Ready to launch a bidding war for a good cause? 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 work hard to outbid others, they want to spend money on something they can’t get anywhere else.
That said, “unique” doesn’t have to mean “expensive” or “way out of my fundraising budget.” Instead, focus your efforts on being inclusive and reflecting your donor base's interests, needs, and range of income levels.
See how you can raise more at your next fundraising event using these 29 best-selling silent auction item and gift basket ideas.
Silent auction item ideas to bring in the bids
Thanks to online fundraising platforms, silent auctions no longer need to take place in an event hall with gift baskets of auction items scattered around the room to succeed. Let’s kick things off with some ideas that may not fit into the traditional basket mold but make for fantastic silent auction items—inside baskets or not.
Children’s artwork 🎨
This idea is especially great if you’re fundraising for a school or youth organization. Auction off homemade artwork from students or club members. Take this basket idea up a notch by including a little blurb from each kid about their piece of art or what the program means to them.
Helping hands 🤝
Who couldn’t use some extra help with yard work or house cleaning? Invite members of your community to auction off a few hours of their time to lend a helping hand. This is a great way for young, able-bodied people (like college students who don’t have a lot of extra cash to donate) to support your cause.
Class experiences 🧑🏫
An in-person or virtual class offers a fun, memorable, and useful experience worthy of a high bid. Consider auctioning off individual or group mixology classes, coding lessons, or woodworking workshops hosted by pros in your community.
One-of-a-kind date nights 💝
Rally local businesses to come up with unique date ideas to auction off. Could you rent out a movie theater, ice rink, or bowling alley for a private, romantic evening for two? Add in childcare to really make this a sought-after auction item.
Homemade meals 🍲
Auctioning off a week of home-cooked meals is a great way for the foodies in your network to showcase their skills and grab the bids of super busy types that could use some help getting a healthy dinner on the table. Pro tip: Encourage folks to donate meals that can be easily frozen.
VIP tickets to local events 🎟
You don’t need backstage passes to Lady Gaga to create a fun VIP experience for your auction. Get creative with local events (think high school concerts, community plays, or college sports) and come up with some VIP ticket perks—cushioned front-row seats, refreshments included, and special swag—to auction off to the highest bidder.
A date for the evening 🫀
OK, this one might be a little (ahem) dated. But if done with care, auctioning off an evening with an eligible and eager bachelor or bachelorette can be a fun way to liven up your auction and bring in lots of bids. Just give your auctionee the reigns to plan all of the details of the night out and have them record a cute video to share with bidders that includes a clear end time to reduce the potential for any awkwardness.
Everyday services 🚙
Sometimes the things we need—not just things we want—draw the highest bids. Consider auctioning off all-important services like a cut and color at the salon, an oil change at a local dealership, or a clean-out of rain gutters.
Coaching and advice 🧙
Have a connection with an expert who’d be up for donating an hour or two of their time to the highest bidder? Many folks would jump at an opportunity for, say, a novelist to give them feedback on their short story or a CEO to give some advice about breaking into their field over a cup of coffee or a Zoom.
Quality time 🕰
Certain donors are eager to spend dedicated time with your nonprofit’s executive director. Some may want to get to know the organization better; others may want to share their ideas for programs or funding opportunities. Could you auction off a dinner hosted by your organization’s leadership, site visit, tour, or another meaningful “get to know you” outing?
A gift that keeps on giving? Yes, please. If you can score a donation of a monthly membership or subscription-based prize—think craft beer, cheese, or romance novel-of-the-month—it will be a huge hit with bidders.
Name the winner 👈
Nonprofit institutions often raise money for large capital projects by giving donors the opportunity to have a building, wing, or even just a brick named in honor of someone. Even if you’re not starting a construction project any time soon, what’s something that an auction winner could have the honor of naming? A program, an annual event, a park bench, or perhaps a mascot?
Signed memorabilia ✍️
Everybody has something they’re passionate about, 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. If possible, get in contact with the celebrity (or their agency) and ask if they’d be willing to donate a signed item. 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.
Silent auction gift basket ideas guaranteed to sell
Classic silent auction baskets remain a fantastic way to combine smaller value items and group your donations around enticing themes. Whether actual gift baskets get hand-delivered to the winners or prizes are styled more as “virtual baskets” in an online auction, these ideas will get folks talking and bidding.
Homemade gifts 🧺
Call on your craftiest volunteers to create custom gift baskets around a given theme. A funny “Coffee Snob” basket, for example, could include special coffee beans, a pour-over set, and a mug or two—the possibilities are endless. You can also invite businesses (a local coffee shop for instance) to put together custom gift baskets to showcase the breadth of their offerings.
