How to Get Donated Items for Your Silent Auction (Without Cold Calling)!

Your mother warned you, “Never talk to strangers!” But to get donated silent auction items, that is what you are asked to do.

Anyone who has tried cold calling for auction items, however, knows that it rarely works. Why?

You are asking a total stranger for something of value, to be given to someone they don’t know, for a cause they know nothing about, and most likely don’t want to know about.

Rather than giving up thinking “I am just no good at procuring silent auction items,” it is time to change your strategy.

Here are three straightforward steps to get donated items for your silent auction without cold calling!

Step 1: List the people you know

Most committees start the procurement process by looking at what they want to include in their auction: “Let’s get a cruise.” “Or tickets to a ball game.” “Let’s find a villa in Tuscany.” “How about golf at a country club?”

All great ideas, but how do you get them?

When you focus on WHAT you want, you will soon be frustrated and disappointed because you don’t know WHO to ask to get it. You should really start with the WHO first!

So, whom do you know?

Concentric circles showing people you know to ask for donated items for your silent auction. The circle starts with yourself in the middle, expanding to friends, family, co-workers, where you shop, and other people you know.

First, make a list of people you know, starting with yourself. Don’t leave anyone off because you can always edit the list later.

Here are some people to get started.

  • Yourself
  • Spouse or significant other
  • Immediate family
  • Closest friends
  • Co-workers
  • Neighbors
  • Extended family
  • Places you shop
  • Professionals (your doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, insurance agent)
  • People who have asked you to help them on their fundraising

What silent auction items can they donate?

Now that you know WHO to ask, think about WHAT you should ask for.

Start with yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of a donor so you know what it feels like to be asked. While you’re at it, learn the donation process inside and out and streamline it where possible.

Next, ask yourself these questions about potential donors and see if they can provide items in your target categories.

Questions to Ask YourselfCategories of Items
-What is their business?

-What are their hobbies?

-Where do they live?

-What makes them happy (and would they share that experience)?

-Do they own a vacation home, cabin, or condo?

-Do they fly an airplane, sail a boat, or drive a sports car?

-Are they "connected" to celebrities or unique experiences?

-Who are their friends and contacts?

-Can they introduce you to someone who has what you want?
-Unique experiences

-Unusual or limited edition items


-Items with emotional impact

-Items everyone needs

-Trendy items

-Local trips/cabins/mini vacations

-International trips

-Items YOU would buy

Step 2: Make the ask

woman shaking hands with potential donor and asking for a donated silent auction item.
Where possible, make the ask in person, especially for high-priority donors.

Now that you have a list of people you want to ask for items and an idea about the specific items you want them to donate, it is time to make the ask.

Where possible, make the ask in person, especially for high-priority donors.

Regardless of your method of contact, be sure to follow these tips:

Be specific

Don’t ask for “something,” ask for something specific.

Asking for “something” puts the burden on the donor to be creative, which will decrease your conversion rate and get you a lot of items you may not want.

Of course, let the donor suggest an alternative if your first choice isn’t an option.

Be thorough

Don’t assume anyone can’t donate – ask everyone on your list. You will be surprised at how connected people are, or what hidden treasure they may be able to give.

Remove barriers

Pre-fill any forms for potential donors. Never ask a donor to fill out paperwork!

All they should have to do is sign and provide any marketing materials that you can’t access on your own.

Don’t apologize

It is never an imposition to help a friend, so you are not imposing. You are honoring them by asking for their help.

People want to help; they just need to know how.

Step 3: Show appreciation

Host in charity gala ballroom thanking people and companies that donated silent auction items.

Showing appreciation to donors is important to make sure they donate again next year.

Comped tickets

Ask the donor if they would like to attend the event. If so, get them a ticket.

Generous promotion

Ensure donors are displayed prominently in your auction catalog and on other promotional materials. This is especially important for local businesses.

Thank you notes

Thank your donors before your event and after your event. Donors like to know when their item sells and what kind of impact it made.

Phone calls and hand-written notes are preferred to emails.

BONUS STEP! Round out your silent auction catalog with TravelPledge

It’s not always possible to get enough donated silent auction items by leveraging your personal connections.

That’s where TravelPledge comes in.

We’ve done the legwork for your silent auction by partnering with generous businesses who love supporting great causes. Access exclusive vacations, golf, cruises and even bucket list experiences. Our unique model ensures you generate a meaningful donation no matter the winning bid.

Get started for free at


A nationally recognized benefit auctioneer and consultant, Jay Fiske has helped raise millions of dollars for a wide variety of organizations. Additionally, he authored The Big Book of Benefit Auctions.

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