Hosting a Silent Auction: 5 Top Tips for Your Association

Hosting a Silent Auction: 5 Top Tips for Your Association

After sitting through so many virtual meetings, chances are your association members are thrilled to get back to in-person events and fundraisers. A silent auction is a great way to get back into the swing of things. Silent auctions have the potential to garner tons of revenue and generate excitement with members. 

Silent auctions pair incredibly well with other events, and will help you to maximize fundraising revenue. In this guide, we’ll answer some of the questions you may have about silent auctions:

  • What is a silent auction?

  • What are some best practices for holding a silent auction?

Silent auctions require preparation and organization to be as successful as possible. Sometimes, this prep process can even take months, but it’s always worth it in the end! To make a splash with your next silent auction, your association should follow best practices such as forming a planning committee and investing in silent auction software. 

Let’s dive in! 

What is a silent auction?

A silent auction is similar to a traditional auction in many ways. At this event, attendees bid on the items featured in the auction by calling out bids and holding paddles, and the item is sold to the highest bidder. 

However, at a silent auction, there is no shouting or paddles. The attendees write their bid down or otherwise submit it to the organization to indicate that they want the item. The most effective silent auctions invest in an online auction solution so attendees can place their bids by submitting them through a convenient online auction platform.

Silent auctions can be used as a fundraising strategy for your association. These fundraisers can stand alone, allowing you to collect the bids participants make on the auctioned items. But, to maximize fundraising revenue, try pairing this lucrative fundraiser with an event like a gala. 

What are some best practices for holding a silent auction?

Many associations struggle to boost member engagement, even at association events. An event like a silent auction encourages member engagement, meaning you can increase how connected members feel to the association all while raising funds. To optimize involvement during your silent auction, your association will need to follow these best practices.

1. Put together a planning team.

The first step to running a successful silent auction is to put together a stellar team to plan and execute details and logistics. Designating a team with the specific task of planning the auction is particularly important within a busy association. It’s easy to push these tasks to the wayside if your association has other things to take care of, but you could run out of time for planning which can make for a chaotic event.

Your planning team will need to take care of several different responsibilities, including:

  • Assigning event leadership. Appoint someone to the auction chair role. This member will serve as the team’s leader, coordinate with other group members, and keep track of the event’s many moving pieces. If possible, choose a member with experience organizing auctions or other fundraising events.

  • Procuring items. Form a group that will be responsible for finding and obtaining the items your association will feature in its auction. Most of the team’s time will be spent contacting businesses or other organizations in your association’s network that will be willing to donate items.

  • Taking care of logistics. Create a team to take care of any logistical details such as choosing a venue and date, setting up the items, and selling tickets to attendees. At the event, this team will be responsible for matching up auctioned items with their bidder.

  • Marketing the event. Marketing is integral to any fundraiser, and having a dedicated marketing team ensures that word about your fundraiser will spread. Task this team with creating promotional social media posts, making invitations, and implementing an overall marketing strategy for the silent auction.

As you plan, don’t forget to account for one of the most important parts of this team: the volunteers. Volunteers have the most flexible role in the event planning team, meaning you can place them wherever they are most needed. In most cases, volunteers are only needed on the day of the event, but you may need them for other things like invitation envelope stuffing or picking up item donations.

2. Tailor your auction to your guests.

Silent auctions are very versatile, and can be adapted to fit the needs of almost any organization from school fundraising teams to professional associations. As you plan your event, consider the ways that your guest list should inform details of the silent auction. Draft a guest list and begin researching the guests you’d like to attend your event.

Optimizing donor experience is key when you want them to return to your event year after year. According to Double the Donation’s guide to improving the donor journey, the path a potential donor takes before actually donating plays a big role in whether or not they decide to follow through. Doing your research ahead of time will ensure an optimized experience for your guests.

