When your nonprofit hosts a silent auction, the items are the star of the show. After all, you’ll only hit your fundraising goal by motivating supporters to bid on your high-value prizes!

To encourage competitive bidding, showcasing your items in an appealing way is essential, and one way to do this is through well-designed bid sheets. Although bid sheets are primarily a tool to track which auction participants are vying for which items, they can also grab supporters’ attention and provide them with key information to help them decide if and how much to bid on a particular prize.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to get started with effective silent auction bid sheet design. Here’s what we’ll cover:

At Winspire, we’re dedicated to providing the best possible auction services to your nonprofit, from creating essential resources to curating unique vacation packages that generate high bids and boost your event revenue. To that end, our team of experts has designed a bid sheet template that your organization can easily download and adapt to your needs. Let’s dive in!

Explore charity vacation packages to feature on your bid sheets. Contact Winspire.

What Are Silent Auction Bid Sheets?

A bid sheet is a document used at a silent auction to record bids on a particular auction item. Each item should have its own bid sheet where event participants write their names, contact information, and bid amounts. At the end of the auction, the highest listed bidder on each sheet wins that item.

At an in-person silent auction, bid sheets are typically printed out and placed on the table next to their respective item. Participants can then browse the tables, write down a bid when an item piques their interest, and quickly return to the sheet if they notice someone else outbidding them.

During virtual or hybrid auctions, you’ll use your fundraising event software to create digital bid sheets that supporters can access whether they’re attending in person or remotely. Your auction platform’s structure and features often heavily influence the way you design your bid sheets with predetermined templates and formatting requirements. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus mostly on creating paper bid sheets as their design is entirely up to you.

6 Essential Elements of a Bid Sheet

In addition to being a key component of a successful silent auction, bid sheets can (and should!) serve as the silent auction equivalent of a live auction catalog. At a live auction, the catalog allows participants to browse through photos of the items and learn key information about each one so they can decide whether to bid when the auction begins.

Silent auctions don’t lend themselves to catalogs because they tend to feature many more items than live auctions, and this item list often isn’t finalized far enough in advance to create and distribute a catalog. Fortunately, well-designed bid sheets allow you to communicate the same information that an auction catalog does in a more manageable way.

Here are six essential elements to include on your silent auction bid sheets:

This checklist graphic shows six elements that every silent auction bid sheet should include, which are discussed in more detail below.

1. Organization Name and Branding

Start by placing your nonprofit’s name at the top of each bid sheet. It’s also helpful to incorporate other elements of your organization’s branding into the headers, such as your logo, fonts, and color scheme. Branding makes your nonprofit recognizable and memorable for event participants, reassuring them that their contributions will support a good cause.

If you have space, include your organization’s mission statement or a short blurb about how you plan to use the funds you raise through the silent auction. For example, an animal shelter could share at the top of their bid sheets that “all proceeds from our silent auction will go toward essential veterinary care and medical supplies for dogs and cats in need.” This type of concrete example can convince supporters who are on the fence to place a bid or increase their contribution.

2. Tracking Number

To make the auction run more smoothly for both supporters and event staff, include a tracking number with each item. Having a number to reference helps winning bidders confirm the item they receive when they check out, and it makes post-event data entry easier for your team.

3. Item Title and Description

The item title is likely the first thing participants will notice when they see a silent auction bid sheet. Once it has captured their attention, they’ll likely look for a description to confirm what they’ll win if they bid on the item.

Here are some tips to make these key elements stand out on your bid sheets:

  • Come up with catchy names for your items. For example, a vacation package called “Tuscany Culinary Escape” will appeal to supporters more than a title like “Trip to Northern Italy.”
  • List everything the winning bidder will receive. This is especially important for gift baskets and other bundled items. Supporters need to understand the prize’s true value and know exactly what they’ll win to make an informed decision about whether they’ll bid, and if so, how much.
  • Include any restrictions on the items’ use. If concert tickets are only valid for certain dates or a hotel stay is limited to participating locations, be transparent about this to ensure winning bidders will be able to use their prizes and have a positive experience.
  • Write concisely. Keep paragraphs short and use bullet points where possible to help supporters quickly skim each description as they browse the tables.

Additionally, include a relevant image if the item isn’t directly displayed on the table, such as a photo of the vacation destination the winner will travel to or the venue where a live event will be held. If this is too much information to include on one page without limiting space to enter bids, it’s fine to put this on a separate display sheet.

