• Design Tips For Silent Auction Success


    I’ve been to a lot of fundraising events, and sometimes the silent auction looks like it was an afterthought. I totally get it.  Planning the food, location, entertainment and cost of a gala is all consuming.  Most of the effort in creating a silent auction is focused on securing desirable items.  Once that is done, it can be tempting to think that the items will sell themselves. But people shop with their eyes, and how products are shown can create interest and excitement, which will bump up the bids.

    As a board member for Erasing the Distance, I was responsible for planning 2 silent auctions. Because our gala ticket price was only $75, we really needed the extra income from the silent auction to help us cover expenses. We had a very small budget for setting up the silent auction, so I had to get creative.  Below are some tips for showcasing your silent auction items in a way that will draw the attention (and wallets!) of your event attendees.

    1. Use color.  Color draws the eye, so put it wherever you can.  Incorporating the overall design of the gala, use tablecloths, flowers, signage.  Anything that will stand out and say “come see me!” .Auction Sign
    2. Have an overhead sign.  When the room is empty, that seems silly, but when it is packed with people and your view is a sea of heads, an overhead sign will direct people to the auction.  As you can see from the photo, we tapped a local artist to make a beautiful (colorful!) sign.  In fact, someone bought it after the gala!
    3. Create height variances. Placing your auction items at different heights on your tables will create visual interest.  I saved different sized Amazon boxes for months, and then turned them upside down under the tablecloths to make “stages” for the items.  Another way to create height variance is by placing tall items (such as wine bottles) next to short items, such as theatre tickets.
    4. Create visual displays for paper auction items. Things like tickets and gift certificates can’t go on the table, so you have to make some sort of display explaining what they are.  Often times this is just a printout of text describing the item.  Instead, incorporate logos, seating charts, photos from the website, anything to tempt folks to bid.  For sports tickets we used logos and seating charts.  For theatre tickets we used PR photos and reviews.  For restaurants or hotels we used beautiful photos from their marketing materials.  We also bought colorful cardboard at Michael’s to mount our displays on.
    5. Stand your displays up.  A lot of people already do this by buying lucite sign frames.  But we didn’t have the budget to buy 25 of those (more expensive than you think!), so we borrowed picture frames from staff and board members instead.  The effect was eclectic and warm.
    6. Solicit help.  Designing a silent auction is time consuming when you think about all of the items you have to market, so get some help.  I had no problem getting volunteers to create displays with me.  It’s the kind of fun and creative project people love to do, especially for a good cause.
    7. Have a plan for set up.  On the day of the gala, I had table maps for each of our auction tables.  Volunteers placed items in their assigned spaces, then I went behind them and arranged the displays to look their best.
    I hope these tips help!  If you have any tips or photos to share, please do.

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