Silent Auction

What is a silent auction?

A silent auction is an event at which items for sale are displayed for attendees to browse, place bids on, and purchase. However, unlike traditional auctions, there is no auctioneer present. Instead, participants place their bids silently and anonymously on a bid sheet using a bidding number—hence the name silent auction.

How do nonprofits use silent auctions?

Nonprofits use silent auctions to fundraise in an engaging way. Rather than simply soliciting donations, hosting a silent auction gives donors the opportunity to actively participate in an event and maybe even make an exciting purchase. Additionally, because the items being auctioned have been donated to the organization, the nonprofit does not lose any money in procuring them and reaps the full benefits of the auction.

How does a silent auction work?

Attendees at a silent auction spend the first part of the event checking out the items for auction. When they find something they’d like to place a bid on, they use their bidding number to make an anonymous bid on the bid sheet in front of the item. 

At most silent auctions, there will be a minimum bid amount and a minimum increase requirement. The minimum increase requirement dictates how many dollars more a bid must be than the last. Once the bidding has ended and the winning bids have been announced, winners can complete their transactions and collect their items in a checkout area.

Silent auction best practices

Every silent auction is different, but there are a few key best practices most of them follow to ensure a successful event: 

  1. Advertise some auction items ahead of time. Provide a sneak peek at the items that will be available for bidding using social media posts or email newsletter teasers. Don’t reveal every item that will be available, but highlight a select few to generate excitement and get attendees thinking about what they might like to bid on. 
  2. Establish a closing time. Guests should have a specific, predetermined length of time within which they may place bids. This creates a sense of urgency and makes sure guests place bids on items they are interested in as soon as possible. If multiple events are happening at the silent auction, like a sit-down dinner, consider closing bidding before the dinner so that guests’ attention is not pulled in too many different directions.
  3. Have an appropriate number of items available. Scott Robertson, an expert in virtual auctions, suggests having no more than one item for every two people at your event. Having too many items is overwhelming for guests, and won’t necessarily increase the number of items purchased.
  4. Control traffic flow. Arrange tables in a way that makes all items easily visible and avoids traffic jams. Traffic should move as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  5. Organize items strategically. Items should be organized from least expensive to most expensive. If you place the more expensive items at the start, bidders may only choose to bid on one item as opposed to placing multiple bids on less expensive items.

How do you run a silent auction?

Like any event, running a silent auction is a hefty undertaking. Here are some of the basics organizations should consider when planning and running a silent auction.

  • Promotion. Event marketing should start as soon as the date is set. Begin promoting on social media and via email, and even consider teasing available items in your communication.
  • Venue selection. When choosing the venue, remember to prioritize traffic flow. Guests should be able to move about freely without feeling cramped or cornered. There should also be plenty of space for display tables, high tops, and serving stations if food is provided.
  • Item selection. Consider the audience before procuring items. Are they seniors? Young singles? Academics? Thrill seekers? Select items the attendees will be excited about.
  • Item display. Make sure all items are visible. Use stands, platforms, stages, and easels to make items stand out.
  • Item descriptions. All items should be accompanied by item descriptions. Create item description sheets that include details about what the item is, who donated it, why it’s valuable, and anything else you think the buyer may want to know.
  • Registration. Registering participants is not required, but it does offer a few benefits. First of all, it allows the bidder to be anonymous. After participants fill out the registration form, they will be given a bidder number which they can use to place bids instead of using their names. Registration also ensures you get the information from every attendee should you need to contact them after the event.
  • Bid sheets. Bidding sheets are where all of the bidding happens. When a participant wants to bid on an item, they will jot down their bidding number and their bid amount on the bidding sheet in front of the item. Some bid sheets also include a “Buy Now” price for attendees who have their hearts set on the item.
  • Volunteers. Recruit volunteers to help set up, manage registration, check out attendees, and handle other tasks that require extra help.
  • Auction monitors. If possible, having experienced auction monitors at the event can be beneficial. Because all of the bidding is done by the attendees themselves, the auction monitors’ main responsibility is overseeing the auction and making sure everyone follows the rules and guidelines.
  • Checkout area. Designate a specific space for checking out, where the winning bidders can claim their items and pay for them.

How do you throw a silent auction online?

You also have the option to throw an entirely virtual silent auction. Online silent auctions allow you to save on overhead costs like venue rentals and catering. Plus, because these auctions take place online, the bidding period is usually longer than an in-person auction. Some accept bids for a few days, while others accept them for a few weeks. This gives supporters more time to browse your items and decide what they’d like to bid on. 

Online auctions are also an important feature when in-person gatherings are not feasible. You can use online silent auctions as a type of virtual fundraising event to provide another way for your supporters to engage. Not to mention, moving to the digital space can break down geographical barriers, opening your silent auction to more donors. 

The most important step in planning an online silent auction is choosing auction software. Participants will register, make bids, and pay for items all through the auction site. Organizations are still responsible for soliciting the items, taking pictures of the items to display, and setting starting bid amounts. 

Top auction software solutions

There are many software solutions that could streamline the auction planning process for your nonprofit. Some of our favorites are:


Qgiv is a robust auction platform to help plan your next silent auction.

Source: Qgiv

Qgiv’s auction software makes silent auction planning and mobile bidding a breeze. Event planners can create branded pages for virtual, live, and hybrid silent auctions. Mobile bidding gives supporters the opportunity to download an app and easily bid on items right from their phones. Real-time push notifications will let them know when they’ve been outbid, keeping them reeled into your auction. 


This is a product image showing Handbid's silent auction software.
Source: G2

Handbid equips auction planners with a user-friendly app available on the Apple Store and Google Play. Plus, supporters can also easily bid from the desktop version of your customized auction event site. Using Handbid live, you can stream a live video feed to engage supporters and offer an additional engaging virtual element to the experience. 


This is a product image showing CharityAuctionToday's silent auction dashboard with bidding features.
Source: G2

CharityAuctionsToday emphasizes the fact that its auction software helps event planners get their auctions up and running in just minutes. The auction platform works on all devices, allowing participants to make bids from anywhere. CharityAuctionsToday also partners with Stripe, PayPal, WePay, and other top payment processors to offer a seamless checkout experience. 


CausePilot offers free software to help plan your next silent auction.

Source: CausePilot

CausePilot offers free auction software for organizations looking to plan events on a tighter budget. This auction platform’s features include volunteer management tools, a procurement tool to solicit items easily, and a seamless checkout process using one-click auto checkout. 


OneCause offers convenient mobile bidding for silent auctions.

Source: OneCause

OneCause also offers convenient mobile bidding options as part of their powerful auction software. OneCause simplifies ticketing and table management, allowing auction planners to create customized ticket packages. Plus, you can keep donor management at the forefront with access to real-time donor engagement analytics. 

See all our favorite event and auction tools

The bottom line

Silent auctions are a fun, effective way to fundraise. With some planning and attention to detail, nonprofits can host an enjoyable, lucrative event. Just make sure to invest in the right software to power your event. That way, you can focus on creating an event that donors remember for years to come.

For more information about planning an auction, check out these additional resources: