Nonprofit Strategies

How to write a silent auction donation request (free template!)

A step-by-step guide for writing silent auction donation request letters and top tips for finding companies that donate to silent auctions.





Nonprofit Strategies

How to write a silent auction donation request (free template!)

A step-by-step guide for writing silent auction donation request letters and top tips for finding companies that donate to silent auctions.





A step-by-step guide for writing silent auction donation request letters and top tips for finding companies that donate to silent auctions.





Chad Barger
December 14, 2022
February 3, 2023

For many organizations, planning a silent auction event means keeping a lot of plates spinning in the air. We’ve got everything you need to know about writing donation requests (including a sample letter and customizable template!) to lighten the load for your team.

We’ll cover:  

How to write a winning silent auction donation request

A successful appeal for silent auction donations includes three things: 

  • A compelling story hook
  • A concise description of your organization’s work and silent auction event
  • A clear, specific ask of the business

Let’s look at each of these elements in more detail.

1. Set the stage 💥

As with any donation request letter or mail appeal, you will pack the greatest punch if you can appeal to the humanity of your reader and tug on their heartstrings a bit. To do this, begin your letter with a brief, attention-getting story about how your organization has helped one person in particular. 

You don’t have to include real names or defining details—in fact, please do not include personal information unless you have express permission to do so from the person whose story you’re telling. Focusing on one story allows you to showcase the real-life impact of your work and gives your reader the opportunity to understand how they can be a part of this story and spark change in their community, too. 

💪 Pro tip: The first sentence is critical. Create some intrigue and mystery to encourage them to keep reading (e.g., “Marci stepped into my office with a big problem.”).

2. Provide enough context 👋

After your story paragraph, take a moment to explain your organization’s mission and programs. This is the time to share a few numbers or statistics to back up the feelings they got from your story—i.e., that your organization is making a positive impact in your community.

Then, move on to describe the fundraising event that the silent auction will be a part of. Include all of the relevant details to make it easy for them to decide if this is something they are interested in and available to participate in:

  • When is it?
  • Where is it?
  • What are you raising money for?
  • How will you make a difference using the funds raised?

3. Make the ask 🙏

Finally, ask them to consider supporting the event and your organization’s mission by donating an item for the silent auction. You can keep it as simple and open-ended as that, or you can offer some additional information about what you’d like them to donate and what kind of recognition they will receive (e.g., logo included as a sponsor in promotional materials, a thank-you shoutout on social media, etc.).

Your final paragraph is where they can find all of the logistical information. This section may include: 

  • What day you’ll follow up with them
  • Instructions on how to complete and return the enclosed donation form
  • A QR code they can scan to access your online donation form
  • When volunteers will pick items up during the week of the event

…and anything else they need to know to successfully contribute to your event!

💪 Pro tip: Include a P.S. that repeats your request! Most readers will read the P.S. even if they only skim the bulk of the letter. 

Silent auction donation request template and sample letter

Instead of starting from scratch, get access to our free silent auction donation request template! You can customize this template to suit the needs of your organization and silent auction event. We’ve also included a sample letter to show you what this template looks like in action. 💪 

Get your free silent auction donation request template ✍️

5 questions to help you brainstorm a list of companies to reach out to

You will be most successful in reaching out to smaller, locally-owned businesses—especially those where you (or your board members, staff team, volunteers, etc.) are a customer of or personally know the owner or manager. The types of businesses that typically donate to silent auctions are those looking to expand their customer base and show off their products. 

When brainstorming which companies to reach out to for your silent auction, ask yourself the following questions to see if you can come up with 20–25 businesses to reach out to:

  1. Where do you buy specialty food items (butcher, bakery, etc.)?
  2. Where do you like to shop for gifts?
  3. Who do you know that recently opened a business and may want to get their name out there?
  4. What local businesses have you been using the longest?
  5. What local businesses do you patronize (almost) every week?

🤩 Need some inspiration? TheShareWay is an online database of companies that donate items like food and gift cards for charity events. You can explore local, regional, and national companies that donate to silent auctions and find a good match for your next event.

More tips for asking companies to donate to your silent auction

Soliciting donations for a silent auction is a straightforward process, but it’s one that requires consistent effort.

In fundraising, as the saying goes, the fortune is in the follow-up. 

The good news is that you don’t have to go through the tedious process of sourcing items and reaching out to businesses for donations all by yourself. Enlist a team of volunteers or board members to streamline your outreach.

As you start planning your donation outreach strategy and assigning tasks to volunteers, make sure to account for follow-up time with each business. Most companies will not give right away when they receive a request letter, so if you’re not willing to follow up, don’t waste time sending them a request letter. 

Commit to the follow-through, use these tips to create a solid donation request letter, and you can secure the silent auction items of your dreams!

On your mark, get set, send!

You’ve got a million details to think through as you organize and promote your silent auction, so use this checklist to take the stress out of managing donation requests:

  • 📝 Create your list of prospective businesses (track it in a spreadsheet like this one).
  • 👀 Designate which team member or volunteer is responsible for reaching out to each business.
  • 👯 Make a copy of the sample letter and template and customize it to your organization and event.
  • ✏️ Write your letter, starting with a compelling story hook.
  • 💛 Personalize each letter for each business.
  • 💌 Send the letters following the company’s donation request policy (fill out a form on their website, send to an email address or mailing address, or drop it off in person).
  • 📞 Follow up over the phone, email, or in person 5–10 days later.
  • 👋 Be persistent in reaching out—the worst they can say is no!
  • 🤝 Recognize their contributions and say thank you.

From basket ideas to bid sheets, we’ve got all of the silent auction resources you need to run the silent auction of your dreams, including world-class auction software and mobile bidding tools that are completely free to use. Sign up for your free Givebutter account today and start planning your next auction event in less than five minutes. 

You’ve got this, changemaker! 💪

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Chad Barger

Chad Barger

Chief Trainer & Coach at Productive Fundraising

Chad Barger helps nonprofit professionals across the US and Canada fundraise more efficiently and effectively. He is a top-rated speaker, master trainer, and coach. Chad owns the firm Productive Fundraising, which specializes in teaching the latest research-based fundraising tactics and making them approachable for small, community-based nonprofit organizations.

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