Should We Use Pre-Bidding at Our Auction?

As an organizer of a benefit auction, you may wonder whether you should use pre-bidding, also known as pre-selling.

In this post, we cover the basics of pre-bidding and help you decide if it is right for your fundraiser.

What Is Pre-bidding?

Pre-bidding allows guests, or those not able to attend, to preview and bid on key auction items.

Pre-bidding primarily takes place online, using auction software, and starts 3-5 days prior to the event. Typically, pre-bidding is limited to just silent auction items, though some live auctions allow for it as well.

There are four primary types of pre-bidding, which you can mix and match across your items for auction.

TypeDescriptionBest for
View-onlyAllow visitors to preview packages but not place bids.One-of-a-kind items with broad appeal, such as unique artwork or an item that will solicit an emotional response in person
Pre-Bidding for Event AuctionUse the highest pre-bid to set the starting bid at the auction.Items destined for the silent auction, typically for lacking broad appeal (e.g., a golf vacation)
Absentee Bidding (AKA Proxy Bidding)Let the highest pre-bidder also specify a maximum bid. At the event, the auction committee bids on their behalf.Items that attract strong interest outside your donor base, such as sports memorabilia
Online-onlyReserve certain items to only be available online.Duplicate or overflow items that didn't make it to your main event, or date-sensitive items where bidders will want to reference their calendars

Should We Use Pre-Bidding at Our Auction?

In short, yes you should use pre-bidding on your silent auction items, especially if you are already using an online bidding software at your event.

Discuss with your auctioneer if you should allow pre-bidding on live auction items. Some auctioneers feel that absentee bidding disrupts the flow of their ability to drive up bids, so you may just allow pre-bidding to dictate your starting bid.

Here are some benefits to pre-bidding:

Build Excitement

Pre-bidding gives attendees a chance to preview items in your auction. Assuming you’ve procured attractive items, pre-bidding can drive ticket sales and prime attendees to bid higher.

Engage More Donors

With online pre-bidding, you’ll engage supporters who can’t attend your event. You’ll also solicit bids from shy donors who prefer to remain anonymous. Lastly, you’ll give deliberate bidders time to consider their purchase.

Raise Bidding

Since the top pre-bid serves as the opening bid at your auction, you’ll be starting at a higher number. If you allow absentee bidding, you may earn yourself a rival bidder for those in attendance.

Another reason it raises bids is because people like to bid on items other people have bid on. It makes them feel confident they are purchasing a desirable item.

Learn Popular Items

The items that attract aggressive pre-bids will likely be the items that will attract aggressive live bids. Use this to your advantage as you determine which items to include in your live auction and where to sequence them.

Free Up Spots for Additional Items

If you set a “Buy It Now” price on items for pre-bidding, you may sell items you would otherwise have put in your silent auction. Now, you have more table space to add an alternative item.

Get Started with Pre-Bidding

Pre-bidding generally requires two things:

Online Auction Software

For online auction software, there are plenty of options. We’ve provided some considerations for you in a previous post: How to Select an Online Auction Software Provider.

People Who Want to Pre-Bid

It can be quite difficult to recruit your historical event attendees to the concept of pre-bidding. Some people simply like to show up and bid in person.

One way to convince your historical attendees to consider pre-bidding is my offering certain online-only items. These items don’t need to be the cream of the crop, but good enough to get bidders curious about stealing an online deal.

Another group to engage on pre-bidding are your supporters who don’t typically attend your auction in person. Perhaps they would love to bid, but are shy or don’t like attending events.

Pre-bidding gives these folks an opportunity to bid on items and support your cause without taking them out of their comfort zone.


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.