4. Provider Acknowledgment

When it comes to maximizing your auction revenue, how you procure items is just as important as what items you procure. Seeking out nonprofit discounts, soliciting in-kind donations, and working with dedicated fundraising auction item providers reduces your upfront event costs and boosts your return on investment.

On each bid sheet, include a brief acknowledgment of whoever provided the item. This can be as simple as one sentence that reads, “This item was provided by [donor/company name].” These callouts are especially important if you received an item from a corporate sponsor—in order to make sponsorships mutually beneficial, nonprofits usually provide their sponsors with free publicity in exchange for support. But in any case, it’s a great way to thank the people and businesses that made your event possible.

5. Pricing Information

Properly pricing your silent auction items requires striking a balance between offering prices that supporters are happy to pay and setting your organization up to meet your fundraising goals.

There are four key numbers to take into consideration as you add pricing information to each of your bid sheets:

This diagram shows the calculation for setting prices on your silent auction bid sheets, which is discussed in the text below.

  • Fair market value (FMV). This is the item’s worth relative to what supporters would pay if they purchased it elsewhere, which will be easier to determine in some cases than in others. For donated or discounted goods, tickets, and certificates, you can simply visit online retailers’ sites to look up the item’s full price. For more unique items like artwork or VIP experiences, you may have to contact the item’s provider or do additional research.
  • Starting bid amount. The industry standard is to set the starting bid amount for a silent auction item at 30-50% of the item’s FMV. Participants often choose to purchase items at auction because they’re hoping for a discount they couldn’t get elsewhere, which is why it’s important to procure prizes at the lowest possible cost.
  • Minimum bid increase. There are a few ways to calculate this number, but one common strategy is to set the minimum bid increase at approximately 10% of the starting bid amount. In most cases, this is low enough to encourage bidding wars but high enough to ensure meaningful increases that boost revenue.
  • “Buy Now” option. For a few of your highest-value items, include an option on the bid sheet for a supporter to win outright by paying 150-200% of the FMV. It’s best not to do this for every item since bidding wars keep auction participants engaged. However, “Buy Now” options can maximize your earnings on exclusive tickets or vacation packages that some passionate supporters will want to win no matter the cost.

To see how this calculation works in practice, let’s say your organization secures two front-row seats at a popular concert coming up in your city. Although you purchased the tickets at a nonprofit discount, you figure out that their total FMV is $8,000. So, you could set the starting bid amount at $3,000 (a round starting number which is just under 40% of the FMV), the minimum bid increase at $300, and the “Buy Now” option at $12,000 for a passionate fan who will pay any amount to see that artist in concert.

6. Bidding Rows

Similarly to pricing, determining the correct number of rows for guests to enter their bids also requires striking a balance. You need to include enough rows to allow for bidding wars, but not so many that the bid sheet appears empty, making the item seem less desirable. How many rows you include will depend on the number of auction items and participants, but 12-15 is often a safe bet.

In addition to spaces for supporters to write their names and bids, include a column for their contact information. There are two reasons to do this. First, it helps your team track down each winning bidder at the end of the auction to ensure they claim their prizes. Second, it ensures you have the information you need to send participants a thank-you letter after the auction.

Winspire’s Silent Auction Bid Sheet Template

While some nonprofits turn to professional graphic designers to create silent auction bid sheets, you can also take a DIY approach to save money. To help you design your own bid sheets, the fundraising experts here at Winspire have put together a free template that you can download and customize.

Get started with Winspire’s bid sheet template. Download for free.

If you’re still working on procuring silent auction items to feature on your bid sheets, Winspire can also help with that process. We offer a wide variety of bucket-list travel Experiences specifically for nonprofit fundraisers. You can use any Winspire Experience in your silent auction with no risk because you only pay for what you sell at the event. Plus, every dollar you raise above the Nonprofit Cost (list price) goes directly to your organization’s mission. To learn more about how Winspire works, read our FAQs or speak to one of our Event Fundraising Specialists.

Wrapping Up

If your nonprofit is hosting a silent auction, effective bid sheet design is critical to encourage supporters to bid on your high-value items. By including all of the essential elements above and using a template to create an easy-to-follow layout, you’ll develop a data collection and supporter engagement tool that you can replicate for future auctions.

For more information about planning silent auctions, check out these resources: