Silent Auctions

Dear Kim,

Our church is thinking about doing a silent auction at our 5th Anniversary dinner-dance. We have already begin to solicit donations. But are wondering how they should be priced? Below market value? How is this type of auction organized? How do I solicit merchants other than the church community-i.e. airline tickets, theater tickets, etc.? Is it realistic to expect that traditional businesses would support a church? Please help?
—Looking for the gold in the silence

Dear Gold,

Silent auctions can be wonderful fundraisers and happen to be one of my favorites. They work best when they are, as yours seems to be, part of a larger event. I am assuming you are having dinner or dancing or a speaker or some other entertainment at your anniversary party. The silent auction is a sideshow of the main event. People shop before and during the event, and the winners are usually announced towards the end of the event.

Each item has a sign up sheet by it, with a value and starting bid: ie. Koa Wood Salad Bowl from Maui: Value: $200 Minimum bid: $100.

This means the first person to bid must bid at least $100. Items are priced somewhat below market value, and people are trying to get a good deal. However, the idea is also that an item might be very hard to find so is worth paying more than market value, as it is not often available in the market. For some high ticket items you might want to also have a rule: “bids in $10 increments only” meaning that any bid must be $10 above the previous bid.

About 20 minutes before you are going to closed the auction, announce that, so people have one last chance to outbid each other. It is very fun to see people bid against each other and this should be encouraged.

As far as merchants donating to a church, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t. I would go to the merchants nearest your church first, as well as your vendors. Theaters and movie houses will donate, especially if they are experiencing a downturn in business. Airline tickets usually have to be arranged through someone who has a connection to the airline and so I wouldn’t expend a lot of energy there.

For maximum income, you may want to circulate a list of your items to your congregation ahead of time and tell people they can submit bids without coming to the event.

Hope this gives you an idea of what a silent auction is like. You may wish to attend someone’s else’s for more ideas. Good luck.
—Kim