Supporting Local Charities in Tough Times

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With good planning, it's easy to set up an auction and get the most out of your items. Soon enough, you'll have raised a good amount of money in just a few hours!

How You Can Run a Silent Auction

Silent auctions are auctions held without an auctioneer. People place their bids on sheets of paper instead. They're often used by charities to raise money, but they can be tricky to put together. With good planning, however, it's easy to set up an auction and get the most out of your items. Soon enough, you'll have raised a good amount of money in just a few hours!

Part 1 - Preparing for the Event

1 Recruit volunteers.

A contact list, especially an email list, is handy for this. You will need: volunteers to help set up; volunteers to monitor and close tables at the appointed time and make sure minimum bid and minimum increase requirements were met; a “bank” crew to organize bid sheets (especially of multiple winners) and collect money from winning bids; and a clean up crew.

  • Select volunteers willing to be officials. These people will need to know the rules of the silent auction and who to go to for questions they can’t answer. During the event they will wear something—hat, vests, jackets, or sashes—that designates them as officials.
2 Ask for donations.

To make money for your charity, you'll need items or services to sell at the silent auction. Many businesses and even individuals within your community will likely be happy to help, if you tell them what the purpose of the auction is and who will benefit from it.

  • Don't forget to ask for services as well as tangible goods. Perhaps a local salon will donate a haircut and/or style, or a local golf course could offer a round of golf with a trainer.
3 Make a master list of the value of all the items.

If you are going to do this again next year, it is nice to have the same people go to the same businesses each year. Include space on your master list to write who donated the item, the value of it, the donor's contact information, who won the item, their phone number, and how much they paid. This way you can make sure they get their items and you know how much money you made.

  • When making a master list, consider using a computerized program such as Excel. Another volunteer might be willing to input the information. If so, make columns for donor name, address, and phone number, item number, item description, and value.
4 Put a number on each item.

Use small blank stickers or labels available at general stores and office supply businesses. If you have more than a few items and if any of them are similar, it makes keeping track much easier. Put the same number next to the item on your master list.

  • Put the item number on the bid sheet as well, so bidders can match the bid sheet to the item.
5 Make a list of supplies you think you’ll need and go shopping.

You'll need clipboards, paper, and pens at minimum. Also purchase some whiteout tape, extra bid sheets, and an extra roll of tape to tape your bid sheets down, if you aren't using clipboards.

  • Try to buy supplies at a warehouse store with a generous return policy. If the store requires a membership, keep that in mind when sending someone on a run for last-minute supplies. And make sure that person has a cell phone and that a key person at the event has that number. After they have left for a supplies run, you’ll surely find something else that needs to be picked up.
  • If you don't already have one, you'll also need a secure cash box. If you plan to take credit cards (which is a very good idea), get a card reader. Services such as Square offer readers that attach to tablets and smartphones.
6 Print bidding sheets.

Write the name of the item, a short description of the item, how much it is worth, and who donated it. Include a minimum bid (generally 40% of the retail value) and minimum bid increase increments. (One rule of thumb for minimum increase: £1 for items up to £50, £2 for £50-£100, £5 for items over £100). Make sure there is space for the bidder’s name, phone number, and the amount they bid. If you like, Add a "Buy it Now" price to each bid sheet in case someone wants to leave before the end of the auction.

  • Have a volunteer make up certificates for services. If the donated service didn't come with a gift certificate, you can print up your own. You can also use your own certificates for gift certificates with small print that are hard to read.
7 Start setting up early.

Try to set up a day before the event. You’ll need extra time not only to set up but to allow for any mistakes. If you can, set up a day or two before the auction so you don't have to stress about it. Consider designating someone who is willing to go to the store to buy forgotten items.

8 Lay out all the items and the bid sheets so people can see them.

If you have a lot of items you may have to be pretty creative. For example, some things might be better hung on walls or placed on display easels. Don't worry if the bid sheet isn't right next to the item. Just make it close. That's what the numbers are for.

9 Secure the bid sheets.

It's easy for bid sheets to get blown or knocked around. The best way to secure them is to clip each bid sheet to a clipboard, with an attached pen. This is an easy and convenient setup. You can also use painter's tape to secure the bid sheets.


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