windup clock in a digital world,” he says. “I’ve seen auctions that look like garage sales.” To avoid a mishmash of items that’s unlikely to attract many bids, analyze who’s coming to your event, what items or services they may actually want, and how much they’re willing to spend (a $5,000 vacation package is a nice item, but not if attendees can only spend $1,000). “Where I live, people are going to go on trips anyway,” Rosen says. “Around Valentine’s Day, put up items that make good gifts for men and women: dinners at nice restaurants, flowers. That’s what people are looking for at that point in time.”
- Run successive auctions. One way to create a sense of urgency is to run several short auctions of about 30 to 45 minutes each instead of a single long auction throughout the evening. “You can have different kinds of silent auctions running that attract different groups of people: a gardening auction or an auction with tours,” Rosen notes. “If you auction similar items, that allows you to pick up the bidders [who] didn’t win items in the earlier auctions.”
- Decide how to handle unsold items. Sometimes all it takes to spur interest in an auction item is a starting bid, because some people are reluctant to be the first, Rosen says. “Announce, announce, announce, and project things on screens,” he says, adding that someone on your staff could place an opening bid to get the bidding started. “If no bids occur, you can return the merchandise or, if you’ve purchased it, you might decide to auction it off at a later date.”
- Use mobile payments. A mobile-payment system like GoPayment enables you to process credit card payments on the spot. No waiting for donors to mail checks. No need to pay hefty setup fees for traditional credit card processors. With the ease of GoPayment, donors can bid as much as they’d like with peace of mind that their payment will be simple and secure — and you get paid right away.