silent auction planning

Stick to your timeline

There is a tendency to adjust the timeline of an event mid-event if things aren’t proceeding as planned. Usually it’s because people aren’t bidding on the silent auction with as much fervor as the silent auction chairs had envisioned. They want to keep the silent open for “an extra 15 minutes, to give people a chance to bid.”

Unless there has been a major incident that is preventing attendees from getting to your event on time, don’t alter your timeline. Especially if your timeline has been published in the catalog or elsewhere at the event. The timeline for the evening is the one element that you actually have control over; hopefully you established it strategically.

Altering your timeline can have serious repercussions across the rest of your event. It can throw off the timing for dinner, it delays the start of your live auction, and ultimately it costs you money. More than that, however, altering the timeline can aggravate your crowd.

I emceed a silent auction conducted via mobile bidding recently, hyping items and announcing closing times. The event chair opted to keep the silent open for an extra 15 minutes, to “give people a chance to bid from their seats at dinner.”

When I took the stage to announce that the silent auction would be open for an additional 15 minutes, people actually booed! Their expectations had been set, and they were ready to move on with the evening. They didn’t want to have to spend any more time protecting their bids, they were ready for the next phase of the evening.

This crowd recovered and didn’t hold this decision against me or the organization, thankfully. But all it really takes is for you to piss off one of your big bidders to negatively impact your event.

Strategically craft your timeline, publish it, and stick to it. Your crowd will be happier, and your event will be better for it.

Less is more in your silent auction

The tendency for many silent auction committees is to accept as many items as they can get and make the silent auction as big as possible. “Bigger is better” after all, right? Actually, no. The reality is that you can do less work and make the same amount of money, possibly even more.

Putting too many items in your silent auction could be costing you money at your event. It is most certainly taking an unnecessary toll on the staff and volunteers who work on your silent auction considering that it takes an average of three hours to solicit, inventory, write the description, create the display, set up, break down, and then redeem each and every silent auction item.

A massive silent auction can be a detriment to bidding, evidenced by the lack of activity on this huge table.
A massive silent auction can be a detriment to bidding, evidenced by the lack of activity on this huge table.

One indicator that you have too many items in your silent auction is if you have more items than bidding units (ie: couples) at your event. Most attendees have a budget for how much they intend to spend at your event before they arrive. If they show up and realize that there are three auction items for every couple they quickly start bargain hunting.

The maximum ratio for silent lots to bidding units is 0.75 to 1, three quarters as many silent lots as couples. That is a good number to aim for when paring down a massive silent auction. If you are just starting an event of 400 people or less, you’ll do well to aim for no more than 75 – 125 silent lots.

Less silent lots makes a committee become more selective, and means you wind up with a higher caliber of lot (or at least groupings of silent lots that are worth more money). It also increases competition among your bidders. Once a bidder realizes that every item is going to get a bid and sell they tend to focus on the key items they really want.

This all sounds nice in theory, but I’ve seen first-hand data to back it up; and at my son’s school, no less. It is one thing to make recommendations as a consultant who then doesn’t have to live with the results on a daily basis. But volunteering for my son’s school auction committee was a gut-check because the repercussions if my advice didn’t work were going to be huge on a personal and parental level.

In the first year we reduced the silent auction by 57% and revenue stayed level. Over the course of three years we cut the number of silent auction items by another 30% and saw the bid to fair market value ratio increase by 15%. They went from 825 to 281 items in their silent auction, but the money stayed the same because people were bidding higher on each individual item. Sure this is an extreme example, but it should empower you to reduce your 100 lot silent auction to 80 or even 70 auction items.

The results were in line with myriad other eventswe’ve done, and drove home the point: in the silent auction, less is more.Or actually, less is equal. So do right by your staff and volunteers, and start looking for ways to reduce your silent auction this year.