Holding a silent auction is a great way to raise money, but with any event there’s bound to be a hiccup or two. By understanding the most common silent auction problems now, you can take proactive steps to avoid them in the future and resolve any issues quickly if they arise during your event.

Problem #1: Cluttered tables

Solution: No one wants to feel cramped or rushed when they are considering a bid or making a purchase, especially if they’re spending upwards of $500-1,000 on an item. Make sure there is enough space at the table for people to move freely between items and easily review the display along with other guests. 

A good rule of thumb is to leave 6-12 inches of space between items on the silent auction tables. If you’re short on space, consider expanding your silent auction area or packaging items together so you have fewer to display.

Fill your tables with unique, valuable auction items that attract high bidding. Click below to download a list of over 400 ideas to jumpstart your procurement brainstorming.


Problem #2: Illegible bids

Solution: Everyone’s handwriting is different, and it isn’t always easy to read. Trying to decrypt the names and bids that people write down can be frustrating and time-consuming. Luckily there are a few easy solutions to consider:

  • Fixed bid amounts: Instead of letting guests write in their own bids, have fixed bid amounts already filled out on the bid sheet. This will eliminate any confusion about what number a person wrote and will also ensure that bids increase according to the minimum bid amount.
  • Assign Bidder ID#’s: As guests register for the event, use a system that assigns a bid number to each attendee. Then, on your bid sheets, include an extra column for guests to write their “Bidder ID#” to help you further identify guests who bid. This is also great if you’re looking to add some anonymity to the bidding process since guests can use their unique bidder number in place of their name.
  • bid-stickers2Bid Stickers: A combination of both fixed bid amounts and bidder ID#’s, guests are handed a sheet of sticker labels when they arrive that is specific to them. Usually, each sticker has a bidder’s name, ID# and a bar code (for you to scan), which they can then place on the bid sheets alongside the fixed bid amount they want to place.
  • Mobile or Electronic Bidding: The modern day solution! This method for collecting bids, via a computer or smartphone app, completely eliminates the need to interpret handwriting.

Problem #3: Items with no bids

Solution: It’s always a let-down when you near the end of your auction event only to discover that some items didn’t receive any bids. Assigning appropriate opening bid amounts is one way to help curb this issue. Opening bid amounts that are too high will deter people from placing an initial bid, and the resulting empty bid sheet will continue to deter any guests from seriously considering the item.

The actual starting bid amount you should put for a particular item can vary dramatically depending on many factors. For recommendations on setting starting bid amounts, we recommend speaking to one of our professional Event Consultants.

If you reach the end of your event and have some items without any bids, do not lower the opening price. Instead, have the emcee call out the item to gain interest or ask if any registered committee members have an interest in an item. Sometimes it just takes one opening bid to start a bidding war!

Problem #4: Long checkout lines

Solution: No one enjoys lines, but they can be especially aggravating for guests at the end of the evening when they are ready to leave. Have a system in place to ensure a smooth checkout so your donors don’t have to wait in line to pay and claim the silent auction item(s) they won.

It’s also important to set expectations by having a specific time and location for checkout. Announce it early and clearly throughout the event. Use multiple computers and high-speed printers to process payments and receipts. Make sure those computers are equipped to process credit cards since that is by far the most popular payment method.


What are some other common problems you’ve run into as a silent auction event planner? Are there problems you haven’t solved for yet? Please share in the comments below!


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Winspire Communications Director

About Ian Lauth

With an extensive background in marketing and design, Ian’s role at Winspire is to develop external communications, brand expansion and product delivery processes to help Nonprofits maximize their fundraising revenue.

Ian serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Winspire News, creating and managing blog content,  newsletters, eBooks and other resources for Nonprofit fundraising professionals. You can also find Ian on Google+.

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