Silent Auction Process

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 8:06 pm

It’s the night of the Auction. The room is glamorous, people are having a good time, everyone admires the items. Just one small problem – you need to start closing and no one has bid. Don’t panic.  People know they’re at the auction to give money to your cause but they like a bargain too. They are going to bid at last moment. Extending the time does not change this dynamic – it just ruins the dinner.

Closing The Auction

Watch for the bid sheet filling up for hot items. Additional sheets should be added to this item and carefully labeled page 2, 3 etc. Also keep an eye on the location of bid sheets. Sometimes bidders pick up the clip boards to read and place them down at some distance from the item.  This will confuse other bidders and result in lower bids.

Unless you have fewer than 60 items, close the auction in sections.  Give a five minute warning, a 1 minute warning and a countdown. Make it a very slow countdown if there is a bidding war going on.  Your object is to allow everyone to give as much money as they want to for an item without dragging the affair on all night.  

When the announcer says section X is closed, carefully trained volunteers should place a line in the space under the last name of those items in the closed section.  Make sure the volunteers know which section is being closed and only mark items in that section.  Bid sheets should be collected immediately and taken to the computer person.  Empty clip boards should be removed and packed in boxes.

This should be repeated at approximately five minute intervals for the remaining items.

Preparing Items To Be  Claimed

As soon as the guests clear the room the administration team needs to pack away all props (you don’t want winners to think the props are part of the prize and take them home) and pack all items in their boxes or protective bubble-wrap envelops.  Any packing for items should be under the table that has the item on it.  If the items are not in numeric order they should be moved into numeric order. Tables should be labeled with a range of paddle numbers to allow for assembled items to be placed in numeric order by winning paddle number.

Preparing Packing Slips

Meanwhile the computer person and their partner will be entering all the winning bids into the computer. (Don’t forget the program must be in Auction Mode under Settings.)The computer person enters the item number, paddle number and winning bid into the program. If the bid sheet has a letter on the bottom, multiple winners should be entered – B= top 2 winners; C = top 3 winners, etc. As each bid is entered the bid sheet is passed to the partner and filed in numeric order.

As soon as all bids are entered the packing slips are printed.  it is fastest to print in groups of 10. As soon as packing slips start to print they should be passed to the packing team to assemble the winners’ items.

Once the packing slips start printing note the total of the silent auction and send it to the Live Auction Chair.

Preparing Invoices

Once all the packing lists have been printed the invoice header should be changed from packing list to Winner’s Copy under invoice format header and a second complete set should be printed. Asssuming odd paddle numbers were given to those who have a credit card on file, place a sticker on the odd buyers thanking them for leaving their credit card on file and asking them to go directly to item pickup. If the winner only has gift certificates, the gift certificates should be attached to the  invoice.  Fold the invoice in thirds so that the name shows. The invoices should be kept in piles for each table.

 Then the Winner’s Copy should be changed to Cashier Copy and all even bidder number invoices should be printed. These invoices should have the payment information stickers placed on them and then folded in thirds so that the name shows and the Cashier Copy is on top.  As soon as all invoices for a table are prepared they should be delivered to the table unless the live auction has started. If it has already started they should be arranged on a table between the dining area and the cashier in numeric order.

Taking Payments

The cashier should encourage people to fill out the payment information before they get to the cashier table. Confirm credit card numbers are legible and all information is clearly filled out and that a MasterCard or Visa (not American Express) . Staple checks or cash to the invoice.  If someone who has left their credit card number on file wishes to to make alternate payment arrangements, place a sticker on their packing invoice  and take the alternate payment.

Item Pickup

Winners show their invoice to the packing team (the packing team should not care if they paid – just make sure they take their items.) who will fetch their items from the assembly area. It may be necessary to assist some winners to their car with their items.


What to Bring to The Auction – Administration Committee

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction, Uncategorized at 11:19 am

(Out of order, but I just ran an auction so it’s fresh in my mind.)

