The 5 Steps to Launching a Silent Auction

cartoon version of auction bidding process

Silent auctions have the potential to bring in a lot of money for your organization, but you have to be careful about how you set them up and see them through.

The more organized you are from the outset, the more you’ll be able to count on success—and profit. Conversely, a disorganized silent auction can end up draining more of your time and resources than it’s worth. So if you’re going to plan one, you need to make sure you’re doing it right.

At Bid Beacon, we provide valuable tools to help organizations of every size and type carry out silent auctions successfully. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t—so here are 5 steps we recommend for anyone who wants their silent auction to go off without a hitch.

Step 1: Strategize

You’ll want to start strategizing months before the auction itself. This is the step where you’ll put together your silent auction committee, select a chairperson to oversee the proceedings, and make key decisions about the purpose of your silent auction. Be sure to:

  • Choose your audience. Who will this auction target? What’s their average income level, and what items are they likely to bid on?
  • Set a fundraising goal. How much money do you want to raise with this event? Review previous silent auctions your organization has put on to determine what’s realistic and identify successful trends.
  • Set a time and place. When will your silent auction take place? Most fundraising happens during the last three months of the year. December is statistically the most successful month for fundraising—but also the busiest. It’s also useful to look at special events throughout the year that might connect to your audience and plan your auction around them.
If you’re hosting a physical auction, the venue you choose will also be important. Choose a location that’s seasonally appropriate, and which has room for both your items and guests. Consider hosting your auction online using Bid Beacon, allowing in-person guests and supporters who aren’t attending the event to participate virtually.

  • Begin marketing. Once you know where and when your auction is happening, it’s time to announce the event and start building awareness amongst your audience members. Send out save-the-date emails and social media reminders.

Step 2: Collect

This is the step where you’ll need to finalize exactly how your silent auction is going to work. That means finding a platform to host it on (even if you’re doing a physical auction), populating it with your items and sponsors, and sending out invites. Begin this step at least 2-4 months away from the event and keep it going right up until it begins.

  • Create the event. Even if you’re holding a physical silent auction, it’s a good idea to create the event on a digital platform like Bid Beacon. Doing so gives you tools for inviting your guests, cataloging items, setting up payment methods, and featuring your sponsors. It also lets guests participate in-person or virtually, which opens your event up to a larger audience.
  • Add item descriptions and images. Make sure the donations you’ve confirmed with sponsors have accurate descriptions and high-quality photos. The more information you give your audience about what they’re bidding on, the more compelling those items will be.
  • Set up payments and shipping. Make sure you’ve planned out how you’re going to take payments and send items to the guests who win them after the event. Bid Beacon simplifies this process by accepting payment via Paypal, Stripe, and Square.
  • Set up bid sheets. How will your guests actually place their bids during the event? You’ll either need to obtain physical sheets and make plans to monitor them during the event, or use an app like Bid Beacon to let guests place bids electronically.

Step 3: Build

Plan on sending this campaign out as soon as you have solidified your mailing list and the date, time, and location for your auction. This initial email campaign should act as an introduction to your fundraising event. The goal is to create awareness, generate excitement, and give your invitees plenty of time to plan and save the date.

To create awareness:

  • Make sure you provide all the key pieces of information relating to your silent auction (date, time, venue, etc.).
  • Provide some background information on what cause you’re fundraising for and who’s involved.
  • If you have any sponsors lined up already, this is a great time to acknowledge them.
  • If you have a fundraising goal in mind, mention that as well.

To generate excitement:

  • Showcase one or more of the available auction items. Think of this as a little teaser for your invitees.
  • Remember to provide appropriate details for any items previewed in your campaign. What makes these items exciting, and why should people want to bid on them?
  • Remember to include professional-looking photos! A picture really is worth a thousand words (especially when it comes to emails, which should aim to be clear and concise instead of lengthy).

Step 4: Launch

Now we come down to running the event itself. This is where you’ll want to keep track of who’s participating in your auction, how they’re placing bids, and what items are receiving the most attention. If you’re running a physical auction, this is also when you’ll need to have all your items delivered to the venue and make sure it’s fully staffed.

  • Set rules for bids. Make sure you’ve set appropriate starting bids for each of your items. Doing so will help you keep bidding competitive and result in higher proceeds.
  • Start the event. If you’re conducting a physical auction, you’ll conduct an “all hands” meeting with your employees or volunteers and distribute an event schedule. Then it’s time to welcome your guests.
  • Manage items. As guests bid on your items, make sure to keep track of how each item is doing. If you’re using Bid Beacon, you can simply view the status of each item in the app and add or remove items as long as the event is still running.
  • Oversee the live event. Keep track of your attendees and reply to in-app chat messages to answer questions. Use notifications to continue drumming up interest until the event has finished. 

Step 5: Wrap Up

Now that your event is over, you’ll need to wrap it up and plan the next one! Here are the key things you’ll need to do to close the book on your successful silent auction:

  • Collect proceeds. Make sure the guests who won your donation items pay for them! Collecting payment before you distribute items is highly recommended. Bid Beacon allows you to collect payments directly through the app or offline, according to your preference.
  • Distribute items. If you held a physical auction, guests may be able to pick up some or all of their items from you at the end of the event. If your event took place virtually, you’ll use the shipping methods you determined in Step 2.
  • Analyze the event. Collect information about how much money your event raised—and on which items performed best. These details and others will help you set appropriate targets and solicit effective donations for your next event. Bid Beacon provides these key performance indicators (and many others) automatically so you can leverage the data for continued success.
  • Send thank-yous and plan your next event. Finally, make sure to thank your guests—and your sponsors—for participating in your successful silent auction. Make sure you take this opportunity to remind them that there will be more events in the future, and encourage them to follow you for future opportunities to support your organization.

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