9f8411404cf96fa536ac94a4a1e52faeSilent auctions are a mainstay of special events fundraising for non-profit organizations. With every special event being planned committees are formed with the often thankless task of putting together the silent auction. Hundreds of man hours are poured into soliciting items from donors, cataloging them, creating bid sheets, arranging them on tables with fancy eye-catching displays, collecting the bid sheets at the end of the auction, checking out the winning bidders, getting the winning bidders to take the items home with them, transporting all the items back that didn’t sell or get taken home at the end of the evening, and thanking every donor and buyer for participating. Truth is, that is a ton of work and the average silent auction nets approximately .50 – .60 on the dollar!

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Instead of just repeating the same formula year after and getting the same results, that is the definition of insanity -right; there is another way. It all begins with understanding your audience.

Three Types of Attendees

No matter the type of special event, your audience can be split into three basic attendee groups.

  • The first group are the people attending the event and don’t plan on bidding on anything at your silent auction. They aren’t bad people, they just aren’t interested in acquiring anything or spending any more money at your event than the ticket price.
  • The second group of people are more involved. They came to the event knowing that they are willing to part with a predetermined amount of money to help the organization. They may participate in your silent auction or give an outright donation to your organization that is in line with what they were planning on spending during the evening, no more.
  • The third group of people look a lot like the second group except they will allow themselves to get caught up in the moment. They can be swayed by things that interest them and will spend whatever amount of money needed in order to satisfy their impulse.

All three groups exist in every special event so you need to budget your silent auction with these groups in mind.

Profile Your Audience

Too many times organizations plan a silent auction by just going out and soliciting donations from any place they think will give them a donation. This results in a mix of items that has too many of one kind of item – say restaurant gift certificates and not enough of other items. Again, before soliciting items think about the audience for the evening. In working with the organization’s development department an economic profile can be modeled that will help in deciding what items should be part of a silent auction mix.

Start with the ticket price. If the ticket price for the special event is high, then two-thirds of the audience might be left out of the silent auction as they spent all their money just getting in the door. Another factor to consider is the number of corporate tables being sold at the event. Unless the corporation is a sponsor for the evening and the executives will be present, it is likely that the table will be filled with lower level employees who may not know much about the organization.

Once a profile of potential attendees has been established the next step is for the organization to put themselves in their attendee’s shoes. What would they like to see?  Make a list of all the potential items that might appeal to event attendees. During this stage of planning, no idea is too crazy. Concentrate on experiences, not just stuff.

In the next of this series, we will talk further about the right mix of items and more about the logistics of executing the silent auction. Remember, think about the audience first. This is the foundation for an organization’s silent auction success.