Auction Item Set-up

(the period before the auction when you fill the room with auction items)


 the pile of bid sheets (NOT on clipboards),

at least 3 labels for each item with the item number and title typed on – these will be placed on items that have mysteriously lost their number and on all associated packing materials that are hidden under the tables during the auction.

pens or pencils for bidding,

 the computer, printer. cables, paper, extra ink,


A  box with items for the evening:

staplers (roughly one for every 40 items)

marker pens (3-10, depending on the size of the event and how bad you are at holding on to things)

Cashier sign, money box

Help desk sign

Payment labels for those who have left their credit card on file (Thanks them for pre-registering credit cards and directs them to go directly to item pickup)

Payment labels with cash, check and accepted credit card company boxes and space for number, expiration date and signature.

If you have more than 75 items and they are not arranged in numeric order around the room plan on rearranging them while the results of the bidding are being processed. Bring signs for where you will move items to. (For instance Items 1-30, Items 31-60, etc.)

Shopping bags for those items that can be reasonably be packed.

Table seating/Registration Support

Walk-in registration sheets – for some reason there are always a few people that come to a formal event without a reservation – frequently someone’s Aunt Mary who dropped by unexpectedly. Even if they are just appearing for 1/2 an hour during the cocktail hour to show support, it is imperative that you capture their name and address and assign them a bidding number so that they can buy somthing if the spirit moves them and you can get their item to them if they leave early.


Auction Committees

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 8:53 am

You’re planning an auction for this year (hopefully the spring) and you’re not sure where to start.

With luck you’ve already booked the locale and any entertainment you need.  If it’s a school auction, you reminded people to keep an eye out for auction items over the summer. You’ve set the theme. Now what?

The are several major area you need to keep track of. If you can get people to be responsible for each area your life will be simpler and more people will be emotionally committed to making your event a success. Not every auction will have every area but don’t realize that you need one after the last week you could have done something about it.

1. Auction Journal – raises money through ads, thanks the items donors through an acknowledgment of their gifts and prepares attendees to spend on the items. The Auction Committee should be focusing in the Fall on getting ads for the journal. This push should be virtually finished by December 1 with a cut-off in early January to accommodate those that make donations at the end of the year.

2. Getting attendees to the event – This group should handle invitation design, printing, addressing and table assignments.  While this group has to be nimble enough to handle the 25% of responders that RSVP in the week before the event most of their work should be done long before it is needed. A procrastinator in this job is really bad.

3. Auction Items – this is a three-four committee job.

  • There is the tremendous job of getting donations through the door. These are people with the connections to get significant cooperate donations, patronize local establishments frequently and are not so involved in other community activities that shop owners hide when they see them coming.  These should not be people with the idea of going door-to-door in town to ask for things from shops they have never patronized. Virtually all merchants give a certain amount to charity. They will be much more generous to your cause if you are a regular client.
  •  There is the very large administrative job of keeping track of the items, grouping and preparing things for the journal, thanking donors, and preparing the paperwork for the night of the auction (bid sheets, item labels, etc.).  This committee should include someone compulsive, a good writer and a good proof reader.
  • There is the brief but intense preparing items for presentation at the event. This ranges from preparing beautiful baskets , to getting appropriate props to making sure the venue looks its best during the event. Since this takes an artistic soul, giving them complete dominion over the look of the event is not a bad idea if you’ve chosen well. They should be able to work closely and happily with the administrative person.
  • Finally you need someone to run the process the night of the event. This can be the administrative person but the group needs to be able not to chat during the crucial time between closing items and delivering packed items to bidders. (If you can strike a deal with a neighboring school to staff their auction & they staff yours you are way ahead of the game.)

