Skip to main content


Anniversary Campaigns/Special Events Topics


Silent Auctions: Cutting Back On Stuff

Silent Auctions: Cutting Back On Stuff

25 sign-up sheets, scattered across the room with pens hanging alongside.

Enticing descriptive paragraphs, promising hobbyist skills, relaxing get-a-ways, youthful skin.

Attractive photos, artfully-displayed items, jewelry draped across satin backdrops, gift certificates mounted alluringly on the wall.

And each sign-up sheet with only one bid scrawled across the clipboard.

What’s wrong with this picture? And how come it gets repeated time and time again? 

Special event volunteers love to gather silent auction items. It’s an easy ask – asking for stuff, for expertise, for items the donor has too many of or simply doesn’t use anymore.

So what’s wrong with that?

First off, an overabundance of energy spent on silent auction solicitation results in a surfeit of items – a mismatch in the number of bidders and bids to be made. If you have too many items, it devalues each bid – as a bidder, you realize you’re more likely to win, so you’re less likely to work hard at it.

Items become considered for their “bargain value” – rather than placing bids because the bidder wants to “beat out” the others. It becomes a purchase transaction (is it a good price?) rather than a social transaction (who’s competing with me to take this home?).

With this mentality, every item goes for below cost. People weigh every bid against the item’s perceived worth. Not exactly what you want when the goal is fundraising!

The other problem with excessive silent auction energy is that it replaces ticket sales, or sponsorship search efforts. It’s too easy for volunteers to get distracted – to consider the restaurant dinner for two to have fulfilled their fundraising commitment (instead of a $5,000 table, say). You don’t want your best volunteer energy to go to procuring a day spa certificate.

The conclusion? Sure, hold a silent auction. But don’t redirect your most valuable fundraiser’s energies to the auction committee. Keep your eye on the prize – even if the result is fewer items, not more.

And who knows? You might even spark a bidding war for Aunt May’s antique fringed tango dress – if it’s the only thing worth pursuing on the dance floor.