Offering the right amount of silent auction items is a critical decision in your fundraising event planning. One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make when hosting a live or silent auction is offering too many auction items during the event resulting in lower bids, low energy, and a lack of “bidding wars” to add to the excitement of the event. On the other hand, too few items could leave guests disappointed and you may not achieve your target revenue.

Fortunately, we have provided a few considerations to keep in mind when selecting the right number of items for your next auction.

The first step is to determine your fundraising goal. A live auction typically generates roughly two-thirds of your fundraising revenue, while the silent auction produces one-third. If you’re pairing a live auction with a silent auction, you will want to present your big ticket items live onstage only, keeping it to about 6-10 items. Offering 1 to 1.5 auction items per expected bidder provides enough scarcity to drive up bidding, and enough variety to appeal to the audience.

The size of the audience and the venue should also be considered. To better understand the number of attendees who will actually participate in the auction, a good rule of thumb is to divide your guest list in half. This helps to factor the tendency for couples to bid together and establish a more realistic number of donors with the spending power to buy higher priced items that help to reach your fundraising goal. According to successful auctioneer Doug Sorrell in his book, Beneath The Gavel: A Charity Auctioneer’s Complete Guide to Fundraising, a good rule of thumb for the silent auction is one silent auction item per 7 guests. If you expect 225 guests, you should have approximately 32 silent auction items.

A good sense of the guest demographic should guide your procurement efforts. Understanding the profile of the bidder will help in offering the items that your donors want to see. Below are a few best practices for selecting the right auction items for an event’s audience.

  1. Learn from history– If applicable, look at what types of items sold at past events while selecting items for your next auction. This tactic can help you understand the interest of your audience and identify themes of areas to focus. Was the highest bidding item a vacation some place warm or an adventure out West? Were food and wine packages sold more or sports tickets and memorabilia? While using this past data is helpful, it is recommended to keep auction items new and exciting each year to keep returning guests interested.
  2. Close the gap– After collecting donated auction items and small gift baskets, take a look at your offerings and identify gaps. Providing a variety of auction items in both price point and interests will help to engage with donors on all levels. Although material items such as bottles of wine, spa gift sets, and art are all attractive in a silent auction, research shows today’s consumers are wanting to spend money on experiences, not things, to create lasting memories.
  3. Get Social!– Polling is one of the best ways to hear and learn from event attendees and donors. Luckily, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram make it easy to use polling on social media. Post potential auction items in a head-to-head poll and determine which items are the most coveted, and therefore most likely to sell.
  4. Tie into the event theme– An event theme lets attendees escape reality, sets the tone, promotes social sharing and makes the night memorable. When auction items can align with the event theme, it generates a buzz and connection with the audience and encourages participation to further the event experience, even after the night ends.
  5. Quality over quantity— Most importantly, the best non-profit auctions offer quality over quantity. Give your audience a chance to bid on items that are out of their norm and provide experiences that are a chance to try something new. Donors are more likely to spend more dollars on an item of high perceived value, like a weekend getaway to wine country, than just on a few bottles of wine to enjoy at home.

Identifying the right items and the right number of items to offer at an auction is a difficult feat but can be immensely influential in your organization’s fundraising goal. Using the tips listed above, you can be sure to be on the right track to success in your next auction!

Written by Krista Kuhlman, Experiential Marketing Manager, Giveback Sports