How to Run (and Promote) a Silent Auction for Your Non-Profit

Event Planning Tips


Community fundraisers not only get the word out about your cause, they’re also a sure fire way to pad your non-profit’s operating budget and fund vital programming. It’s a win-win!

Here’s a crash course on how to run a silent auction at your fundraiser and get your supporters excited about the upcoming event.

Schedule the Event

Secure a location and date for the silent auction.

It’s best to make it part of a larger event, so it’s simply one component of the festivities. Plan the auction along with a cocktail hour, dinner, activity stations (like a photo booth or fortune teller) and a live band performance to keep the night moving along while entertaining your guests. Since silent auctions require time to view, bid and cash out, it’s best to have it be part of the background throughout the entire event. Tip: To get bigger bids, pair the auction with an adults-only atmosphere that serves alcoholic beverages to loosen up your potential donors!

Collect the Items

Once the event is in the books, you need great bid items to lure people to your event.

Make a list of businesses you can approach in person for donated items or services. Think big and small! In addition to enticing weekend getaways and alluring diamond necklaces, don’t forget about baskets of confectioneries from your local homemade candy shop or a tote of puppy supplies from a pet store. Variety is key. You want things at various price points so you don’t alienate anyone who might like to partake take in the auction.  

Prep the Auction

Once you have boxes of goodies to auction off, prep them for the big night.

Each item will need to be numbered, photographed and included on a master list. Include this listing as part of the event program so attendees can easily scan the merchandise and then find the numbered item when they’re browsing the tables of silent auction items. Then, create a bid sheet for each item. This should list the item, its number, a minimum opening bid amount, what time the auction closes and have several lines for bidders to write down their bidding name or number and how much they are willing to pay for the item. The highest bidder wins! At the conclusion of the event, have a designated person notify each winning bidder and advise them where to pick up their items and pay.

Tell the World

At least a month before the event, spread the word! Your fundraiser is only successful if people show up. Here are a few ways to let people know about the silent auction:

  • Share a photo and description of one of the silent caution item on your non-profit’s social media feeds each day leading up to the event.
  • Explain how a silent auction works on your business blog.
  • Send printed invitations to your volunteers, donors and supporters.
  • Write a blog post that shares the details of the entire event, including the menu, ticket prices and entertainment.
  • Hang posters advertising the event at local businesses.
  • Book spots on local radio and television programs to talk about your cause and how fundraising impacts your non-profit organization.
  • Talk up the event to your friends and family. Encourage them to tell someone they know!
  • Offer complimentary tickets to your top, long-term donors. This gets them in the door to view the silent auction.

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