Having a Successful Silent Auction
Silent Auction Helps … … … .
Establish the Date
Important to give yourself at least six months to plan. Some businesses require at least a year in advance. Get the date down. Know what is happening in the community on the day you pick. Do not be in conflict with any other large event. You may want to email a “Save The Date” to women whose contact information you have.
Get the support you need
Even if you think you can run an auction alone, you shouldn’t. The network of participants is critical to your success. In every way, the more help the merrier. Your first effort should be to get enough people power to organize and run the event. Existing volunteers are always your mainstays, but consider asking them to reach out to friends, family, and co-workers to join in the fun. Bringing in new people to help can add renewed enthusiasm and new ideas to the mix. Build your planning team.
Give yourself time
Successful auctions can be planned and executed in a matter of weeks. But the success you’ll enjoy will be far greater if you give yourself six months or more to get things ready. You’ll need this time to plan and organize when, where, and who will be there. You’ll also need time to establish relationships with any sponsors and local businesses and other resources in the community.
Stay in Touch and Gear up
As the event date gets closer, make sure you stay in steady contact with all those on your planning team. Go over duties, ‘Save The Date’ email, contacting the facility with special needs (tables, sound, etc), any sponsors, item donations, key attendees, etc.
Remember, life intrudes on good intentions so keep in mind that some volunteers back out at the last minute (as do some participants!). So enlist as many helpers as possible. Keeping track of the money is important, so appoint at least two people to act as “cashiers.” Have a quick way for checking out.
Sell your wares
Displaying the items to be auctioned is a key to success also. If you have a retailer in your volunteer group, ask them to help with the display. Plan on having enough tables at your live event to give each item the space it deserves, and allow enough set-up time on the day of the auction. Presentation is everything and it will result in higher bids.
When the auction closes
- Announce that the auction is closed.
- Communicate with winners, tell them how they need to pay.
- Thank your community of volunteers
- Invite visitors to get involved by volunteering, donating, or attending an upcoming event.
- List and thank all sponsors and item donors.
Find the right volunteers
List the job functions required for your auction, then enlist help from people with skills that match your requirements. For example, salespeople can sell entries and obtain prizes, financial people can handle “the books,” computer people can develop databases and help with your auction site, people with pleasant voices can make follow-up phone calls.
Take good notes
At every step in your planning and execution of your auction, take good notes about all the participants. You should keep a record (name, address, phone, email and comments) on all actual and potential participants, sponsors, volunteers, and those who will donate products or services. Be sure to keep track of the possible assistance that doesn’t materialize: those with good intentions may come through the next time around. Update your database as people sign on, when items are donated, and when they are sold. This will be one of your most valuable tools from year to year.
Charity begins at home
Soliciting donations is easy if you start with businesses with whom you already have a professional and personal relationship. What restaurants do you frequent? What stores do they know you by name? At which retail stores do you shop? Your request for a charitable donation will be better received if it comes from a customer … you! Also, pass this tip along to your planning team. Encourage them to request donations. Make sure the business owner understands that giving to your cause is not only a generous act it is also a good way to expose products to the public, promoting the item as well as their business that donated it. Tell them how many women you plan to have there.
Let information drive your decisions
Every group is different and every auction succeeds a little differently from all others. It’s important, therefore, to keep careful records of what products and services are popular and successful in your charitable auction and which are not. Inevitably, certain items will sell well and others won’t. Use this information as a guide for your next auction when soliciting new items and setting minimums and reserves.
Remember the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of our time is spent chasing what isn’t important, and 20 percent is what really delivers results. Identify the 20 percent and save your valuable time and resources by focusing on what is likely to work. More items aren’t always better if they don’t sell and require a significant amount of time to solicit and manage.
Many businesses are besieged with donation requests – especially those that are known for their generosity. Give your donation request in writing and well in advance. Last-minute requests of donors to meet your deadline will not be appreciated and may well be denied. Always, always, always send a thank-you note, even for the smallest donation.
Tell people what donations you are looking for and the approximate value range desired. Don’t leave it to anyone’s imagination – ask for what you want and need to make your auction a success.
Soliciting donations from sponsors
Many companies, big and small, like to sponsor charitable events. Here are just a few of the organizations to contact:
Local TV, radio, and newspapers – Inquire about free advertisements (public service announcements) as well at editorial coverage of your announcements and event.
Restaurants – Ask for donated meals to benefit the live event and to be given as auction items and awards.
Photocopy stores – Ask for help with copies.
Keep in touch
If you don’t send enough messages to your community about your auction, your members won’t be moved to attend, donate, or bid, and your auction won’t likely achieve its goal. In this case, more communication means more participation!
Conventional wisdom says that people need to hear your message three times before they will act. Be sure you contact those who have attended your events, the community, and anyone who will be interested in your auction before, during, and after your event. Email is the best and most efficient means of doing this.
Work on building an email list so you can easily and inexpensively contact your supporters. Have an online auction in addition to your live auction event, so your message gets through.
Encourage word of mouth
Networks are very powerful promoters. The Internet has made “viral” marketing a concept everyone is trying to embrace. Essentially, this sort of communication involves a core community referring others to your cause. These, in turn, spread the word further. Send emails of invitation, thanks and announcement so that these can easily be forwarded by your recipients. Ask women to tell their families, colleagues, and friends about your upcoming auction.
Five things to say
There are a few things that all your communications should include. While these suggestions sound simple, we sometimes fail to include important information in our auction announcements. Make sure you always mention:
The nature of your organization and its mission.
What the proceeds will be used for.
Add to the perceived value of an assembly of donated items through a common theme. Separately, some items may not have a lot of value. But group them together and give them a title, and voilà … you’ve got instant pizzazz. For instance, you could combine some disposable cameras, a few folding chairs, and beach towels – and you suddenly have a “day at the beach” package. Use your imagination and have fun!
Make sure your item names are descriptive, but also exciting and interesting. Your item name should let your auction’s visitors know what the item is, but capture the imagination, as well. For example… for a spa weekend: “Heavenly Spa Weekend. Keep your descriptions clear, exciting, and the right length. Complicated items need a description that’s long enough to explain them fully. (Leaving out key details will create questions and cause hesitation.) For simple, common items, be brief — but colorful!
Keep values reasonable…
If you are uncertain of an item’s actual value, set a reasonable value for it. Inflating values will not result in higher bids or revenue if they are unreasonable.
Set a reserve price
Many times, you may not want to set a reserve amount. However, here are some circumstances where it may be appropriate:
1) An item’s donor stipulates that the item cannot be sold for less than a certain amount.
2) You have purchased an item for use in the auction and want to make certain it does not sell for less than a certain amount.
3) You have a subsequent auction or event where you can sell the item, if bidding doesn’t command at least a certain amount in the current auction.
Offer exclusivity or “headline” status to top name or top donor sponsors. Make it an easy financial decision to make the donation. Be sure to let your sponsors know the online exposure their name and product will receive.