Nothing can stump a charity auction event planner more than trying to price auction items. It can be hard to put a price tag on merchandise, especially if the auction item is “priceless”.
The good news is we have learned from errors of the past and can help you get this right from the start!
If you set your silent auction opening bids too high, chances are most items will sell below fair market value.
Remember that most people come with a budget for the night.
Opening bids that are too high will automatically disqualify some people from bidding. It’s always good to start bidding low and allow competition to drive up the final prices of the items.
A low starting bid always gets people excited that they will leave with a “deal.” And because the price is low, lots of people will be eager to bid, and you’ll trigger competition, which is the true engine that drives values through the roof.
Once people are excited about the item they are bidding on, they are more likely to continue to bid.
Here are some pointers for how to price your starting bids:
Many businesses and individuals are very generous with the items and services they donate. This can be great, but many services like photography, graphic design, housecleaning, haircuts, etc., are unpopular in a silent auction and often will not sell at all!
Most people have loyalty toward their own service providers -- for example, you have a favorite hair dresser, favorite nail salon, favorite esthetician, etc. You’re probably not going to buy a service donated in the silent auction, because you don’t know that person’s style and/or capabilities -- plus you’re loyal to your current relationships.
So what do you do if those generous philanthropists have donated services to you?
We suggest that you package and present them in a way that makes them desirable to the bidders! For example, a donation from a graphic designer could be packaged with headshots from a photographer, and other business services to create a “Young Professionals Package.”
You also can tuck away excess service items or unwanted/unpopular items in “Mystery Grab Bags” that auction off for $20, $30 or $100!
Everyone likes the surprise component of Mystery Grab Bags, so they can be a fun way to engage donors and stash away some of those unpopular but well-intentioned items. Just make sure that every grab bag contains some items with universal appeal so your buyers don’t open their grab bags and find nothing but junk and/or services they’ll never use.
Limiting the number of items available for bid at your auction may sound counter-intuitive; after all, the more items you have the more money you’ll raise, right?
The reality is that too many silent auction items can overwhelm your guests, and cause them to disengage in the silent auction.
There may not be enough people to bid on all of the items, or your guests might be nervous about bidding on too many items for fear of winning them all and going over their budget for the night.
A good rule of thumb is to have no more than one item per five guests.
So if you have 500 guests, you would have no more than 100 silent auction items.
Remember, your guests have to see all of the items, and bid on their favorites in a relatively short amount of time during the cocktail hour. If you have too many items, they don’t have time to look at everything.
And you have to remember that some of your guests won’t place their “first” bid until they’ve seen everything that you have to offer. They don’t want to commit themselves to Items #1, #2 and #3, eating up their spending budget, and then discover that they really wanted to bid on items #51, #52 and #53 instead.
So they’ll walk the entire silent auction looking at EVERYTHING you have to offer before they go back and start placing bids. If you have too many items, they don’t even have time to review everything let alone get into competitive bidding wars.
Remember, competition is the fuel that drives values. You’ll make more money with fewer items.
If your silent auction committee has done a great job and has gathered 500 items for your silent auction, and you’ve got 500 guests coming to your event, then you’ve got to start putting together bundles to create interesting packages and get your total number of items down to 100.
Let’s say that four different photographers have donated photo sessions to your silent auction. You’ll want to package each photo session creatively with other items.
Pair one of the donated photo sessions with a “Kid’s Birthday Party Package.” Pair another donated photo session in a “Mother-Daughter Day Out Package” – complete with a shopping spree, spa day, gift card for lunch, and mother-daughter photo shoot.
A little creativity goes a long way in utilizing similar items in your silent auction.
A few years ago, Mobile Bidding was the hot new wave of the future. Everyone was talking about it, wondering if guests would understand what mobile bidding was, speculating that guests wouldn’t embrace it, worrying that mobile bidding wouldn’t raise as much money as a traditional silent auction.
But now, mobile bidding is a proven game-changer.
If you are not using mobile bidding in your events, you are officially living in the past, and the price of living in the past is lower engagement with your donors and less fundraising revenue.
For organizations who have not embraced mobile bidding, one of the biggest fears is that their guests will not want to bid on their phones.
But this fear is completely unfounded. Your guests overwhelmingly arrive with their cellphones in their purses and pockets, and they are completely comfortable using their phones for bidding.
According to Pew Research “the cell phone has been the most quickly adopted consumer technology in the history of the world.”
