Is your non-profit organization looking to raise funds through a silent auction? Did you know that there are tried and true techniques to increase the monetary return of your investment of time and manpower? If you’re hoping to sell donated items for maximum dollars, then become silent auction savvy.
Before you start knocking on doors, ask your non-profit board of directors, “is a silent auction right for us”? Understand that it is hard work with an investment of time, people, and resources. A large portion of your investment is to plan and prepare for your silent auction fundraiser. If you decide to forge ahead, set your fundraising goal and determine your budget for expenses.
You are only as strong as your weakest link, so be sure to assemble two strong committees to handle all of the logistics. An auction committee is necessary to design all of the print materials used to solicit donors. This committee will secure enough quality donations for your auction goers to bid upon. A gala committee is needed to organize the event details. This committee will create a beautiful space with trouble-free bidding and checkout procedures.
According to Sherry Truhlar of Red Apple Auctions, there are three core elements to a successful silent auction. Ultimately, the two committees will address item acquisition, operations, and audience development. A silent auction is run like a business. Envision your silent auction as an exclusive boutique where shoppers are coming for a one-of-kind experience!
Firstly, there is no auction without items to bid on. The auction committee needs ample time to acquire donations. Take a look at the community directory. Locally, think of who likes to donate. Consider restaurants, jewelers, salons, gift shops, cinemas, and big box stores. Also, think of donors outside of the community. Out of town museums, amusement parks, golf courses, theatres, sports teams, and travel companies can generate big bids. Decide what types of items are best suited for your organization. For example, if it is a Mothers Against Drunk Driving fundraiser, the auction committee should not solicit liquor stores. If deemed appropriate, then liquor baskets and wine packages can fair quite well on the auction block.
If your auction will combine a live auction with a silent auction, then contemplate what items will sell better as a silent item or a live item. Try to have a diverse selection of items to bid on. Unique items and big ticket items usually sell well. Yet, not everyone has a big budget to spend at your event. Be sure to have some items of lesser value and lower price point.
The auction committee should design an “elevator speech” for each solicitor to recite that concisely explains who you are, what you are fundraising for, when the event is, why it is important, and how they can submit a donation. Consider a stamped return envelope for gift certificates and gift cards. Provide a brochure, flyer, or pledge form that includes all your pertinent information, but isn’t too wordy or lengthy. Headings and bullet format works well. Use organizational letterhead or logo regarding your print materials to lend credibility. Be sure to include a contact name, email address, and phone number for enquiries. Some companies will email their logo to be used during your silent auction.
Someone must be in charge of donations received. It is a good practice to pick up donations promptly. Track the donations on a spreadsheet. Assign each donation a number, name of item, item description, donor, donor contact information, retail value, and starting bid. This spreadsheet will help you to prep your bid
sheets, auction brochure, and thank you list. Spelling counts! There is much disappointment when a donor sees their name and/or business misspelled. When the donation is received, mark it with its number and file it away until auction time. Create a non-carbon duplicate bid sheet. One copy to be filed as “paid” at the checkout and one copy stamped “paid” for the buyer to collect their item at the claims station.
Secondly, you’ll consider the operations aspect of your event. How will the auction be set up? What is the décor or theme? What are the hours of operation? How will the displays and bid sheets look? Did you find a way to process credit cards and debit cards? How will the registration and check out process flow the best? Do you have enough volunteers? Will you have an orientation session for the people working your auction? Who is the primary trouble-shooter during the auction? A silent auction of any size requires enough people who clearly understand their roles.
Do you have a marketing strategy to get the word out about your silent auction? Think about posters, radio ads, newspaper ads, social media, and other communication mediums to promote the event. Remember to check organizational policies and procedures about communications. Get board approval before blasting it on the internet. Often, a designated spokesperson for the organization handles the communications.
Thirdly, the gala committee’s aim is to fill the room with supporters, plus new people who may be unfamiliar with your cause, but are looking for a fun time. Ideally, your target audience is people with disposable income to bid on items. Find yourself an engaging MC who is good at motivating people to bid. Remember that people give to people, so have representatives of your organization mill about the room. How about some clients or beneficiaries of the silent auction in attendance? Aside from the people side of things, the gala committee will consider things such as seating charts, ticket price, and how to react if people aren’t buying.
As you are now aware, it takes a lot of planning and preparation to organize a silent auction! An event like this can be a lot of work, but it has so much potential!
In the end, the committees will debrief to discuss the successes, challenges, and ways to improve next time around. Did your non-profit organization feel it was worth the investment of time, people, and resources? To interpret this, you must pre-determine what you will measure against. For example, did you stay within your budget? Did you reach your fundraising goal? Silent auctions are a great way to generate awareness about your cause. Will you factor in the social return on investment? Sometimes, it is about the story and not just the numbers. For example, did the event have a human impact on the attendees, clients, and volunteers? Collectively, discern if a silent auction is right for your organization as a fundraiser.
Watch for part two in November! Learn silent auction secrets such as designing your displays to attract bids. Plus, learn how to prevent check out blunders. Remember, your silent auction is like an exclusive boutique where shoppers are coming for a one-of-kind experience!