As a leading event company specialising in corporate entertainment and charity events for more than 20 years, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to organising an effective silent auction event. Designed to give you all the knowledge you might need to consider and decide what type of auction will best suit you, we’ll also be taking a look at the many benefits of these types of events, sharing with you our top tips, as well as taking you through some of the key attributes of silent auctions and all the jargon.

Fundraising Auction Terminology Explained

Live Auction: The traditional way of running a competitive auction – with an Auctioneer taking bids from the room on each Lot in turn. Bidding will start fairly low and work up to the winning bid. If a Lot has a ‘reserve’ (the minimum amount it should be sold for), then the Auctioneer would be made aware and not ‘sell’ below the reserve. A good way to control this but keep the momentum and atmosphere going, is to have ‘fake bidders’ who will bid up to your reserve amount. If they finish as the highest bidder, then the item has not actually sold – but the audience need not be aware. It is normally only possible to sell one each of an item in a Live Auction, unless the Auctioneer is alert and able to secure bids from the two highest bidders.

Silent Auction: A Silent Auction runs without an Auctioneer, in the background of an event or online, via email etc. Silent Auctions can be operated with paper bidding or with an electronic operating system allowing bids using iPads, smart phones or text messaging.

Secret Bidding: The audience have one opportunity to place their highest bid for an item. This allows for more than one of each item to be sold where available, and to achieve the highest possible sale price, even when only one or two people have placed bids on the item.

Competitive Bidding: The audience bid against each other with the item sold to the highest bidder, such as in a Live Auction. Guests are normally notified when they have been outbid and then have the opportunity to place further, higher bids.

Bid Slip: Auction Direct provide paper slips which guests fill out with their contact details, Lot number/s and the amount they would like to bid. Completed bid slips are collected by our auction assistants. This is a ‘secret bidding’ system where guests place their highest bid and are notified at the close of the Silent Auction if they are a winner.

Electronic Bidding: Guests bid using iPad style tablets normally placed on their dinner tables. Auction Direct use reliable, quality hardware and a platform offering a first-class, user-friendly experience, displaying all of the lot titles, descriptions and images. Tablets offer a ‘competitive bid’ Auction with guests made aware when they have been outbid.

Auction Lots / Lot Items / Auction Prizes: Items suitable for inclusion in an auction such as experiences, art, sport and celebrity memorabilia, holidays etc. These may be items you have had donated by your support network or supplied by an Auction provider, such as Auction Direct – or a combination of the two.

DIY Auction: Running a fundraising auction and in need of one or more lot items to fill in the gaps? Auction Direct can supply from our range at NO RISK on a ‘sale or return’ basis, without a need for us to attend your event.

Cost Price: This is the amount you will pay for a supplied item if it sells in your Auction. Cost prices vary from different suppliers, so make sure yours are competitive based on the quality of the item.

Reserve: The minimum price an item will be sold for. Although our items typically sell at least 40% above our cost price, we recommend that you include a margin of 15-20% within the reserve, to ensure a profit for your charity on every item sold.  

Charity Profit: This may be shown as an amount or a percentage to illustrate the profit achieved over and above the cost of our lot items supplied. Some auction companies retain a share of the profit made on their items. Auction Direct do not – you keep every penny above our low cost price.

Auction Brochure: Our in-house design and print, colour brochures listing all items in the Auction, both ours and your donated ones.

Event Programme: These normally include details about the event – menu, running order, sponsors, adverts etc – as well as listings of Silent (and Live) Auction lots. We offer a premium service for the production of Event Programmes for our event clients, simply passing on the cost without any mark-up.

Certificate of Authenticity (COA): In relation to art and memorabilia, COA’s are sometimes provided by an artist’s studio. Wherever we are able to guarantee authenticity of an item, through due diligence and supplier reputation, Auction Direct will provide a Certificate with details of the item and its’ provenance.

Mini Voucher: For convenience, at an event, we issue a Mini Voucher to the winner of an Experience in exchange for their payment (or commitment to pay). A full, validated voucher with all details about the item and how to book, is sent later by email or post.

How long should a silent auction last?

One advantage of a Silent Auction is that it can run for longer, allowing more time for bidding and often, therefore, a higher selling price. Whether a secret bid silent auction (on paper bid slips) or a competitive silent auction (using tablets and technology), most events will allocate a few hours of run time, with plenty of reference to the auction from the stage / Host, to keep everyone engaged with it. Closing time for a silent auction is best preceded by a ten-minute countdown – drawing maximum attention – and should allow time for collecting payments before the guests depart (or head to the dance floor).

How does a secret bid silent auction work?

