10 Amazing Tips to Increase Bidding at Your Silent Auction Fundraiser

In this post, you’ll learn 10 amazing tips to increase bidding at your silent auction fundraiser.

1. More items are not always better

A good rule of thumb is to auction approximately one item for every two attendees. For example, if you expect 200 people, then the ideal number of Silent Auction items would be 100.

If you have fewer items than that, you’re leaving money on the table. If you have more items, then you’re not creating a competitive bidding environment.

2. Make descriptions easy to read

When guests don’t know what they are bidding on, they won’t bid. Your item descriptions should be complete but to the point. Bullets are just fine and note any restrictions.

Choose a simple and decently large font so bidders can read the description looking over another guests’ shoulder. On that note, good lighting is a great investment.

3. List each bid step on your bid sheets

Don’t make your bidders do the math to make sure their bid exceeds the previous bid by the minimum bid increment.

Instead, print each bid step on the bid sheet so a bidder simply needs to write their bidder number next to a pre-printed dollar amount. Your bid increments should be roughly 10% of the item’s retail value.

4. Use the “green line auction” system

Grab a green marker and draw a line under one of the biding lines in each of your bid sheets. People who bid on that line are automatically entered into a raffle.

The effect is that people will skip the initial bids and jump straight to the green line.

5. Avoid asking for personal information on your bid sheets

People may not want others to know what they bid on or don’t want to upset their friend whom they outbid.

Instead of asking for name, email or phone number, assign each guest a bidder number and supply them with numbered stickers to place their bids. Bidders will want to bid to get rid of their stickers, and you’ll avoid having to interpret bad handwriting.

6. Use food and drink strategically

Place drink bars at the most remote areas of your silent auction so guests walk by all the items. Additionally, opt for passed appetizers since buffet islands and food stations draw people away from the bidding area and create lines that may block your bidding tables.

7. Drive bidding with announcements

A classic maneuver is to say over the sound system: “Bidder #154, you were just outbid for the bed and breakfast getaway.”

Be warned, however, that this strategy requires a killer sound system as silent auctions, ironically, can get quite loud.

8. Close your silent auction in sections, not at once

Each section closing is an exciting moment to see who wins each item. It also concentrates bidding on the remaining items for increased competition.

For this reason, you should place your lesser-valued items in the first section to close and the most valuable items in the last section to close. For in-person auctions, stagger your closing times by around 15 minutes, and for online auctions you can stagger your closing times by a day or so.

9. Use the “soft close” to settle bidding wars

The soft close comes into play when there are two or more guests still bidding on an item when your auction is scheduled to close.

Instead of closing out the item, let guests continue bidding until there is one winner. You’ll avoid any gamesmanship from the competitors and increase your yield.

10. Keep the focus on your mission

While bidding on the silent auction items is fun for guests, they should be continually reminded about why they are at your fundraiser in the first place.

Place a mission-focused message or photo on an easel on each table, and consider adding a sheet where guests can make cash pledges by entering their bidder numbers.


Al McDonald is the Chief Product Officer for TravelPledge and author of the e-book “The Definitive Guide to Silent Auction Fundraisers.” Al has helped thousands of nonprofits exceed their auction goals through auction item procurement and advice. Al understands that successful auctions are hard work and is committed to delivering practical advice that will move the needle for you today.