Fundraising and Auction Insights

Your Guide to Silent and Mobile Auctions

Silent auctions are an incredibly impactful fundraising tool, and a very popular one! If you’re thinking about hosting a silent auction for your cause, it’s important to know where to start.


Hosting a silent auction can seem daunting at first-- there's a lot of moving parts, worries about if people will bid, and an intimidating amount of preparation. However, a silent auction can let your guests interact with your organization face-to-face and build a deeper emotional connection with your cause. And, it can be a lot of fun!

Starting Off

Before considering the detailed planning aspects of a silent auction, there are three important components to consider: the connection to your cause, your goals, and the guest experience.

  1. The Connection to Your Cause:

If guests are going to pay to attend and spend a whole night with your organization, they have to feel connected to your cause. There are countless ways to do this, from the name of your event (like the “Heart Ball” events for heart disease) to adding donation auction items to centerpieces created by or featuring the people you serve.

The specific way you help your donor connect the auction to your cause is not what matters—but you need to make sure they make that connection. That connection is what makes the difference between one effective silent auction and an event that can raise funds year after year.

  1. Your Goals:

Understanding what your organization hopes to accomplish through your silent auction is important. This includes a fundraising goal, but also considerations like your target guest count, ways to follow up, and length of the event. Making sure that you and your team are all on the same page with each of these components will help to shape your decisions along the way.

Consider what is important to include in every area and what kind of investment you will make in it. It’s important to pay attention to what priority you place on:

  1. Auction items
  2. Staff hours
  3. Food and Drinks
  4. Supplies
  5. Entertainment

Having a comprehensive goal and plan for these elements will help your event to run smoothly and avoid last minute misunderstandings.

  1. The Guest Experience:

The final consideration, though by no means the least important, is the guest experience. The people attending your silent auction are giving up their time and money in support of your cause, and you want to be sure to honor that commitment. Making sure the event runs smoothly for guests and is both enjoyable and memorable all goes a long way to ensure that your guests want to come back.

On the practical side of things, it is vitally important to think through the guest experience at each stage of your event. Problems like long lines at check-in, difficulty bidding, and slow check-out at the end of the event will frustrate your guests and make them less likely to stay engaged. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these common issues through mobile auction bidding software and planning. On a more intangible note, think through whether the guests will remember this event.

What sets your event apart from other occasions they may attend?

There are many ways to distinguish your event. Perhaps you can feature a personal testimony of someone you’ve helped. Focusing on stories can be particularly meaningful for your donors, especially if the story is told by the actual person who is impacted or they are featured. Or have someone handcraft a parting gift, even if it is as simple as a small signed card. Those personal touches and connections to your cause will keep you at the top of your donors’ minds.

If those tactics might be hard, think of doing a special part of your program or event. Feature a local celebrity who cares about your organization, pick an interesting venue, or find some other element that will set your event apart.


 Considering these three elements before you begin the rest of your planning will help you to create an interesting, memorable event that garners support for your organization.

10 Details to Keep in Mind

  1. Start early:
    An effective silent auction takes months to pull together, especially since many of the pieces require waiting on other people. Most venues for larger events book a year or more out, and silent auction items can take a great deal of time to get together. The earlier you start, the better prepared you can be.

  1. Grow your team:

One of the challenges of planning a silent auction is getting enough help. Your nonprofit might run very lean, or you might be the only person focused on the event. Make sure to solicit volunteers or other staff members for help. For one thing, it will make getting silent auction items much easier, as different people have different connections. Further, it will also make sure your silent auction has an interesting variety. Other people will think of ideas you never would have—don’t assume everyone wants what you want.

  1. Organization is key:

Having a system in place for how to pursue auction items, how to keep track of who has been contacted, and for cataloguing items as they come in is absolutely essential. The last thing you want is an item misplaced or a frustrated donor who received one too many emails. Make sure to keep track of everything in one centralized location, especially if multiple people are working on the event. A common spreadsheet or document, hosted in something like Google Sheets, will go a long way to streamline the process and improve communication.

  1. Build buzz:

All of the work you are putting into the event doesn’t mean much if no one shows up! Think through a strategic marketing plan to build buzz for the event and get early RSVPs. Design a postcard or invitation in a tool like Canva and send it to all of your best supporters. Include other VIPs on the list, too! Follow up with an email or phone call to your biggest donors, and post about the event on your local events websites—most of those postings are free and can bring in new guests! Consider reaching out to social media influencers in your area and partnering with them to promote the event, as well.  Finally, make sure that guests can register and find all the information they need right online.