This is the ‘traditional’ way to run a silent auction, without the need for (or cost of) expensive hardware and Wi-Fi technology. Lots are normally featured in a special brochure or in the main event programme and guests write down their highest bids (Auction Direct use bid slips for this) which are collected and collated by the auction organisers.
At the close of the auction, donated items are sold to the highest bidder. Supplied items which may have more than one available, can be sold two or three times to several bidders who may all want to win the item. Multiple sales can make a big difference to the bottom line of funds raised.

Auction Technology by auction direct. Great technology for silent auctions.

How does a technology silent auction work?

Bringing the wow factor to the big screen (or screens) at your event, a ‘Tech’ silent auction is a competitive auction with each Lot sold to the current highest bidder upon closing the auction. Current winners are displayed in stylish graphics on the event screen/s, while guests register and bid using Tablets supplied, normally at each table (or their own mobile phones via a website or texting). Some providers create a web-based platform allowing bidding away from the event (prior to and on the night), while others create a ‘closed network’ with no reliance on avenue’s Wi-Fi for things to run effectively. Auction Direct technology features both a closed network created by us at the venue plus an online access – giving the best of both worlds.

What are the benefits of silent auction technology?

Above all, the addition of Tablets and electronic bidding brings the wow factor to an event. With good screen coverage and time allowed, the graphics will display bidding progress throughout the event, maximising awareness and focus. Guests enjoying seeing their new ‘winning’ bid announced on the big screen – and are similarly made aware when they have been outbid (and by whom if they have not chosen to remain anonymous). Technology bidding brings with it the exposure of a Live Auction but running in the background of the event (silently), while constantly displaying updates, a running total and allowing pledges to be made and displayed also on screen.

Additional options with the Auction Direct software and stylish graphics include

  • Online Auction accessibility pre and during the event
  • Pre-registration of guest list
  • Event Check-in
  • Quick and user-friendly registration and bidding
  • A clear leaderboard with new bid and donation updates in real time
  • A countdown display of time remaining
  • Automated Invoice Production
  • Payment Processing
  • Post event data and analysis

Which prizes are more suitable for a raffle or an auction?

Prizes with a clearly known value (6 bottles of a certain wine or a £50 M&S voucher), will usually give you a better return when used in a Raffle, rather than an Auction. The best Auction prizes are unusual, desirable experiences, limited edition or original art, signed memorabilia (with a worthwhile certificate of authenticity) and other such items with an uncertain value but high desirability to at least several of your audience.

How to source auction prizes?

When reaching out to the network of supporters for an event, the most common donated items are use of a holiday home, a unique experience with a celebrity, or an art commission. Local ‘promises’ are often attainable and valuable – for example gardening services or coaching by a local Rugby professional. A dinner party at home provided by a local acclaimed chef can raise a surprising amount. You will often see a number of ‘recycled’ pieces of memorabilia in an auction!

Organisers who are short on lot items – or see the scope for a broader silent auction to boost their fundraising – will look to a supplier, such as Auction Direct, to supply auction prizes and lot items With a reasonable audience you can expect an average of at least 50% profit on our items, sometimes much more, with no risk or obligation to purchase if an item doesn’t sell above the reserve.

Our top tips for organising a silent auction

  1. Consider the big picture first. Which style of Auction is going to best suit your event and maximise your fundraising? You will want to look at the calibre of your guest list, the number of donated items you will have, the cost of screens and technology versus a paper-based system, whether you need an auction company to support you rather than DIY, and if you need to source some additional lots for auction prizes.
  2. Do your best to ensure that any cost outlay will be outweighed by additional revenue from your charity auction. Is it worth spending £3k on the ‘wow factor’ if it only leads to an extra £2k in revenue?
  3. Make sure you have flexibility and value from your Auction Company. You will want to be able to adjust the number of lot items needed as you get closer to the event date and see what has been donated. Question why a Company might try to get you into a contract or long-term commitment…
  4. Compare the quality and price of supplied lot items as they can vary considerably. Some suppliers buy (on ebay potentially) a signature taken from the inside cover of a book, incorporating it into a framed presentation along with photographs of the star. Auction Direct deal only in photographs and shirts which have been hand-signed, personally, by the star – with holograms and signing photographs supplied by our reputable specialist suppliers.
  5. Check if you get to keep ALL the profit above the cost price? Some companies think it ok to share the profit with you. Auction Direct believe there is no possible way to justify a supplier taking part of your profit, donated by your generous supporters. Our lot items are premium quality, low cost price, with authentic signatures and you keep EVERY PENNY above our competitive cost price – always.

Here to help

Need some advice to help you reach the right decision? Then talk to us at Auction Direct. With an overview of your event, we can advise which type of Auction is likely to work best for you, to minimise risk and maximise your fundraising – be that ‘doing it yourself’, a secret bid silent auction, or choosing electronic technology bidding.

Our advice is always free.