Running a Successful Silent Auction at Your School or College

If your school or university is thinking about hosting a fundraising event, a silent auction can be a great choice!

Silent auctions are some of the most engaging and profitable events for all types of organizations, but the inherently community-oriented nature of schools can make them particularly successful for educational institutions.

To get into all of the many reasons why, it’s best to go step-by-step through planning and running a school auction.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make your school silent auction a success (including how payment processing fits into the equation!).

Here are the topics we’ll discuss:

1. Set a goal and budget.
2. Get a team together.
3. Determine the ambience.
4. Procure auction items.
5. Promote your event.
6. Host your silent auction.
7. Follow up after the event.

This article will provide you with all of the information you need for your school auction to receive an A+.

Running a successful charity auction - set a goal and budget

1. Set a goal and budget.

Before you dive into planning your school auction, it’s important to determine what exactly you’re working toward and which resources you have at your disposal to help you get there.

In other words, the first step to planning will be setting a goal and budget.

I. Setting a goal.

The most compelling fundraising goals are both quantitative and achievable.

By the time you’re done setting a goal, you should know exactly how much money you’re raising and the scope of the project you’re raising it for.

For example, a clear goal would be to raise $30,000 to refurbish the school gymnasium.

If your school auction is part of a larger campaign, it’s also important to think about how it fits into your greater fundraising strategy while setting a goal.

Your goals will depend on your organization, but it’s important that they’re clear, so you can convey to your guests exactly what you need and how they can support you in those needs.

II. Setting a budget.

When determining a budget, you’ll want to keep your event goals in mind.

By factoring your goals in, you can ensure you’re setting your budget at a place where you can make a healthy profit from your event.

You’ll also, of course, want to do some research to anticipate your costs.

Some common silent auction expenses include:

  • Auction or event planning software.
  • Mobile bidding software.
  • A venue (unless you’re hosting the auction on campus).
  • Team hours.
  • Auction items.
  • Catering and entertainment.
  • Supplies (tables, chairs, decorations, etc.)

Luckily, your school or university will likely be able to get many of the items and supplies you need donated, but it’s still important to leave yourself a little room to account for unexpected expenses.

Takeaway: Clearly defining a goal and budget is the only way to ensure that your school can raise the funds you need from your school auction.

Running a successful charity auction - get a team together

2. Get a team together.

Silent auction planning can be a little more involved than planning for other school fundraising events, so you’ll need a large, dedicated team on your side!

Luckily, because schools are so community-oriented, you likely have plenty of students, parents, staff, and/or alumni in your midst who are impassioned by their school spirit and would be willing to volunteer.

The exact team members you need will rely on the scope and format of your event, but here are some roles that are crucial to all silent auctions:

  • Event chair. The event chair will head your committee. Among other duties, they will be responsible for recruiting and overseeing the event team and giving final approval on all event decision-making.
  • Procurement team. The procurement team has one of the most important jobs of all: to get items donated for your auction! They’ll be responsible for not only procuring these items, but for all item-related tasks as well.
  • Ticket sales chair. The ticket sales chair will be tasked with selling as many tickets to your online auction as possible. They’ll manage both online and in-person ticket sales.
  • Theme and decorations chair. Since they’re often family-oriented, many school auctions are centered around a theme. If you’re hosting a themed auction, you’ll need to recruit a theme and decorations chair to help tie aspects of your event to that theme.
  • Check-in and check-out team. The check-in/check-out team will register your guests as they arrive, facilitate checkout, and distribute items to winners.
  • Emcee. Similar to an auctioneer’s role in live auctions, the emcee will host your silent auction. They’ll give a brief program welcoming guests to your event, make announcements throughout the auction, and encourage active participation in the bidding.
  • Auction monitors. The auction monitors help the emcee keep your auction on track. They’ll walk around the room to answer any questions bidders might have, talk up items, and make sure everyone is following the rules.

Ask around your school community to see who might be interested in lending a helping hand! While you might want to opt for a professional emcee, all of these roles can easily be filled by volunteers to cut down on costs.

Takeaway: Silent auctions require a large and diverse team. Gauge interest among students, parents, alumni, and staff to see who might be willing to fill these roles.

