A silent auction is a great way to attract new supporters to your nonprofit.

How to Attract New Bidders to Your Silent Auction

As a nonprofit leader, you’ve likely scoured the internet looking for different fundraising ideas that can help your organization raise money and awareness of your cause. Trying to grow your audience can be a challenge. Luckily, there’s a solution that doesn’t involve knocking on doors (and banging your head against the wall afterward)! 


Has your nonprofit hosted an auction before? The charity auction is a classic fundraising method. A live auction complete with fancy garb and bidder paddles doesn’t have to be your model if you’d prefer something more lowkey.


Like many other aspects of life, technology has revolutionized how auctions function. Your nonprofit can leverage new advances in the field to transform your auction format for the better. Let’s explore how to spruce up an otherwise boring auction into something new, entertaining, and successful. 

How does a silent auction work?

Think of it as a traditional auction for people who like the thrill of suspense. Instead of the highly vocal format of live auctions, silent auctions entail bidders entering their bids in secret. At the end of the event, you’ll reveal to the crowd who the lucky winners are. 


This format is more bidder-focused than the traditional method. Instead of sitting and waiting for each auction item to be shown one by one, the silent auction format allows for a more involved experience driven by the guest, instead of the auctioneer. Your supporters can choose their own pace without having to sit through bidding wars that they aren’t interested in.


Moreover, a silent auction is highly versatile. With the popularization of apps and eCommerce platforms, your nonprofit can host a silent auction from the comfort of your own home. Yep, you don’t have to change out of your PJs to participate! This is especially relevant for pandemic-era fundraising, which has been a pain point for many fundraising coordinators. 


Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s dive into how to bring in new bidders and turn them into recurring donors. 

Tip #1: Level up your donations

You know those birthday gifts you get and just know will be thrown under your bed to collect dust? While it can be tempting to accept any and all in-kind donations to auction off at your event, keep in mind that you should curate the items that are more desirable for your supporters. An auction is about curating items that will pique donors’ interests, not put them to sleep. So, your organization should focus on collecting donations that you can’t easily get anywhere else and will appeal to your target demographic. The higher the item’s wow factor, the better!


You might be wondering where you can acquire these in-kind donations. After all, not everyone has access to valuable spare items that people will bid more than face value for (if you’re lucky!). One answer lies with your partners at for-profit corporations. 


Corporations have made it simpler than ever for nonprofits to receive their donations. In fact, the top 10 corporations give a whopping $2 billion and raise over $5 billion in workplace giving per year. 


Corporations have implemented a myriad of ways to use these funds to give back. For example, your silent auction could benefit from their: 

  • In-kind donations. In-kind contributions come in all shapes and sizes, from gift baskets to silent auction tables. One unique donation to ask for is an experience! Auctioning off experiences creates an exciting event for bidders. We’re talking amusement parks, bungee jumping, cooking classes, sports games, and other experiences. No matter the activity, they’ll be happy to escape their knitting for a day!
  • Sponsorships. Corporate sponsors help offset the expenses for your auction event. This will help you increase your return on investment and create a more profitable opportunity. Plus, you can reach their employees and customers as potential new event attendees! Consider reaching out to for-profit entities that have a history of donating to nonprofits and make an appeal. Make a specific and convincing ask that pulls on their heartstrings and their wallets. 


No matter what donations you collect for the event, you should make your silent auction accessible to everyone. Try to collect an array of gifts based on their value so bidders with a tighter budget can still participate.


On that note, we should address the elephant in the room: the losers at your silent auction. No, we don’t mean that as an insult, but the people who don’t win their favorite item. To keep your guests as happy as possible, you should consider offering goodie bags or consolation prizes so that everyone leaves feeling (more or less) like a winner!

Tip #2: Make it web-friendly

In 2022, your organization should be tired of antiquated auctioneering methods like paper-and-pencil bidding. It’s time to upgrade. We know that using a new interface can be nerve-wracking, but don’t worry, you won’t have to modernize alone. With the right charity auction site, you’ll have the necessary infrastructure to bring your silent auction to the 21st century. 


Silent auction software provides many practical features. Namely, it manages your silent auction for you. Paper, pencils, auctioneers, and long lines all create a chaotic event experience, but good software changes the game! Here’s what the process will look like when you host online: 

  • Guests peruse your auction items easily from their computer or smartphone and make bids when they know which one is their favorite. 
  • Your guests will receive notifications when they’re being outbid, helping them drive your pricing up. 
  • After the auction ends, your auction winners will check out securely through the app, eliminating lines. Then, they can simply pick up the item or have it shipped to their home! 


As you can see, this process makes auctions simple and easy to navigate for your participants. But it can also make your life easier as the host organization! It allows you to throw silent auctions completely online, sparing you rental and labor costs and allowing participation across the country. Plus, once your guests submit bids through the online platform, the software will automatically calculate who’s in the lead to save you the headache of tallying bids. 


Another major advantage of online auction software is that you can better adhere to silent auction best practices. Using an online platform will make it easier to avoid regrettable circumstances such as an illegible bidding card. These sites provide transparency and user-friendliness to help your silent auction run smoothly.


Internet accessibility is the new normal, and for good reason. Your organization should fully embrace it and watch your donations roll in. 

Tip #3: Market beyond your existing supporters 

Silent auctions are great because anyone, no matter their experience with your organization, can participate and walk away smiling. You should treat your silent auction not only as a fundraiser but as an opportunity to spread your mission and gain more supporters. There are several easy ways to market your silent auction past your existing donors. 


An easy way to start is to leverage your current supporters’ connections. Consider offering your guests a referral prize for inviting someone new to the silent auction, such as free branded merchandise or a gift card. This gives you the opportunity to get newcomers hooked on your cause while thanking your current donors in one fell swoop!


If your organization hasn’t heard of Google Ad Grants, you’re missing out big time. This program gifts $10,000 of Google ad space per month for the low price of… free! All you have to do is apply to Google and prove your 501(c)(3) status to start promoting. Act now, thank us later. 

Tip #4: Host a crowdfunding campaign

In addition to marketing with ads, referrals, and (of course) email and social media, your organization can actually use fundraisers to spread the word about your upcoming auction event! Look into fundraisers that ask supporters to share your campaign in addition to contributing funds. 


A classic use of online fundraising is a crowdfunding campaign. This is when your organization sets up an online giving platform for small, one-time donations towards a large project. According to Double the Donation, a crowdfunding campaign complements a silent auction well, especially when hosted online. Include a link to your event registration from your campaign page and you’ll not only raise donations but registrations too! 


Determine a fundraising goal for your crowdfunding campaign and encourage people to donate online. When it’s all said and done, you should have some crowdfunding money accrued in addition to the hype built for your silent auction. 

The Aftermath

So, you’ve taken the plunge and hosted your silent auction. Congratulations! We hope it was a huge success. Now, your work isn’t done! It’s time for you to take stock and reflect on your event. 


First thing first: express your gratitude. Follow up with all donors to your event—whether they were on the guest list or contributed in-kind auction items—and give heartfelt thanks for their support. Detail what their donation will be used for and how much the gift means to you, no matter its size. This step is why it’s so important to keep detailed contact records of your attendees. The last thing you want is for your donors to feel underappreciated. Give them a nice confidence boost so they consider helping out in the future.


Implement a user-friendly auction software to bring in new supporters and attract donations with the wildest prizes your bidders have ever seen. Fortune favors the bold, and we know that you’ve got this in the bag!