4. Other Money-raiser – Secondary money raisers can add interest to the event and insure that you ‘don’t leave money on the table’ – that is, you make sure that everyone that came to the event with the intention of spending x leaves having spent x. They can also be a palatable way to handle donations that are too small to warrant inclusion in a silent auction as a stand-alone item. These may include

  • live auction  (8-12 fabulous items with extensive publicity & elaborate presentation)
  • a wish-list auction (pledge drive),
  • 50/50 raffle,
  • balloon bazaar ,or
  • tricky tray (Multiple items are presented, each with a box. People buy raffle tickets and put in a box for a drawing at the event.)

This will need a separate committee responsible for this area. If you chose to have a live auction, tricky tray or balloon bazaar this committee must be prepared to solicit their own items without asking donors that have already given and work closely with the silent auction people to get suitable items from the general donations. While tact is a great asset in all committee chairs, in this position it is especially useful.


How Bad Can an Auction Be? – Lose Sanity and Money on an Auction

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 11:31 am

Most charity auctions are events that can be extremely wearing on volunteers but are worth it because they raise large amounts of cash.  Most does not mean all.

I was recently (6 weeks before the event) asked to help with an event for an extremely worthy charity. They knew they didn’t quite have it down because last year they never collected the payments for the items that were auctioned. As I listened to their tale of woe it became clear that they had unconsciously assumed the massive goodwill they had would help them glide over any of their failures in running an event.

Lesson 1 – People who care about your cause enough to shell out a significant amount for a lunch or dinner will not give you infinite slack. 

Item winners at the ill-fated auction were not clear on which basket they won and many apparently took the wrong basket. This was exacerbated because some winners took the correct basket, on closer inspection decided it was not really what they wanted, and took another. Those going home with the ‘wrong’ basket refused to pay when contacted later.

Lesson 2 Clarity is Key – Descriptions must be clear and bid sheets must be clearly tied to an item. Even if you deliver the basket won and immediately collect for a poorly presented item, the bad will created is awful.

At another auction I helped a friend with, the descriptions for vacation homes were confusing. In most cases people just moved on to items they could figure out and didn’t bid. In one case, several active bidders were under the impression that they were bidding on the house for a prime season period. In reality, and accurately stated, the house was for the off-season.  Saying that the house was available from Labor Day to Memorial Day was too close in wording to a summer rental from Memorial to Labor Day.  Switching to actual date availability and playing up the use of the house for a special Thanksgiving retreat for an extended family made it much more popular.

Lesson 3 – Process is Key – Find a compulsive person to run the administrative chores during the event. This person (and their team) needs to have in mind how the auction will end, how items will be billed, how items will be delivered to the winner, how payment will be collected and how unsold items will be handled.

Auctions don’t have to be nightmares. Keep on track and plan to have a very successful event.


Time for Auction Item Reminder Letter

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 8:01 pm

You’re having a school auction but you’ve decided to take it easy now that you’ve booked the place and the band? Not quite yet.

 Before everyone scatters to the four winds send out a gentle announcement –

  • Let people know the date.
  • Remind people you will be asking for item donations and that summer travels can yield exciting gifts.  Getting a hotel you are staying at to donate a weekend is always popular. Even with today’s global economy, buying local items can be an inexpensive way to add a touch of the exotic to your auction.
  • Those who don’t have financial resources to travel to distant locals can still use the summer to create valuable donations.  A basket of homemade babyclothes is adorable and everyone can always use a baby gift.
  • Free time in the summer can also be used to get tickets to shows.  Writing to local theater companies or even to TV shows that offer free tickets with significant lead times can make your donation a very special addition to the auction item list. (Worry about getting someone to donate their miles for tickets later.)

Auctions can be filled with items people are happy to pay for with a little advance planning and the support of your community.


Auctions & Your Family Life

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 7:30 am

If you commit to running an auction you can say good bye to your family life outside of the auction preparation for a while.  My family always was involved – in nursery school my children would put the labels on the envelopes for the gift certificates, as they got older they helped wrap baskets and on one occasion where the auction was held at a hotel that we had taken rooms for the night, they helped pack and collect items for the buyers (after guests and alcohol were out of the room).

