The silent auction, always playing second fiddle to the greater fanfare live auction, is often forgotten as it is shoved to the beginning of the gala, hidden away during cocktail hour and before the seated dinner. We forget the silent auction can play many roles, kind of the Robin Williams of the benefit gala. When placed at the beginning of the event, it serves as the kickoff to the event, setting the mood and expectations for the rest of the evening. When done properly (that is to say, by a professional auctioneer who understands the important role of silent auctions), it serves as a warm-up to the live auction, giving the crowd a taste of bidding frenzy as the sections are counted down…90 seconds, 10 seconds…And, finally, yes…it’s there to make money! Done poorly, it can be a boring addition to the evening and what are your patron’s expectations of the rest of the evening if the silent auction is poorly executed?
So how do we accomplish all of these things in one simple silent auction?
There are many factors to consider, but here are a few helpful ideas to get you going in the right direction: First, do not put minimum bids on your bid sheets. You need to get the auction started! Remember, it’s not an auction until two people equally desire the same item. If you have minimum bids, you won’t get the auction started and you’ll have a lot of blank sheets and a nervous auction committee. A nervous committee and a snooze fest…sound fun? Generally, you only have 60-90 minutes for the silent auction, so get pen to paper as quickly as possible, the bids will climb – auctions are a ladder up process. Second…no valuations on the bid sheets. You are not Macy’s. (Do you know what happens at Macy’s if they don’t sell an item on Monday? Right, they sell it on Tuesday. You don’t have that luxury). Items have been 100% donated and you need to sell them all, quickly. A client recently came up to me after the close of a silent auction and asked what they should do with an item that did not get bid on, even though they had printed that the value was $500 (obviously nice) and they modestly started the bidding at $300. “Are you kidding me?” was my thought bubble. What I actually said was, “Why did you put a valuation and why did you have a minimum?” The answer was, “So our guests would know what a great deal they’re getting.”…And, “how’s that working for ya?” was my final response.
Your gala is not a retail store. Your patrons will tell you how much an item is worth on that particular night. It’s worth whatever the highest bidder will pay.
Ok, You’re off to a good start…
Tune in for the next post: The Not-So-Silent Auction (Part Two), where we will talk about section closing and appropriate number of items
Happy Bidding, Joey