Silent auctions can be an invaluable tool to augment and invigorate your crowdfunding campaign. Unlike traditional auctions, they give guests the chance to mill about and socialize while looking at the items up for auction. This format provides your guests with a little more privacy and frees them from being stuck in a chair for hours straight. Proceeds excite potential donors to your crowdfunding campaign because they show that your campaign is making progress. Despite the benefits, though, silent auctions are sometimes tricky to pull off successfully.
- Many silent auctions are unsuccessful: According to the site bidr.com, national averages of silent auctions indicate a 50 percent to 60 percent return on the value of donated items. While this statistic is discouraging, it also underscores the importance of careful planning and execution when hosting auction events.
- According to auction consultant Sherry Truhlar, one of her clients raised an additional $44 per item when they worked together to perform “aggressive on-site marketing” of products. Presentation makes a difference.
- Forty to 49-year-old women with household incomes between $50,000 and $99,000 are the most frequent participants in online auctions, according to the NOLO Encyclopedia online. Online auctions, then, and silent auction fundraising can go hand in hand to reach the widest possible donor base.
During the offline silent auction, have the winning bidder pay for their item via your crowdfunding campaign, and for those facing difficulty with the process, guide them through your donation page.
Most importantly, tailor your auction to your donors’ interests and focus on providing items for which you think they’ll really want to compete. It may require some thinking outside of the box.
Six Tips for Silent Auction Success
1. Some of the most sought-after silent auction items offer experiences rather than things.
Sure, you could sell a basket with some gift cards and artisan jams, and there’s a strong chance someone will buy it. But experiences and group events are more desirable because they provide something that an average guest can’t pick up at the mall. Hot-air balloon rides, vacation deals or tickets to a ballet or symphony are a few examples, but the lots can vary from a group wine-tasting trip to a tour of the city. Group events are particularly popular because they allow multiple households to go in on an item together, making the cost easier to shoulder. Crowdfunding also expedites the process of group paying by allowing each household to make their contribution online and cite the names of the other families in the comments section.
With some legwork reaching out to contacts and doing some cold calling, many of these experiences might even be donated to your worthy cause. If a member of your community has a vacation home or time-share, for example, ask if they’d be willing to donate it temporarily for a weekend package. Or talk to an influential person in your local community who may be open to hosting a dinner or a one-on-one activity with the highest bidder.
2. Consider auctioning off small privileges that don’t cost you anything as the organizer.
Whether it’s a convenient parking spot, prime seats in the auditorium or a pass for a “free dress” day for students who wear uniforms, these perks can help compensate for a lack of donated items. You can also auction them off every year to create a tradition that spurs competitive bidding by those in your community. Or let people “rent” the spot for a period of weeks by continuing to donate to your campaign online until another family “outbids” for it. Offer up only a few seats, parking spots, etc. each time, though, in order to ensure that they continue to elicit competition. You also don’t want to alienate your community by giving away too many of these packages, filling all of the best seats for a performance months in advance.
3. Auction off donated memorabilia.
Collaborate with your local sports teams. Some franchises may be willing to donate signed jerseys, tickets, an afternoon with a player or signed sports equipment. Communicate with their PR team and explain your cause. Also, invite them to donate to your YouCaring page directly or share it on their social media accounts. Hopefully, they’ll be able to contribute at least some gear to your auction.
You could also reach out to local musicians for potential donated memorabilia. Ask for groups or individual artists to donate signed CDs, a performance in the winning bidder’s home, or even to perform during the auction, building up hype (and improving the turnout).
4. Enlist your artistic friends.
Recruit talented volunteers to create a beautiful auction piece or accept donations from creative people within your community. If someone who benefits from your work also loves art, ask them if they’d be willing to create something for the auction. Emphasize the influence of your cause on the artist’s life, and be sure to include their personal testimony with the item. If you have crafting skills, consider making something that people would want to buy, whether that’s a handmade quilt, a painting, or a set of ceramic plates. These are also great items to sell in an online auction site, transferring the funds to your crowdfunding account after a purchase. Or invite members of your community to work together on a larger-scale piece. It’s a great hands-on way to grow closer to those in your community and create something one-of-a-kind!
5. Switch it up if your fundraiser’s in a slump!
If you’ve had issues raising money through a silent auction in the past, it might be time to mix it up. Consider holding a secret auction, where guests slip notes with the price of their bid into a box. Just like in a traditional auction, the highest bidder wins, but hopefully the mystery of the process will encourage people who really want the lot to offer more money. Another option, especially if only some of your guests won lots, is to set up a table where people can simply make a direct donation to your campaign. Most people come to benefits to give back, but if they don’t win any of the items they bid on, they don’t have a way to do so. Allow people to donate directly in addition to those who stop at the station to pay for the goods they won.
6. Get the atmosphere right.
On the subject of little changes, sometimes small details influence your overall success. Consider the space in which you plan to hold the auction. How is the lighting? You may want to borrow some table lamps if it’s too dim; people like to look at what they’re buying. And make sure your sound system is loud enough to hear over the chatter and music. Each item should be well displayed, with plenty of space between each one. Display cards should be well designed and feature interesting descriptions of each item. Finally, make sure you don’t have too many items. Without the sense of urgency that comes with having fewer items than guests, people will often wait until the last minute to make a bid, providing limited opportunity for the back-and-forth that typically raises bids.
Use a silent auction as an opportunity to engage people who may not have given to your campaign before. Educate your donors on your cause, and emphasize that all proceeds are going to improve lives. Even if you don’t raise as much money as you may have wanted, remember that the event got people talking about your campaign and expanded awareness of it. Consider sending out a follow-up email to people who didn’t win anything.
Best of luck with your silent auction fundraiser.
If you haven’t already done so, start your free YouCaring campaign today.