It gets so consuming you sometimes lose track of other threads of your life that are coming up.  One year I received four boxes of items, delivered to my home, that included high-end purses, a few assorted collectibles, some clothes and a few pairs of shoes and boots. Some of it seemed slightly worn.  No return address anywhere.

I puzzled over the contents – did someone clear out their closets and wasn’t really clear on what we wanted so they sent everything? I called around seeing if anyone else working on the auction was expecting a shipment. No luck.  Perhaps I could auction a couple of the items and send the rest to a consignment store?

Send Eco-elegant flowers

Fortunately, before I disposed of the items, my cousin called. She was planning to move in with us briefly between the end of her college and her return to Europe in 6 weeks. Since she really was a very organized girl, she shipped all her items to us early. It never occurred to her that I would attribute boxes of clothing to anything else.

The Year Before The Auction – Location & Theme

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 7:13 am

There are several elements that must be covered with any fund-raising event but several specific items must be kept in mind to ensure a good auction. (Most of my comments are directed at preparing for silent auctions since one often takes the best of the silent to offer in a live auction.)

Auction Location

The ideal silent auction venue will have a spacious room that will hold enough tables to display items and bid sheets.

How many tables? First determine how many items you’re likely to get – past contribution levels are the best guide. In a school you can get as many as one item for every 2 families. (They’ll be combined – 150 is a good maximum number of items to permit.) A small charity can figure on 40-60 items. Each item will need a bidsheet. They will need to be arranged along the edge of the tables – using 12” per item will give enough room for people to get in to bid in a popular section and allow last minute additions if necessary.

If you expect to have 60 items think of getting ten 6’ tables if they will be against the walls or five 6’ tables if they will have traffic on both sides. (Be careful with rectangular tables that are not against a wall. By the time you put bid sheets on each side there is not a lot of room left to display items. This is fine if everyone is giving gift certificates – a couple of picture frames illustrating the items would fit. Baskets might not. Round tables hold a little less – I would use three 10’ tables for 60 items.

There must be room at some areas for a significant crowd to watch/bid. If hot items are grouped (sports items/ teacher- or children-created items) people will crowd to watch the competition. If the crowd stops the bidders getting through, you have a problem.

Sound system – a clear sound system that can be heard announcing the end of the auction will create the excitement and tension that leads to abandoned bidding on an item or two and will minimize people bidding after the item has closed. (A nightmare worth significant effort to prevent occurring.)

Lighting over the tables should be good. If you have dark corners people bid less. Often you have little control over this – just don’t put the items you expect to go for the most in the darkest areas.

Look at expected traffic patterns. Will a bar pull people to the far tables? They might go looking for a hot table, but bidders get easily distracted by friends at an event and don’t always go looking to make bids.

Command Center – Ideally the people collecting and processing the bids will have a separate room very close to the auction for their operations center. If there is no room available, part of the room with outlets should be screened off.

Room Availability – How long before the event will a room be available? With phenomenal planning and execution on everyone’s part, I once set up an auction of 140 items in 2 hours but the volunteers were really tired by the end of the event. The night before is definitely preferable.


Any fundraiser should have a clearly articulated destination for the funds. Charity X’s or School Y’s general fund doesn’t really resonate with potential donors. Building a specific facility or teacher benefits result in more generous donations.

In addition, specifying the theme of the event helps the Auction Coordinator develop donations and a look that supports the theme.


The more people you can involve in all phases of the event the better your donations. Get the chairs in place as soon as you know the location. Catalogs presented as journals can contribute a significant amount to an event – especially if they’re done as keepsakes (in a school – include pictures of each class and encourage pictures of children in the ads) and are done on a regular basis. I’ve found the following structure gets lots of people involved without killing anyone:

Event Chair(s) – responsible for the overall event, sets theme, location, overall look, menu, activities. Responsible for keeping the sub chairs on track.