Running a successful charity auction - determine the ambience

3. Determine the ambience.

Now that you have your team together and your goal and budget in place, it’s time to think about the ambience of your event.

Since school auctions are generally more community- and family-oriented than auctions hosted by other types of organizations, you’ll have a few unique considerations to make.

Here are the questions you should ask when determining the atmosphere of your event:

  • Will we host a parents-only or family-friendly auction? A silent auction for the whole family will take on a more casual feel than one that’s solely meant for parents and staff. Decide who your audience is in advance, so you can plan your event accordingly.
  • Will we host a silent auction by itself or in conjunction with another event? Schools commonly pair their silent auctions with other types of auctions or fundraising events. If you’re hosting a family-friendly auction, you’ll probably want to incorporate it into another type of event, too. Because they can’t participate, kids can quickly become bored during silent auctions, which can distract parents from the bidding.
  • Are we hosting it at the school? Luckily, schools have many wide open spaces that can serve as excellent silent auction locations (think: cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your school is the most suitable venue. Consider space, accessibility, and your theme to decide if hosting on campus is right for your auction. If not, you’ll want to book another space about 6-9 months in advance.
  • Will our auction be themed? Centering your auction around a theme can make your event more vivid and festive. If you decide to go this route, you’ll need to recruit a theme chair to help you choose a theme and coordinate your event to it.

These considerations will help guide the rest of your planning, so it’s important to have a clear answer to each of these questions before you move on to the next step!

Takeaway: Determining the ambience of your event early in your planning will help your school put together a focused and cohesive silent auction.

Running a successful charity auction - procure auction items

4. Procure auction items.

One of the most important parts of planning an auction is to procure the items you’ll be auctioning off!

Since selling items to the highest bidder will make up the majority of your fundraising, you should strive to find the most competitive auction items.

The items that will drive the highest bids for your school will:

  • Hold sentimental value. Because school auctions are so community-oriented, items with sentimental value do particularly well. And, luckily for you, these items are easy (and free!) to procure. Consider tasking each class with contributing one handmade item to your auction. The parents in your audience won’t be able to resist bidding on something that their children made themselves!
  • Accommodate a range of budgets. Most schools have families in their community that come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. You should feature items at a range of price points to make your silent auction as inclusive as possible.
  • Be rare or unique. The most competitive auction items are products or experiences that are few and far between (or even better, one-of-a-kind!). When the item is in limited supply, your guests will strive harder to win! Items with sentimental value will naturally have rarity going for them, but think about what other items you can offer that possess this quality (for example, front row tickets to graduation, a designated parking spot at the front of the carpool line for a year, principal for a day, behind-the-scenes tours, etc.).

When procuring auction items, have your procurement team start by asking those they know within your school community to donate products or services. You can also try to recruit some corporate sponsors and branch out to local businesses for items as well.

It can also be helpful to provide your team with a list of suitable items to look out for. If you need some ideas, check out BidPal’s list!

Takeaway: Since bidding will constitute a majority of the funds you raise from your auction, it couldn’t be more important to find the most appealing items out there! Give your procurement team some guidance, so they can solicit strategically.

Running a successful charity auction - promote your event

5. Promote your event.

To see the best turnout at your school auction, you have to hype up your event!

Silent auction promotion takes a slightly different form than promotion for other fundraising events, however. Your promotion will be most successful when you advertise both your items and the event itself.

Showcasing your items before the event is an excellent way to spur attendance at your event. The possibility of walking away with an amazing item is incredibly incentivizing!

The most efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly way to promote your event is by putting together an online auction catalog.

To do so, you’ll need to enlist the help of auction or event planning software, which will allow you to create an online event site where you can display your items and information about your silent auction.

To start putting up your site, you’ll first need to record all important details about your event and auction items in your software. That includes:

  • Information about your silent auction, organization, and cause.
  • A tentative event schedule.
  • How your organization plans to use the proceeds.
  • Sponsor recognition (if applicable).
  • The name and number of each auction item.
  • A short but descriptive blurb about each item (including restrictions).
  • The starting bid and estimated market value of each item.
  • High quality photos of each item (where applicable).