Book worm 📕
Is there some great literature that reflects your organization's mission? Put together a little library of the definitive texts of your movement and any novels, films, or even music that touches on themes related to your cause. This idea is great for a curious donor who wants to understand your work more deeply.
Family-friendly fun 👩👩👧👦
Plenty of families could use a jolt of excitement to get everyone off their devices and engaged for an evening. Include a silly new board game, write up some fun conversation starters, and don’t forget candy and popcorn with a few novel toppings—so simple, yet so priceless.
Taco Tuesday 🌮
Create a basket with all the ingredients needed for a perfect taco party—bonus points if you include margarita fixin’s! Or perhaps there’s a cuisine more relevant or meaningful to your community that you can celebrate in this way. Either way, you can’t go wrong with food.
Red wine and dark chocolate 🍷
Another tried-and-true auction favorite. A wine and chocolate basket is super appealing for bidders with an upcoming anniversary or anyone who could use this kind of self-care. See if you can score some brands that aren’t widely known to make it extra special.
Adults only 👀
This basket idea is clearly only appropriate in certain circumstances and with the right crowd, but a sex-positive basket will undoubtedly create some buzz and draw in more than a few bids.
New parents’ survival kit 🐣
It’s a lot of fun to collect adorable little outfits for a family with a new baby. However, what first-time parents really need is an extra sound machine, healthy snacks, sweet treats, and a bunch of frozen meals. You could also gather gift cards to local restaurants, so they don’t have to think about the logistics of feeding themselves. When even is dinner time when you have a newborn?
New hobby 🪗
This one’s all about knowing your audience. Would your donor base be interested in a beginner’s gardening basket? How about rock climbing? Embroidery? Fly fishing? If you can put together all the basics they need to get started, you might inspire someone to try a new hobby they didn’t even know they would enjoy.
Travel package 🌎
There’s a reason “The Price is Right” is always giving away trip packages. People love the opportunity to escape 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. Pro tip: 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.
Even if you can’t secure someone’s beach house in Tulum, you can still create a relaxing vacation in a very biddable basket! Throw in a pair of cozy bath robes, passes to a local museum or attraction, and the perfect beach read they can enjoy from their back porch.
Movie night 🎞
With all the streaming services available these days, DVDs aren’t necessarily a hot item for baskets. Still, you can create a perfect movie night experience basket with gourmet popcorn, a gift card to rent a new release, or an uncommon membership to a streaming service like the Criterion Channel so they can cozy up with some classics. Just don’t forget the candy you really only get at the movies (I'm looking at you, Raisinettes!).
Spa day 🧖
A little R&R, anyone? Health and wellness treatments are more popular than ever. Create a pampering basket that features a selection of face masks, mani-pedi supplies, body scrubs, hair treatments, and soothing candles for the ultimate spa day at home. You can also include gift certificates to a local spa that offers massages, facials, skin consults, or laser hair removal treatments. We recommend keeping it as broad as possible so people can choose their preferred treatment.
Seasonal favorites 🎃
Depending on the time of year you hold your auction, consider including a basket or two related to upcoming seasons or holidays relevant to your community. Think Back to School, Summer Fun, or Be My Valentine—anything can become a basket.
Fanboys and girls 🖖
Know your nerds! If you have a collector in your community who’s up for parting with an assortment of themed items for a good cause, this kind of stuff is super successful at auctions. Think classics like Star Wars or Batman. There’s also a market for collectibles from more recent cultural sensations like Schitt’s Creek or cult-favorite Adventure Time.
Lottery basket 🔮
A basket full of scratch-offs (even the $2 ones) is a great gift and an even better auction item. Hey, you never know! You could even include a very nice note requesting the winner donate a portion of their jackpot to your organization. 😜
Gift cards 💸
A tried-and-true classic basket item. Hit up local restaurants, gift shops, wine stores, and golf courses—the kinds of spots where your donors want to shop and dine. Offer to list these businesses as sponsors for some free advertising in return for their generosity.
Make your silent action as distinctive as you are
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 29 proven silent auction ideas to make sure your next auction event is silent but deadly effective. Another way to ensure the success of your silent auction is to take advantage of state-of-the-art online auction tools available to nonprofits.
Givebutter is proud to equip nonprofits and changemakers like you with free, world-class fundraising features—now including Givebutter Auctions! We’ve got all the tools you need to create a successful auction event that’s fun and easy for you and your supporters.
Sign up for your free Givebutter account and start planning today!
Anna brings more than a decade of experience in community engagement, campaign planning, and strategic communications at small, progressive nonprofit organizations in New York City.