Need a fundraising activity that brings in the big dollars? It’s hard to go wrong with a silent auction. They can stand alone or serve as a great add-on to a bigger event, like a black-tie gala, school fundraiser, or even a walkathon.
The most popular auction items tend to be unique, limited edition, or exclusive, like autographed baseball jerseys, VIP backstage passes, and one-of-a-kind getaways. Generally, if donors are going to get into a bidding war, they want to spend money on something they can’t get anywhere else.
That said, “unique” doesn’t have to mean “expensive” or “out of my fundraising budget.”
In this article, we’ll go over a range of tried-and-true silent auction ideas and give you tips on procurement, or how you’ll actually source the items for the big day.
5 amazing silent auction ideas (and how to try them)
Before we get started with ideas, you’re going to need a way to collect your auction donations. We recommend using a free fundraising tool (like Givebutter) that lets you share exciting sneak peeks of your items, accept every payment method, and update your supporters in real time. You can also sell tickets to your event and let attendees add a donation to their ticket cost for another funding boost.
Of course, you’ll need to procure items for your auction event. In all likelihood, you’ll be getting items donated from companies or requesting monetary donations so you can buy items, so we recommend checking out those links.
Ready to launch a bidding war (for a good cause)? Raise money at your silent auction with these worthwhile items and unique experiences.
1. Signed memorabilia
Everybody’s got a passion or hobby, whether it’s music, fashion, sports, history, or something entirely niche. For these fans, an autographed item from a local legend or favorite performer would be worth every penny of their donation.
Signed memorabilia is also an excellent silent auction item because it attracts attention. Your event could get media coverage and larger ticket sales thanks to the loyal fanbase.
How to get it: If possible, get in contact with the celebrity (or their agency) and ask if they’d be willing to donate a signed item. Athletes and artists donate charity auction items all the time. You can also try using sites like eBay, trustworthy fan websites, or collectors shops to buy items and then sell them at a higher price.
2. Travel package
There’s a reason “The Price is Right” is always giving away trip packages. People love the opportunity to get away from everyday life and make new memories. In this case, the winning bidder is whisked away to a beautiful destination and gets to fund your cause at the same time. What’s not to like?
You can offer a sightseeing cruise, fun day trip, relaxing weekend package, and more.
Provide an all-expenses-paid trip — food, drinks, and hot air balloon ride included — or simply cover transportation and lodging.
How to get it: Buying a travel package ahead of time is somewhat risky because it’s a big-ticket item and someone may not buy it. Consider looking into consignment travel packages. Generally, you only pay for them if you sell them. Alternatively, see if anyone on your auction committee or in your social network has a second home they’ll “donate” for a weekend.
3. Gift baskets
Gift baskets are great because they’re so versatile, giving you the freedom to create a bundle that appeals to your usual audience or broaden your reach and attract new supporters.
Let’s say you’re part of an environmental nonprofit that’s planning to hold a live auction event. Your supporters are mostly men in their 40s and 50s. This demographic might like an “ultimate sports fan” basket (sporting events tickets and merchandise). Or, they might prefer an “eco-friendly living” kit (compost bin, reusable grocery bags, nontoxic cleaning products) they can use to introduce friends to their cause. Check out more silent auction basket ideas.
How to get it: Make a list of the exact items you want and then reach out to local businesses with your request. Leverage any personal connections you may have. Remember to emphasize what the business will gain by donating these items, like news coverage or a booth at your event. You can also ask them to agree to a sponsorship and provide other goodies and cover some other costs.
4. Name dedication
If you’re looking for unique silent auction ideas, you’ve found it. While products and experiences are popular, a name dedication is a great way to raise hype for your fundraiser while also letting donors create something meaningful.
It’s perfect if you’re raising money to build something like a center or garden, and also very effective if you work with donors who like to be publicly recognized for their support.
The highest bidder will get to leave a legacy, making a lasting mark on their community and showing their commitment to your mission.
How to get it: There are a few ways you can go about this. You can purchase and sell naming rights for many different objects and locations, including buildings, bricks, benches, trees, gardens, archways, sidewalks, and more. If you own a building or property, you can start there.
Otherwise, contact institutions like colleges, museums, botanical gardens, local park districts, and nonprofits to see how much a name dedication costs (as long as they’re relevant to your cause or donor base).
5. Spa day
A little R&R, anyone? Health and wellness treatments are more popular than ever. While a spa gift certificate may not be the showstopper at your silent auction, it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
You can offer a massage, facial, manicure and pedicure, body scrub, eyebrow threading, or hair package. Some spas also have skin consultants and laser hair removal. We recommend keeping it as broad as possible so people can choose their preferred treatment.
How to get it: Get in touch with local spas, salons, and beauty boutiques and see what they’re willing to offer. Chiropractic clinics also offer massages and body treatments. As we mentioned earlier, be sure to explain the benefits of donating free services from the business’s perspective.
Need more fundraising ideas?
The items you choose can mean the difference between just barely reaching your fundraising goal and wildly exceeding your expectations. The right silent auction idea will depend on your donor base, budget, and what you can realistically procure for your fundraising event.
Luckily, you’ve now got five proven silent auction ideas and procurement tips to make sure your next auction event is silent but deadly effective. We’ve got plenty more where that came from:
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.