Here’s the reality -- he guests walking through the front door at your event used their cell phones to do one, or two or ALL of the following:
We have moved firmly into the digital age, and your guests use their cell phones for EVERYTHING! As a matter of fact, if you don’t use mobile bidding, you’re denying your guests the opportunity to bid the way they really want to bid.
You may believe that your guests would prefer to just write their paddle numbers down on a sheet of paper. It may be true that certain elderly audiences may resist the mobile movement, but overall nonprofit attendees prefer using their phones.
Their cell phones give them
Here’s how you can tell.
The next time you’re at the airport, you’ll notice a strange new phenomenon. For decades, there’s always been a huge line of taxis waiting to carry passengers to their hotels, offices, and homes.
Now, the taxis are still there, but the passengers have changed their behavior.
Instead of walking to the taxi line and immediately stepping into a waiting cab, the passengers are using their phones to call Uber and Lyft, and they’re waiting for their specific drivers to arrive.
Think about that.
We love solving our problems with our phones so much that we’re willing to ignore an immediate ride in a taxi and wait for our individual driver to arrive.
Your guests like using their phones.
So you can understand how frustrated your guests will feel when you tell them, “I know that you’re using your phone to manage your home alarm system, your transportation, your nanny cam, and your social media networks, but you can’t use your phone to bid on items in our silent auction, because we’re not willing to accept the reality that people like using their phones.”
If you allow them to use their phones to bid in the silent auction, they’ll reward you with more vigorous bidding and more revenue generated.
Some organizations will say, “We don’t want to use mobile bidding, because we don’t want our guests to spend their entire night looking at their phones. We want them to pay attention to what’s happening on the stage.
Here’s a news flash: A significant segment of EVERY audience is on their phones. There’s nothing you can do about it. Everywhere you look people are looking at their screens, so rather than fighting against it, you should simply embrace it and add mobile bidding to your event.
Okay, so you accept the reality that people like using their phones, but you’re still wondering about the specific advantages of mobile bidding.
There are many companies who provide mobile bidding services. Here are some of the benefits:
We’ve worked with each of these companies dozens of times. They’re very experienced, very reliable, very well trained, and their technology is very stable. When we walk in the door and see that GiveSmart, AES or Bolder Events is running the show, we know that we’re in good hands.
We recommend that you publicize your closing time and then stick to it. Sometimes a charity will make a decision to push the closing time back because they want to get more bids, but we believe that doing that can be penny wise and pound foolish.
When you announce a closing time, you’re making a commitment to the bidders. They’re playing your game. They’re competing to win the items that you’ve assembled. They’re contributing the dollars that you need.
Don’t move the finish line on them.
When you bump back the closing time, you’re punishing all the compliant people who followed your instructions and bid early, and you’re rewarding the noncompliant people who didn’t get their bids in on time.
Don’t reward the wrong behavior.
Remember that later in your event, you’re going to have a live auction and a paddle raiser (aka fund-a-need) and you want your audience to comply with your auctioneer’s prompts. You want them to bid quickly in the live auction and to give generously in the paddle raiser.
A broken promise early in the evening can turn into an unwillingness to give later in the evening.
Set your silent auction close time, and stick to it.
When you’re choosing the proper time to close your silent auction, there are several factors to consider
The best way to get donations for next year’s event is to go back to the well by approaching past donors.
In order to go back to them next year, you need to make sure you properly cared for them this year. Make sure you send your silent auction donors a thoughtful, preferably handwritten, thank you note telling them how much their donation meant to your organization and specifically how much it brought in such as, “Your donation of a $50 gift card, mug, and Barista for a Day experience brought in $300 for our organization! This will help us feed 30 hungry families this year – thank you!”
Closing the loop is your best chance of getting that same business to donate time and time again – don’t let this opportunity to show graciousness and professional communications with your silent auction donors go to waste.
Everyone likes to know how they helped make a difference!
Your silent auction bid sheets hold a wealth of data that could help you raise more money during your next fundraiser.
When the event is over, and after you catch your breath, take the time to put on your accountant’s hat and analyze the silent auction data you collected.
Those silent auction bid sheets contain a wealth of information about your guests.
For example, suppose you had 100 items in your silent auction, and each item had an average of five bids. That’s 500 total bids, which is a substantial amount of information. From this information, you might be able to glean a wealth of data, such as:
Here are some silent auction resources, some of which we referenced in this guide.
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Benefit Auctioneer & Fundraising Event Consultants