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How do I run a silent auction?

A silent auction

You’ve been to silent auctions at one time or another. You enter into a special area cordoned off from a main event or activity. You wander through tables covered with various items sitting next to bid sheets. You see something that catches your eye and you scribble your name and a bid on the piece of paper next to it. You come back 20 minutes later and add a new bid below the person who outbid you. You bid feverishly over the next few hours, and end up spending far more than you would normally spend for that item.

That’s the theory, at least. The biggest challenge with a silent auction is securing auction items that people will want to purchase. The reality is that finding decent items is a lot more difficult than when you first dreamed up the idea.

Some cautions.

Silent auctions appear at first glance to avoid ‘the ask’, but this appearance is deceptive. Usually, they double the amount of asking that you have to do. First, unless you are an artisan who can afford to donate all of the auction items, you’ll have ask for donations from businesses and individuals. Then you have to ask people to buy these donated items for substantially more than they are actually worth.

You do get to avoid the anxiety of the second half of the ask, because people will be wandering around looking at the items and signing the bid sheets. Hopefully.

The biggest weakness of the silent auction is that you’re not selling the mission, you’re selling ‘stuff’. I keep coming back to this point, but it is the central and fundamental key to successfully raising money. If you’re selling the mission, you’re fundraising. If the stuff that you’re selling is more compelling than you’re mission, you should consider dropping the mission and going into business full-time.

If you want to do it, do it right

Try to find a niche product category or overall theme for your silent auction. Donated art from local artists, sports memorabilia, travel packages, etc.

If you look in the link section, I’ve tried to direct you to some web experts who focus on silent auctions. The biggest thing about successfully raising money with this kind of enterprise is publicity and good bidding processes. There are a number of technology companies that facilitate good bidding processes, but they can be a little bit expensive.

So the keys to a good silent auction:

  1. Very prayerfully consider whether it’s worth your time doing it at all, or if there is another way to raise money that focuses more directly on your mission.
  2. Find good items that excite your potential donors.
  3. Try to publicize the items in advance so that people know what’s available.
  4. Use as much technology as you can afford to make the bidding process fun and easy.
  5. Have alcohol at the event. (No, I’m not kidding.)

Looking for more articles about charitable enterprises? Try these:

Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com.

Image courtesy of Chris Bohn, via Creative Commons License, some rights reserved.

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