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Silent Auction Rules For A Successful Event

Author: Adie M.

Holding a silent auction is a great way to achieve your nonprofit’s fundraising goals and build relationships with donors. Organizing this kind of event can be intimidating, but is also hugely rewarding and fun for the participants.  

Before you jump into planning, there are some basic silent auction rules to ensure smooth sailing and avoid tricky situations. Anyone can run a successful event by following our list of guidelines and top tips for a successful silent auction.

What is a Silent Auction?

A silent auction is a social event used to raise funds. Donors get involved by engaging in a bidding war with proceeds going towards a charitable cause. Unlike in a normal auction, there is no auctioneer. The bidding process is effectively ‘silent’. 

Bidders anonymously write down their offer on a bidding sheet or by using a mobile app. A silent auction easily stands as an event on its own, however, it can also feature as part of a bigger function.

Why Hold a Silent Auction?

Silent auctions connect non-profit organizations with new donors. They also create an environment to engage with existing donors. 

Compared to other fundraisers, silent auctions are relatively easy and affordable to organize. You can source items from sponsors to auction off and raise funds for your cause.

The competitive atmosphere of an auction encourages donors to part with generous amounts. A silent bidding system is perfect for attracting people who don’t like the fast-paced paddle wars of a standard auction room.

This is a win-win situation where bidders come away feeling like they won a prize and your organization acquires some much-needed funds. 

Rules of a Silent Auction

Now, before you host your silent auction, here are some basic rules that you should know and put into practice.

Bidder Registration

Familiarize attendees with silent auction rules. Get people to accept the terms and conditions with a pre-event registration process.

Give registered bidders an official bidding number that they will then use to bid on items.

Be sure to include the rules and legal clauses listed below on the registration sheet. Prospective bidders must sign this sheet.

Legal Clauses

Protect your organization, hosts, volunteers, and sponsors from liability. Include the following legal clauses in your registration document:

    • Set age restrictions for bidding.
    • Your organization reserves the right to add or remove items from the list without prior notice.
    • All sales/bids are final.
    • Make it clear that you are selling items as-is.
    • No returns or refunds.
    • Bidders assume liability for risks and hazards associated with the items purchased and/ or the auction event itself. convert-auction-attendees-into-donors-women-shaking-hands

Auction Items

Experts recommend having around one item per two people attending the event so that half of the participants can walk away with something. 

Make sure that you source items that bidders will want so that you can meet your fundraising goals. Good auction items include gift vouchers, art, wine, or carefully curated auction baskets.

Put items in categories and allocate each one a number. Display the items in a way that is attractive and easy for buyers to inspect. 

Bidding Sheets

Unless you are using an electronic bidding process like mobile bidding, each item needs a bidding sheet in front of it. Include a detailed description of the item and a fair/estimated market value. State the starting bidding price (around 50% of market value) and reasonable bidding increments.

Provide space for bidders to place their anonymous bidding numbers as well as their bids. Bidders can return to the item at a later point and increase their offer if they have been outbid. 

Clearly indicate the cut-off time for bidding on the sheet.

Automatically disqualify any bidding amounts that are below the minimum price. The same goes for bids that do not increase by the specified increments. 

Closing Bids

Bidding time usually runs between 60-90 minutes but can be for an entire evening. It is good to stagger the auction times of different items. We recommend making announcements 5 minutes before the auction on an item is about to close as this can stimulate some final higher bids!

After the auction closes, do not allow any further bids. The highest bid at the end of the auction wins the item. Circle the winning bid and place a copy of the sheet left next to the item.

The auction committee will settle any disputes amongst bidders. Decisions by this committee are final. 

Pick up of Items

Winning bidders can collect their items after paying in full at the cashier. Cashiers may request ID to verify the corresponding bidding and item number.

Let guests know, prior to the event, what forms of payment (cash, card, or check) are available.  Provide receipts for each article. The receipt needs to state that items are being sold ‘as is’. The price paid for the auction item minus fair market value is tax-deductible. 

The collection of items is on auction night. This is unless buyers make other arrangements or delivery is included with the item.

Tips for A Successful Silent Auction

  1. Recruit an A-team including people with experience in silent auctions. Volunteers can help out in the evening and be on standby to answer questions.
  2. Consider choosing from popular and fun auction themes to make the event stand out.
  3. Do plenty of promotion well in advance. Send invites soon after deciding on a date.
  4. Make flyers and share some item descriptions on a website to rally interest.
  5. Use props and platforms to create appealing item displays.
  6. Use pre-printed bidding sheets that already contain the correct incremental bid increases.
  7. Using a mobile bidding app can keep all guests engaged and constantly updated on the action. People who aren’t physically in attendance can still participate.
  8. Keep a good master record of numbered items and record the winning bidder numbers alongside.
  9. Make sure your cashier facilities are set up to receive several forms of payment including cash, Visa, Mastercard, and Check.
  10. Follow up with donors, sponsors, and bidders with thank-yous. Be sure to include a feel-good update on what their money has supported.



By recruiting a good team and following the above steps, you are already on your way to hosting a successful silent auction. Remember that no event runs perfectly. Prepare for a few unforeseen circumstances and technical glitches.

 Above all, keep the goal in mind. Raising funds for your cause will be well worth the effort!