Silent auctions are a fun and exciting way for organizations to raise money and support their mission. Though the theme you choose and items you procure will be unique to the interests of your supporter base, there are a few silent auction rules and best practices you should put in place no matter your cause or constituents.
These guidelines help protect your organization, mitigate confusion, and establish consistency. We've outlined some of the most crucial silent auction rules and included a free template your organization can use at your next auction event.
Silent auction rules to stand by
These are tried-and-true silent auction rules and guidelines that will help everyone understand the silent auction etiquette you expect. Share your silent auction rules and regulations with all bidders before your event begins (e.g., during registration) so they know how to participate in your silent auction.
- Bidding will begin and end at designated times ⏰ : State when the auction will begin and end, regardless if you’re hosting an in-person, hybrid, or online auction. Alert all registered bidders as the final hours of the auction approach to increase a sense of urgency and encourage final high bids.
- Auction items are priced based on their fair market value ⚖️ : Estimate and list the fair market value (FMV) for each item (any money paid over that is considered a charitable contribution and is tax-deductible), and set each item’s starting bid at approximately 40% of its FMV.
- Bids must meet the minimum bidding increment requirement (or risk disqualification) 🚫 : Minimum bid increments are generally set at 10% of the item’s FMV (e.g., an item with an FMV of $100 would have a minimum bid increment of $10). Bidding greater than one increment at a time is allowed—it just must follow the minimum bidding increment amount (e.g., bids could jump from $40 to $70 but not $70 to $72).
- Bidding on an item multiple times is allowed 🏎️ : Inform bidders that they can bid multiple times on the same item (no one wants to be outbid!) as long as they meet the minimum bid requirement.
- All bids and sales are final 🏁 : Make it clear that all bids and sales of auction items are binding, so no one tries to go back on a bid or return an item they've won.
- Bidders agree to pay in full at the end of the auction 🤝 : Let bidders know that if they win, they must pay what they bid at the end of the auction—don’t release items to winners until you have received payments in full!
- Limits may apply 🖐 : Be certain bidders are aware of any and all limitations—like black-out dates for restaurant gift certificates, airfare, or hotel stays.
- Age restrictions may apply 🐣 : Clarify that age-restricted items (like wine, high-end liquor, and casino stays) should only be bid on and sold to individuals who are legally old enough to enjoy them.
- Bidder assumes all risk 🔔 : Inform bidders that they assume any and all risks or hazards associated with items they win to prevent your organization from getting hit with a liability lawsuit because someone got injured on the excursion they won at your silent auction.
- Items may change or be withdrawn without notice 😬 : Equip your organization to make changes to auction items as needed (in case those front-row seat tickets you were promised don’t come through).
- Winners will be determined at the end of the auction 🏆 : Clearly communicate who the winner is for each item (the bidder who has the highest recorded bid at the close of the auction or who chose the “Buy Now” option) and how winners can collect their items.
- Items are sold as-is 🙅 : Explain that it’s the buyer’s responsibility to carefully inspect an item for any damage or other discrepancy before bidding on it.
🤿 Dive deeper: Learn more about how silent auctions work and top tips for silent auction success →
Silent auction rules sheet template
Copy, paste, and customize the following silent auction rules sheet template to easily communicate important guidelines with your participants. Don’t forget to update the text in brackets below to match your organization!
Thanks for being part of [ORGANIZATION]’s silent auction! With your generous support, we hope to raise [GOAL AMOUNT], which will enable us to [BRIEF OVERVIEW OF HOW YOU WILL USE FUNDS RAISED] this year.
Please familiarize yourself with the following rules before registering to ensure the auction runs smoothly and we all have a great time.
1. Bidding begins on [DATE] at [TIME] and ends on [DATE] at [TIME].
2. The auction item value listed is based on an estimate of the fair market value, as determined by the item donor and [ORGANIZATION].
3. All bids must meet the minimum bid requirements, or they will be disqualified.
4. Bidders may bid multiple times on the same item as long as they meet the bid minimum.
5. All bids are FINAL.
6. Bidders agree to pay in full the amount they bid at the conclusion of the auction.
7. Some limits may apply to auction items.
8. Age restrictions apply to certain items. Bids placed by any individual who does not legally qualify for any item will be disqualified. Valid ID will be required to purchase items with an age restriction.
9. [ORGANIZATION] assumes no liability for risk or hazards associated with items won. Winner assumes all responsibility for risk and injury.
10. Items are subject to change or be withdrawn without notice at any time.
11. The bidder with the highest recorded bid at the close of the auction (or the bidder who chooses the “Buy Now” option, where applicable) will win the item.
12. Items will not be released to winners until payment has been received in full.
13. All items are sold as-is.
14. All sales are FINAL.
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Reisa is excited to use her nonprofit development, communications, and engagement background to help others elevate their fundraising, administrative, and programming proficiencies