Once you’ve learned a little more about your guests, you can use the following information to tailor your event to them:

  • Your guests’ interests. Parse out what your guests are interested in and create a loose theme for the auction based on those interests. For instance, if you know your members enjoy dressing up and attending fancy events, make the event a formal affair complete with classy decor and fancy auction items.

  • Your guests’ age. Your guests’ average age can hint at which items they’ll be interested in. For example, if your association’s average age skews older, auctioning fine jewelry or dishes might perform better than technological items like smartphones.

  • Your guests’ budgets. While it may be difficult to know what your guests' budgets are, you can make an educated guess. This piece of information should inform the items’ pricing. While it might be tempting to secure many high-ticket items for easier funds, it’s best to feature a variety of smaller items with lower prices that your guests will feel comfortable bidding higher on.

As you plan your auction and secure items to sell, you may start to have some anxieties over whether attendees will bid on those items. Gaining a good understanding of who your guests are, what they’re interested in, and what they are willing to bid on increases your auction's chances of success. 

3. Market your event.

To attract guests to your event, be sure to promote your event across all media platforms. Guests are what will make the auction a success, so making sure they’re aware of and excited about your silent auction is key.

To get started, try implementing a few of these marketing strategies:

  • Post pictures of the most exciting items online.

  • Update followers about your planning process (e.g., “we just found a venue!”).

  • If you’ve held silent auctions before, highlight those experiences.

  • Ask association members to spread the word about the event in their own networks.

  • Implement social media challenges related to the event, such as “guess the item.”

As you plan your auction, it’s easy to get bogged down in logistics and forget to promote the event. This is why it’s important to designate a team to focus on marketing. Work to ensure you’re marketing the event as you plan so you have plenty of time to inform association members, supporters, and prospective supporters about the auction.

4. Establish auction rules.

Setting up silent auction rules is an important step in ensuring your event runs smoothly. As Handbid’s guide to silent auction rules notes, calling them “rules” is a little misleading because they aren’t intended to be strict or legally binding. Your “rules” should be more like guidelines that are in place to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts between guests.

Your auction rules should fall under a few different categories including:

  • Bidding rules: Bidding rules set expectations for anything that has to do with the bidding process. For example, these rules can outline how you’d like to receive payments as well as payment deadlines.

  • Guidelines for sellers: These guidelines should help establish trust between your association and bidders. They should highlight the actions you take to maintain transparency and ensure your auction is fair. For example, note that you will not manipulate bidding and will honor all transaction contracts.

  • Legal compliance rules: For silent auctions, you’ll need to look into tax considerations to ensure you’re doing everything by the book. Be sure to check with local laws and regulations to find out if you need to charge sales tax and how to do so.

Silent auction rules aren’t meant to spoil the fun of the event or make people feel micromanaged. Instead, they should guide the process so participants will have a good time without running into any confusing situations.

5. Invest in silent auction software.

Purchasing software for your silent auction is a great way to streamline the auction process. For example, a traditional silent auction relies on clunky, outdated bidding methods like bidding on paper bid sheets. With the right silent auction software, your association can eliminate the need for paper bid sheets and switch to an online bidding system.

Another benefit of using silent auction software is that it can adapt to both in-person and virtual events. If you choose software with cloud capabilities, for example, the platform can integrate the experience for in-person and online guests so your association can host a seamless hybrid auction.

Some other capabilities to look for in silent auction software include:

  • A secure way to handle financial data, so your attendees’ information is protected. Check for stringent security measures like being PCI-compliant and requiring passwords.

  • Data and reporting features that outline important information about the event, like how much money your association raised.

  • Features that simplify logistical details such as ticketing and registration.

Silent auction software should make your auction easy to set up and host. Great software can provide data that will help you improve future events and shape them based on who attended your auction.


Holding a silent auction is a fun and flexible way to bring in extra funding for your association. These events can also work together with strong association management strategies to improve community connection and member retention in your association. Choosing silent auction software that meets your association’s needs can bring you all the rewards of hosting a silent auction without the stress that comes with it.
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