Auction Coordinator – reports to the Chair but handles the auction end of things. May be one of the co-chairs of the event.

Item Procurer Chair – the person with connections. In addition to asking the community for items, this person will put together a committee to develop more exciting, larger donations. (The event chairs can be expected to come up with a couple of large donations also.) This person will also be responsible for making sure all items arrive before the auction.

Catalog/Journal Production – Produces the book that describes the items to be sold. This can be anything from something produced on the school copy machine to a glossy color book with ads. This person gets the raw ads from the Journal ad manager and the item descriptions from the Item administrator and turns them into a catalog for the event. They may work with a graphic designer and a printer. (being a graphiic designer is a definite plus.)

Journal Ad Manager – the person who collects the ads and solicits local businesses to support your event. This person makes sure all ad materials are in hand and gets them to the Journal Production person.

Item Administration
This person manages the committee that tracks and handles the items from initial arrival, gets them combined and described for the catalog and bid sheets, produces gift certificates generated by the organization, makes sure that all items are in hand and in the correct locations for the event, processes the bids, gets the items to the buyers and generates the thank you notes. A geeky process person is required.

Item Set up – the person who gets items ready for presentation at the auction. They collect props to illustrate items – pictures of teachers, sports paraphernalia to illustrate sports tickets. Their committee wraps baskets and create a beautiful look for the auction room. (Attractive presentation contributes a lot to the bottom line.) This is a great committee to get a large number of volunteers with limited time involved so that they get a chance to see the items they will be bidding on later. It therefore is best to have a very artistic, social person.


Running A Great Auction

Posted in Running A Non-profit Auction at 9:38 am

I love auctions for schools, churches and charities. (I’ve run over 20 of them for various schools and charities.) They are the most painless way of supporting your favorite cause. Volunteers get to have guilt-free coffee klatches with their friends (“I don’t have time to clean my house – I’m working on the auction.”) A well-run auction will maximize bids, minimize extra volunteer work and result in everyone feeling good throughout the event.  This series will cover the considerations and mechanics of running a good auction.

Send Eco-elegant flowers

Auctions are wonderful fundraisers – they just require man-weeks to man-months of volunteer time. (Quite often the most active volunteers are those that command a very respectable consulting fee. Do not make the mistake of calculating the worth of the volunteer time put into the auction – just signing over their paycheck for the time would probably dwarf any amount you could hope to raise, but don’t worry about it – no one ever signs over their whole paycheck.)

If you want to have an auction, the better you understand the dynamics and plan it for your community the more you will raise. Nothing breeds more subtle resentment amongst volunteers than trivializing their contribution by failing to sell items, selling items for less than the volunteers themselves would have paid or failing to collect money. Annoying volunteers is really bad – either they are your biggest donors or they talk to your biggest donors. With some planning eveyone will have a happy, profitable experience.

To jump forward to a specific:

Failing to sell items can cast a pall over an entire event. If you get a dealership to donate a car & you push it as your premier item and no one bids, everyone thinks the event failed even if it raised a record amount on other sales.

At one series of auctions a staff member had her relatives donate vacation homes several years running. The first year Board members bought the homes well above market value, wishing to support the staff person in getting great items for the auction.

The next year each family donated the homes again, specifying an off-season time because it really had been inconvenient giving up their summer home for part of the summer and stating a value equal to the highest house rental in the neighborhood during the peak season. The staff member uncritically listed starting bids at a couple of hundred less than the stated value and was shocked when nothing sold at the auction.

The following year we researched the value of nearby homes for the period being offered and started the bids at 75% of that value. The bidders thought they were getting a good value and actually bid some of the homes slightly above the market value of the homes in the area.

While it was less than the bid of Board members during the first year, it was the optimum result for the item – donors weren’t strained by giving the homes, buyers didn’t feel ripped off when they checked the price later (& they do because they want to figure our what portion of the purchase price is tax-deductible) and volunteers were happy because the work they put into presenting the item paid off in a donation to the charity.