What is a Silent Auction? Everything You Need to Know

silent auction

Charities have many different tools to raise money throughout the year. A silent auction is a type of fundraising event which takes place at an organization’s facility. The difference between a silent and live auction is that there are no verbal bids, and items can be donated to the fundraiser instead of for sale. This type of event helps those who enjoy hosting auctions but may not have time or space to prepare one. If you’re looking for fundraising ideas, consider hosting a silent auction as well as other methods such as selling goods or services. Your supporters will appreciate the opportunity to help out in any way they can!

What is a Silent Auction?

A silent auction is a type of event where guests buy raffle tickets to bid on items they would like to win. It may sound similar to a live or oral auction, but there are some major differences:

  1. Guests need only purchase a ticket and can browse the items at their leisure.
  2. There isn’t a master auctioneer. Instead, guests write down their bids and these are tallied by an individual at the end of the auction.
  3. Guests usually bid in $1 increments.
  4. Winners can take home their items right away or wait for someone to pick them up later on.

Silent Auction vs Raffle

how does a silent auction work

These events can be similar in that guests purchase tickets and then win a prize, but the similarities stop there. A silent auction is when your donors buy tickets to guess the price of an item you’re selling, such as dinner at a local restaurant complete with valet parking. The items guests bid on aren’t donated, so they can pick up their winnings right away. A raffle, on the other hand, is a type of lottery where guests purchase tickets for a chance to win a specific item that has been donated, such as a car or cash prize.

Here are a few to consider when deciding whether to use a raffle fundraiser or a silent auction:

  • Community support – You need more supporters to get money from with raffles to get as much reach. So consider the size of your community. You need fewer people participating in a silent auction, but the individuals must be engaged. 
  • Volunteers – It takes more volunteers to staff an auction than it does a raffle. Keep in mind that your volunteers must also be more motivated to sell tickets. 
  • IRS regulations – There are specific IRS reporting requirements that are related to charity raffles. If you have a winner of a prize that’s worth over $600, you must complete a W-2G (gambling winnings form). Larger prizes will require that you withhold 28% for federal income taxes. 

How does a Silent Auction Work?

On the night of your silent auction, make sure you have plenty of signage with donation prices and a list of all the items/services you’re selling. You’ll need to round up your volunteers and get them ready to accept bids! Guests will then enter the event, explore the items on display (or listed in a catalog), and then place their bids either by writing them down or using their smartphones. As guests make their bids, they’re entered into a spreadsheet or your paper tally. Guests are typically given a number that they can use instead of their names allowing for bidding. That way guests will feel anonymous. Once the auction closes, the guest who bid the highest on each item is declared the winner. 

When the auction is finished, you’ll calculate how much money you earned and then won’t need to spend any more time on it! You can get your winning bidders’ contact information so they can pick up their items later on. While many people plan silent auctions for fundraisers, you can also have them for other purposes. Like many fundraisers, silent auctions are a great way to get your name out there in the community or at your place of business.

Check out this post for the 7 steps to success when starting a fundraiser.

Silent Auction Rules

Organizations should lay out the procedures that they have in place for silent auctions that cover legal clauses, bidder registration, item descriptions, the bidding process, and checkout procedures. Establishing clear rules will help ensure that your next silent auction results are maximized. 

Here are some things to consider:

  • Guests should know what the donation price for each item is so they can plan accordingly and not overbid on something they can’t afford.
  • If there’s a payment plan option, make sure your donors know about it before the auction starts as guests enter their bids.

Online vs In-Person Silent Auctions: Which is Better for You?

You probably already know if you’d rather host an online or in-person silent auction. But here are some of the advantages to each:

An online silent auction is great for people looking to raise money on a larger scale, especially if they’re open for longer than just one day. Plus, no guests means lower costs and more visibility for you.

online silent auction

The biggest downside to online silent auctions is that they don’t raise as much money as in-person ones do because guests can’t see and touch the items on display. Plus, it’s difficult to get people’s attention if they’re scrolling through their newsfeed or playing a game of candy crush during the event! But an online silent auction is great if you have a large group of people involved, need to raise more than $1,000, or are working on a very tight budget.

An in-person silent auction requires less work from you because guests handle the bidding themselves so there’s no need for volunteers. Plus it’s easier to get the attention of your guests during the event. But you’ll need to make sure your guests know the donation prices ahead of time (the cost to attend the auction or at least see what you’re selling) And an in-person silent auction is great if your goal is to raise a lot of money quickly, you have a big donor pool, or if you want to be able to say thanks in person.

How to Run an Online Silent Auction

Ready to run your silent auction online? Just like an in-person event, there are organization and promotional activities that you must do to help make your event a success. Lets’s run through some of these key steps. 

Choose which items you’ll be auctioning

To have a virtual silent auction, you must-have items to auction off. Ask for item donations from your donors and sponsors to get a good mix of items. Some ideas of virtual silent auction items to consider include:

  • Tickets – sporting events, concerts, theater performances, comedy shows, and other ticketed venue items
  • Sports gear – Golf clubs, skiing, fishing tackle sets, and more
  • Private lessons – painting, musical instruments, and other one-one skill-based or technical tutorials
  • Food and beverages – Craft beer collections, chocolate lover’s baskets, and other craveable goods
  • Local business deals – Restaurant coupons, boutique or shopping gift cards, and other deals

Utilize auction and mobile bidding software

In an online silent auction setting, you need to pick the right auction and mobile bidding software to manage your event. Using this type of software, you can handle everything from the planning to the checkout process at the end. Benefits of using this software include:

  • Task automation – Can enable you to automate the management of the auction of activities such as keeping records, and tracking auction proceedings.
  • Quick, efficient checkout– All the payment and delivery details are handled seamlessly through a few clicks so there is no confusion or volunteers on figuring out purchased item details. 
  • Can promote higher bids – Using mobile bidding features, bidders can receive a notification instantly if someone outbids them and allows them to go back and increase their bid.

Promote your auction online

You need participants to come and bid at your online silent auction so use all your available channels to get the word out. Some promotions to potentially use include:

  • Email Campaign – Segmented to appeal to different groups of supporters of your organization
  • Social media – Use high-quality graphics on these platforms
  • Press release – Sent to local media around the city
  • Auction landing page – Located on your website 
  • Newsletters – Promote the event in all your newsletter emails leading up to the event

How Mobile Bidding Can Increase Revenue

Incorporating mobile bidding for your online silent auction is a great way to maximize the success of your event. It is a paperless system that helps manage and run auction events that enhances the experience for guests and volunteers. Here are a couple of reasons why you should consider mobile bidding for your virtual silent auction. 


Mobile bidding is much more convenient for your donors. It allows you to send alerts to their devices when they’ve been outbid so they can place a new bid if they wish. They don’t have to be constantly checking on the item to see if they are still the highest bidder. 

Longer bidding windows

Mobile bidding allows for more bids to occur. Every donor with an internet connection is able to participate in bids and receive alerts when they are outbid. This can potentially increase the final price of an item.

Access to more bidders

According to Statista, there are over 311 million smartphone users in the United States. Mobile bidding allows you to target more participants and cast a wider net when marketing the event. 

Final Thoughts

Silent auctions are a great way to raise money and accept donations for a cause. Whether you’re hosting an online or in-person silent auction, there’s something that will work best for your organization and goals.

Online auction software makes the process seamless and easy for both you and your donors. Consider apps like paysley, which allow you to market auctions on social media, invite donors via text or QR code, automate your processes for mobile bidding, and manage your entire auction from start to finish in a single app.