Gala season is upon us and that means many of you are worried about silent auction items. How many do you need? What do people bid on? Your silent auction questions answered here:

How many silent auction items do we need?
Fewer than you think. A good rule of thumb is no more than one item for every 5 guests. Many people attend these events as a couple, so you have fewer bidders than you have guests. And the way you raise money at an auction is by having competition. When you have too many auction items, you not only reduce competition, but you also can overwhelm your guests. If they feel like “shopping” the silent auction is work, they might not even look.

What do people bid on?
You want to fill your silent auction with the things people love to buy. The most popular items are often alcohol, restaurants, staycations, and anything that pulls their heartstrings and connects to your mission. Of course, that begs the question – what doesn’t sell? Some of the worst items for a silent auction include art, jewelry, and photography. The problem is that these items are very subjective and you lose a huge number of bidders because they have different taste, making these items much less competitive.

Is two better than one?
No! Not in a silent auction. I frequently see silent auctions with multiples of the same item, like a restaurant gift card, right next to each other. This kills the competition and almost guarantees those items will each go for well under value. Instead, group those items together into one larger package. Or in some cases you can even go to the runner up bidder and offer the item to them for the winning bid price to double your money.

What should I do with donated items I didn’t want?
Inevitably, you will end up with some donated miscellaneous items that you don’t think will sell. So take all these items, and make it a game. Guests are frequently willing to donate a small amount for the chance to win a mystery gift, which could be worth a lot. There are many ways to do this – balloon pop, mystery envelopes, bean bag toss, putting game…you name it. Just be sure each donor wins an item worth at least as much as they donated.

What makes a silent auction successful?
Make the silent auction fun to shop, and make sure it’s easy to bid and easy to check out. Know your audience, and seek donated items they will want. Follow these tips, and you’ll add valuable cash to your event’s bottom line. And if you need more help, let me know. I enjoy helping nonprofits raise more money at their special events.