Once you have all of your auction items together, one other way to build buzz before the event is to let guests have a sneak peak of auction items. Your auction event software should help with this.

  1. Make sure you have the right tools:

Speaking of auction event software, make sure that you find a great product that will streamline your event. Almost all silent auctions these days utilize mobile bidding solutions that allow your guests to place bids right on their smartphones. Products like iBid will help you showcase your auction, streamline registration with phone check-in, distribute receipts, and close out the event easily and efficiently. Further, this can reduce the amount of staff needed to run the auction by automating bidding and administration.

Do your research before you choose a platform—it’s important to consider fees included, whether support is available, and whether you can customize it to look like your cause. For example, iBid also allows supporters who couldn’t attend the event to bid from off-site—increasing your revenue and allowing you to include friends of the organization who had a conflict.

Another consideration is to have guests use a tool like OneClick Registrationfrom iBid to keep information secure and add payment information ahead of time. During the event, guests can use mobile bidding to place bids on their phone and even set up alerts when they are outbid. When the event is over, guests can check out quickly without waiting in line—all they have to do is pick up their items from volunteers.

  1. Focus on experiences:

    Pair your silent auction with an interesting event, like an annual gala, golf tournament, back to school night, or anniversary celebration. As you build your auction item list, make sure that it focuses primarily on experiences, as these tend to generate the most interest and bidding. Acquire items like:

  1. Luxury items like fine wines
  2. Vacations or hotel getaways
  3. Sport tickets or signed memorabilia
  4. Cultural event tickets like art shows, operas, and theaters
  5. Restaurant gift certificates
  6. Unique opportunities, like a chef’s dinner, behind-the-scenes tour, or lunch with a local celebrity

Items like these will help your event raise funds and will keep donors coming back next time.

  1. Pick your crowd:

Make sure you decide on what level of sophistication and monetary investment you are encouraging. Your items should match the level of your guests—if your donors tend to be simpler, suburban folks, a trendy bar in the city may not appeal. On the other hand, high-powered business people may not want a hand-sewn quilt from another donor. As always, there are exceptions to every rule and it is worth trying things out, but be careful that you are considering the appeal of a venue or auction item before you make a decision.

  1. Walk through the guest’s journey:

Identify pain points beforehand.

One of the biggest mistakes of auction organizers is overlooking pain points. Things like parking, registration lines, dietary restrictions, and flow of the event can all have a significant negative impact on the experience of your guests. Make sure to check on all of these items with your venue and team, and automate everything you can. The less people have to wait for someone else to finish registering and the easier their experience is, the better time they will have. Happy guests are helpful guests—and that means serious donations to your cause.

Additionally, think through where things will be placed at your venue. You don’t want to have auction items crammed too close, as things will get lost in the clutter. Make sure there is plenty of space for all of your auction packages, and that the setup encourages people to mill around and view all the items—you don’t want some packages overlooked because they are place out of the common space.

Make sure everyone’s a winner.

Even after you identify the crowd that will attend your event, it’s still important to consider how to make sure every guest has something meaningful to take home from the event. However, that doesn’t mean you should have an item up for auction for every guest—most event planners recommend having one auction package for every 2-3 guests.

Most event planners recommend having one auction package for every 2-3 guests.

If you end up with many items, try packaging them together to create more interesting combinations. Find other ways to include those who don’t win those bids, such as a wine pull, mystery gift card purchase, arts or crafts made by those you help, or even small but meaningful mementos.

  1. End well and on time:

Make sure that you stick to the time you listed on your invitation, and that you don’t have the event drag on too long. You want to be sure to impact your donors but avoid boring them—a concise and meaningful event will go a long way to staying at the top of your donors’ minds.

  1. Follow up:

Follow up with your goals and your guests. Analyze what goals you succeeded in and which ones you want to do better on in the future. Think about goals beyond financial ones or guest counts—like awareness and the guest experiences. One easy way to measure if guests had a good time is by sending post-event surveys to your attendees. And when you send your guests a follow up, you’ll want to thank them and provide a report of the impact of the event. If you can tie the financials to a specific tangible action, like how many meals provided or books purchased or something similar, that will help donors continue to feel connected to your cause.

There are many components to running a successful silent auction. Make sure you’ve considered all the angles and are prepared to run a smooth, profitable event. And remember to enjoy it! You have the opportunity to gather your supporters for a time of fun and significance—they’ll be sure to thank you.