Silent Auctions: How to Sell Small Gift Certificates Without Cannibalizing Your Big Items

Your silent auction committee likely obtained great vacations, unique memorabilia, and bucket list experiences for your live or silent auction.

Your committee likely also procured an array of small gift certificates from local businesses: cleaning, dance lessons, chiropractic service, haircuts and styles, tanning sessions, massages, whitening, self-defense classes and many more services.

What should you do with these small-ticket items at your silent auction?

The “Buy It Now” Board

The “Buy It Now” Board is a simple and profitable solution to your collection of gift certificates that don’t make the cut for your auction.

Step 1: Sort Your Certificates

Sort your certificates into groups by value ranges. For instance, place all certificates that are worth $25-$50 in one group, $50-$100 in a second group, and $100+ in a third group.

Step 2: Pin Your Certificates on Poster Boards

Pin each group of certificates (or photocopies of the certificates) on their own poster board. You would have a $25 board, a $50 board, and a $100 board.

Step 3: Sell Your Certificates at a Flat Rate

Bidders come to a “Buy it Now Board” and pay a flat rate for any certificate on that board, regardless of the actual value of the certificate. For example, $25 gets any certificate on the $25 board, which contains certificates from $25 up to $50.

To purchase, the bidder gives their bid number to a volunteer at the board. The volunteer writes the bid number on the certificate (to show it’s no longer available) and on their clip board sheet to be sent to cashiering.

What Not to Do

Do not attempt to auction the small certificates, as you will subject your auction to the dreaded “double loss.”

First, small certificates don’t lend themselves well to competitive bidding. The value is too low for the bidding to ramp up significantly, and these items are very easy for some to buy on their own outside of your auction. So, most certificates will sell at the minimum bid and many won’t sell.

Second, placing these items in your silent auction takes up valuable table space. Placing too many things on a table crowds your big-ticket items that would perform better without nearby distractions.


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.