Benefit Auction Commandments for Your Silent Auction

  1. Closing Times.  Close your silent tables prior to seating for dinner.  If doing a strolling dinner or serving stations, anything not requiring your guests to sit down, you can adjust your closings to occur a bit later in the evening.  But you absolutely want to close your silent auction before you start the live.  I know many still close silent after the live, for a variety of reasons, but they are just wrong on this one.  Consult your auctioneer to discuss your best options for your particular room set
    up and crowd size.

  2. Sorting Sections.  The overall value of each table should be increasing as each table closes.  Sort items on your tables based on value rather than “themes”. The difference between the First Section and Last Section Closing should be the overall value of the table and nothing more.  When you’ve got 300 people and only 40 items left on that last table, make sure those items are things bidders will be fighting over.
  3. Items per Section.  Don’t get too caught up in the idea that each section needs to have a balanced number of items.  It just doesn’t matter if we have the proper number of items overall in the silent.

  4. More on Organizing.  Each silent auction section should be easily identifiable when the auctioneer mentions it.  “The Red Section”, is great if it is adorned with coordinating balloons, tablecloths or general decor.  All sections should be readily visible from anywhere in the room in 5 seconds or less.  When you give sections a name like “Dads and Grads Section”, it’s not immediately clear to many bidders  where that section is located when we announce it’s closing.  We don’t have time for people to search out the table “at the west end of the ballroom”.  Nothing wrong with having an “Almost Live/Premium Section”, just call it the “Orange Section” so people can find it.   Keep it simple....Use colors!  

  5. Bid Sheets.  Bid sheets should be printed in duplicate or triplicate forms.  When possible, pre-print the bid increments on each sheet. *Most software will do this for you.   Use a sheet of colored paper behind the bid sheets to highlight/contrast the bid sheet.  The colors can correspond with the “Section Color”.  Always leave one copy of the bid sheet on the table after the closing.  See some very good AND very bad bid sheets.

  6. Writing Utensils.  Use pens not pencils.  Caps off.  Pens primed for writing.

  7. Bid Increments.  Using a set formula to determine the Opening Bid and the subsequent increments on silent items is fine for most items. I like to start at 40% of FMV, with increments equal to 10% of FMV.  Always round up.  Keep the math simple with nice even numbers.  Anything with a calculated increment of less the $5, gets added to a basket -- or pulled from the auction.  Just remember that sometimes we need to go out of formula, learn to recognize the unique items and make adjustments. 
    EX:  An iPod, sports tickets, some memorabilia, concert tickets, etc.

  8. Bidder Info.  Do not ask bidders write out their names on bid sheets.  Do not ask for phone numbers.  Do not ask for table numbers.  A simplified bidding process means more bids.  “Bid Number and Amount of Bid” is all we need.  All bidder information  should be in our files along with corresponding bid numbers.

  9. Draw Attention. Use your emcee or auctioneer to draw attention to silent tables and the associated closing times.  We know you are talking to friends, drinking, eating, partying and generally distracted.  Our job is to remind folks why we are here.  Too often the silent tables are...well...silent.  Handled correctly, your silent can be fun, fast paced, exciting, competitive and yes, a significant money making part of your evening.

  10. Too Many items.  You want roughly one item in the silent for every “bidding unit” at your event.  One Bidding Unit = One couple.  If you have 300 people, that’s 150 “bidding units”.  It’s a good rule of thumb.  Don’t panic at 155 or 125, but avoid getting too far off target or your bid yields will diminish accordingly due to having creating a Buyer’s Market.   More items will not yield more money unless we increase the number of bidders at the same rate.  It will clog up your tables, diminish the the competitive spirit and generally reduced yields.  Photos of things to NEVER do.

  11. Arranging Tables.  Don’t put too much effort into making the tables look “pretty”.  We want efficient.  Easy to identify items with corresponding bid sheets easily identifiable, directly in front of the item.  Never stack items or bid sheets.  Get another table before you start getting creative.  Photos of some great examples here. 

  12. It’s All About Traffic Flow.  Because we know most of the items are not of interest to an average bidder, we need them to get through the stuff they don’t want as quickly as possible.  Time is money.  Make sure you tables are arranged for good traffic flow.  Avoid corners and U-shaped table arrangements that are likely to cause traffic jams in the room once we have 300 people on the floor.

  13. Bidders Don’t Want Most of Your Items.  The average silent auction bidder is only interested in a handful of items.  Don’t believe me? Look at the bid sheets after your event.  How many things did #45 bid on?  Not won, just bid on.  If you have 150 items in your silent, an average bidder might bid on 10.  When looking at the number of items you have, ask yourself, How many items do they have to sort through to find those 10?  How much time do they have to do this?

  14. Closing Times.  Be sure to give your bidders enough time to bid.  Figure on about 90 minutes for most auctions.  That said, bidders are all waiting for those final 5 minutes to really get down to serious bidding.  Knowing that, each section only needs about 8-10 minutes between closings.  Give them enough time to get from the Red to the Blue section, but giving them 15-20 minutes, as I see all the time, will just have bidders standing next to the tables waiting on the last 5 minutes.  

  15. Proper Lighting. Lighting should be plentiful around your silent tables.  I love a good atmosphere as much as anyone, but avoid too much ambience (such as candlelight) and ensure there is enough light to see the bid sheets and all your items clearly.  Consider how bright things are once lights are “set”.  Confirm where the lights will be once the auction starts.  It is seldom the same level of brightness at 10am when you are setting it up as it will be at 9pm.

  16. Displays.  Invest in those plastic/acrylic display stands to present your silent item descriptions.  Especially great for Gift Certificates that all look the same on our tables.  Design a simple template on your computer with your logo, an event logo, theme, etc. and print one out for each item in the live.  These can be saved for future years and reused.  Work a deal with another auction in the neighborhood to timeshare the displays and keep your costs down.  I’ve seen them online for as little as $1.25 each.

  17. Descriptions.  Keep your item description short and to the point. Imagine these descriptions as mini-billboards that need to catch a bidders attention as they walk by.  We can’t exclude the fine print on items, but short bulleted points will serve your event better than a clever (albeit wordy) paragraph that takes 30 seconds to read and decipher.

  18. Sound System.  Make sure your sound system can be clearly heard in the silent auction area. Wherever you have people, you need good sound to communicate with bidders.  The “stock/house” sound available at nearly every single banquet hall, hotel and country club is inadequate for a live auction setting.  I’ve seen 3 in 20 years that were good.  No matter what they tell you, it’s bad. It’s going to cost you money if use house sound.

  19. Silent Auction Rules.  Be sure to clearly print all rules for silent (and live) in your program.  It can’t hurt to have them printed on signs, near the silent tables to keep folks posted on the guidelines.