Once you’ve generated your site, all that’s left is to share the link with supporters in communications about your event!

Your school can also sell tickets and sponsorships and process standard donations from your event site, as well as open up an online auction before or after your event if you so choose.

Takeaway: You should take a two-pronged approach to promoting your silent auction by advertising both auction items and your event. The most effective way to do so is by setting up an online auction site and sharing the link with your supporters.

Running a successful charity auction - host your silent auction

6. Host your silent auction.

After months of planning, the day of your auction has finally arrived!

Have your team show up at the venue well in advance of when the auction is supposed to start, so you can take care of setup.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the main tasks you’ll likely have to complete:

  • Set up the registration and checkout areas.
  • Arrange your display tables in a way that facilitates good traffic flow (avoid U-shaped set-ups, where guests can become blocked in by being surrounded by tables on three sides).
  • Decorate your display area to your theme.
  • Split your items into categories (if you haven’t done so already) and place them on display tables (stick to one row per table for maximum appeal).
  • Set up and double check the sound system and projector.
  • Make sure your software is all ready to go and that the wifi and cellular signals are strong and secure.

Once setup is all done, have your team get into place to start greeting and checking in your guests as they arrive.

Your school auction will probably unfold a little something like this:

I. Arrival. Guests arrive. Your check-in and check-out team will get them set up with mobile bidding by pre-registering their credit cards and explaining how to use the software.

II. Program. Your emcee will give a brief program welcoming guests, acknowledging sponsors and other contributors, and highlighting some of the big-ticket items up for auction.

III. Bidding. Let the bidding ensue! With mobile bidding, guests can browse your items and place bids directly from their phones. They can also wander around your display to view items in person. Silent auction bidding usually lasts for about two to three hours but can go longer if you’re using mobile bidding software

IV. Item close. Once it’s time for the bidding to end, your mobile bidding software will automatically close all items, determine winners, and process winners’ payments, so there’s no need for an involved check-out process. However, you might still want to have a physical check-out open to accommodate guests who wish to pay by cash or check.

V. Distribute items to winners. Once payments have been processed, your team will distribute items to the correct winners. Since all mobile bidding transactions link up to your auction software, verifying payments and and matching up items and winners is as easy as 1-2-3!

Instead of distributing items the night of the event, many schools choose to distribute items at a later date by hosting a pick-up party. This strategy can work particularly well if you’re hosting the auction at your school, since parents and students will be coming back to the venue anyway!

Takeaway: The day of your auction requires lots of preparation, and the event itself will have many different stages. Make sure your team is in place, so your auction can run as smoothly as possible.

Step 7 to planning a successful silent auction at your school or university is to follow up after the event.

7. Follow Up After the Event.

While the bidding may have closed, your silent auction isn’t quite over yet!

To fully reap the benefits of all of your hard work, your school needs to properly follow up after the event.

A proper follow up consists of three important parts:

I. Acknowledge contributors. You wouldn’t have been able to pull off your school auction without the help of your guests, item donors, volunteers, and sponsors. Make sure that you express your sincere gratitude by sending out thank you letters or emails within 48 hours after your event!

II. Run reports with your software. The only way you can evaluate how well you did at meeting your goals is to run reports with your auction software. Doing so will enable you to better target which aspects of your auction were most profitable and which left some room for improvement

III. Get feedback from guests and volunteers. The best way to get insights into your event is by asking for feedback from those who were involved! Distribute a survey to your guests and volunteers to get their opinions on what they thought of your event and what improvements or additions they’d like to see next time around.

A thorough follow up is especially important if you plan to host another silent auction next year. The only way to keep improving is by evaluating this year’s event!

Not to mention, not following up properly can have longterm consequences on your fundraising in general. If you want your community to keep supporting you, it’s crucial to recognize their role in your success.

Takeaway: Don’t neglect following up on your event! Saying thanks and assessing your performance will help you improve your fundraising results down the line.

As you can see, running a successful silent auction for your school or university is a multi-step process that requires many careful considerations.

We hope our guide has helped you get on your way to planning your own!

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