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An In-Depth Guide to Planning a Silent Auction


An In-Depth Guide to Planning a Silent Auction

(Photo : Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA from Pexels)

If you're planning a school fundraiser, a silent auction may be the specific type you're thinking about. A silent auction has a lot of benefits.

For example,silent auctions don't have an auctioneer, so it's a cheaper, quieter, more low-key way for people to bid on items. There can be some downsides, too, however.

The following is what you need to know to plan a silent auction.

What is a Silent Auction?

In a silent auction, similar to traditional types of fundraisers, attendees bid on prizes. Sponsors donate those prizes. Then, the highest bidder, of course wins the award, and the proceeds go toward your school or organization.

Your attendees write their bids on a sheet of paper rather than having an auctioneer, which is where the name silent comes from. Throughout the evening, if your bidders have their eye on something particular, they can come back to the sheet to raise their initial bid.

If your school is worried about the COVID issue that's ongoing right now, you can also do an online silent auction.

If you decide to do mobile bidding or an online auction, think about the following. Is your audience going to be comfortable enough with technology to facilitate online bidding or an online auction? Some audiences might not be entirely comfortable with online auctions or mobile bidding, but if you're doing a school fundraiser primarily for parents, this is probably something they'll be good with.

For your silent auction, you could either make public bid sheets, or you could give each person their own attached bid sheet to provide more privacy.

To go back to the idea of a mobile or online auction, this gives you the benefit of privacy with simplicity. When you use software or mobile technology, if a bidder is outbid, they can quickly place another bid. Some platforms allow for automatic bids. Mobile technology can also close the auction, confirm winning bids and take payments.  

Comparing the Pros and Cons of Different Types of Auctions

If you are still comparing the options between a silent auction, an online auction, or a live auction, there are pros and cons to each.

With a live auction, undoubtedly, the most significant benefit is that it's exciting. The auctioneer becomes like a skilled entertainer, making sure the energy stays high. There's also a sense of competition that develops. That competitive spirit can bring in higher bids than you might have gotten otherwise.

A live auction will usually bring bids that are close or even higher than the market value of the prizes. Silent auctions tend to get in around half of the market value on average.

With a silent auction, it's better for a more low-key audience or as an addition to another event. Silent auctions also tend to be more favored by female participants than live auctions.

If you have items that need to be tried on or seen up close and personally, the silent auction format will frequently work best.

Online auctions are excellent right now because of COVID restrictions and concerns that remain. It might be your only option at this current moment, in fact.

When you do an online auction, you won't need as many volunteers to help you set up a space or create displays. You can use a few volunteers to facilitate pretty much everything.

The Three Fundamentals

There are three main fundamentals that you need to put in place to host a school silent auction fundraiser.

The first is planning.

Planning is when you're going to hammer out the details. For example, what's your budget, what is your date, and what is your timeline? What format will you use? Who will you need to work with from outside your organization to make your fundraiser work?

From there, you'll need to begin to think about prizes. You want the right prizes that are targeted to your audience and are going to be price-appropriate. You might also want to find businesses and organizations that want to do sponsorship packages.

The third fundamental is publicity.

Your publicity roles will include social media, more traditional marketing and promotions, and in-person networking.

So how long do you need to put in place the fundamentals?

You should try to start planning anywhere from six to nine months ahead of time if possible. You can do it in three months or less, but you're going to have to buckle down and give it your full attention.

Forming An Auction Committee

A lot of work can go into a silent auction for a school, so having a set auction committee is critical.

This means that you're going to have a team of people, each of whom might have their own role in getting prizes and organizing.

The goal of your committee should be to bring in the prizes that are going to appeal to your target audience and get you maximum financial returns.

This might rely on their negotiating and sales skills as well as their personal connections.

You can break your committee up into a few groups. You can have an auction chair or a couple of chairs. They're the directors of the event, from start to finish. You can have a team in charge of procuring donations, and then you can have a logistics team. Your logistics team will handle things like venue selection and ticketing.

The Logistics

Once you have an auction committee in place, you can begin to drill down to some of the specifics for your auction.

For example, what will your date or possibly date range be?

What's your budget and your venue if you need one? Is your silent auction going to be part of a larger event?

How many attendees are you expecting, and what's your needed timeline for planning?

You need to set goals as well because having specific, measurable goals is going to help you track your progress as you're planning.

If you aren't sure where to start with setting goals, a good place can be looking at similar past events and seeing how they did and where you'd like to improve on that.

Collecting the Best Auction Items

At the core of your success for your event are the items you're able to procure. If you can't secure great donations, it's going to be challenging to maximize your revenue.

You really have to think about your audience and what's going to energize and excite them most.

For auctions in general, experience-based items seem to get the interest levels up more than material items, so keep that in mind. You want your donors to feel connected to your event, which you can develop with experiences, plus they're likely to bring in more money.

Some of the most popular categories for auction items include:

  • Travel-it doesn't have to be luxury travel. You can auction off travel experiences that are located nearby.
  • Outings-these can include things like spa days, tickets to an event, or maybe a tour. Outdoor activities and theme park tickets are other good options.
  • Sports tickets-consider the home teams where your audience is with this category. Along with tickets to sports events, consider sports-related activities like golf outings or spin classes. Yoga classes and ski passes are other good options.
  • Music-most people love music, and there's a lot you can do in this category. You might auction off a music lesson with a local professional, for example, or maybe concert tickets with backstage passes.
  • Food-this can be a sensory experience, so think about gift certificates to restaurants or wine dinners. You can also work to secure a private chef for a night or cooking classes. Another big hit that's both material and experiential is a food gift basket.

So, where do you start to collect these items?

Friends and family are the natural first choice.

You know these people best, so it makes sense.

From there, after you've gone through personal connections, you should start posting to social media accounts.

Then, brainstorm a potential donor list and create an outreach list that's more specific after you've brainstormed.

Once you have these things in place, you can begin your outreach. Spend time each day emailing or calling people on your list, and make sure you're getting your committee and volunteers involved as well.

When you're soliciting donations, you want to ensure that you're letting potential donors know about the marketing opportunity they're going to get by participating. You might have a one-sheeter prepared that will tell them more about your audience so they know who they will be promoting themselves in front of. You can provide some demographic details about expected attendees to entice donors.

Finally, when you get donations, make sure you write thank-you notes at the end of your event. This will help you form long-lasting relationships that you may be able to leverage for your next school fundraiser or event. 

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