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As a nonprofit professional, you’ve likely hosted—or at least considered hosting—a silent auction fundraiser. Silent auctions appeal to a broad audience, engage supporters through friendly competition, and are extremely flexible. They can be held in-person or virtually and pair well with other fundraising events like galas or golf tournaments.

Your silent auction’s success depends on two key factors: procuring high-quality items, and showcasing those items in a way that gets supporters excited to bid on them. According to Winspire, designing a catalog is the most effective way to display live auction items. However, silent auctions typically feature more items than can fit in a small booklet, so bid sheets are the silent auction equivalent of a live auction catalog.

To get started creating your silent auction’s bid sheets, here are six essential elements you’ll need to include:

  1. Your Nonprofit’s Name and Logo
  2. Item Title and Description
  3. Donor or Sponsor Information
  4. Starting Bid and Minimum Bid Amounts
  5. “Buy Now” Option
  6. Supporter Contact Information

A good bid sheet will give supporters just enough information to get them interested in the item while still being concise and skimmable. Let’s dive in!

1. Your Nonprofit’s Name and Logo

At the top of each bid sheet, make sure your nonprofit’s name and logo are clearly displayed. Before supporters donate, they want to know exactly where their contributions are going, so seeing your organization’s name on every bid sheet will reassure them that their bids will benefit your cause. Including your nonprofit logo helps boost brand awareness, especially among supporters who may be engaging with your organization for the first time.

If you have space, it’s also helpful to include one to two short sentences about the specific cause or project your silent auction will benefit. For example, an animal shelter might write, “All proceeds from the auction will go toward expanding our facilities so we can take in more dogs and cats in need.” This gives supporters a concrete idea of how their contributions will support a good cause.

2. Item Title and Description

A well-written auction item description not only lets guests know exactly what they’re bidding on, but it also persuades them to bid more.

Many auction items increase in value when sold as a bundle, which is why gift baskets and vacation packages have become silent auction staples. If supporters have any questions about the contents of a bundle, they can easily refer to the bid sheet.

To write effective item descriptions, try these tips:

  • Come up with catchy titles. The more creative an item title is, the more likely auction participants are to notice it and consider bidding. For example, a gift basket themed around coffee will likely catch more supporters’ attention if it’s called “The Coffee Connoisseur” or “The At-Home Barista” than if the title is simply “Coffee Variety Pack.”
  • Write concisely. Begin with a sentence or two describing why someone would be interested in the item, then list the item’s key features as bullet points. This format makes the description easier to skim as supporters browse the auction.
  • Include any relevant restrictions. Below the bulleted list, add any “fine print” that supporters need to know before bidding. If a gift certificate has an expiration date or a vacation package offers a limited number of airline choices, make those restrictions clear.

If you’re hosting your silent auction virtually, include a picture of each item next to the description to help supporters visualize what they could win. If your auction is in-person, place tangible prizes next to their bid sheets. For experiences and gift certificates, create a separate display card with relevant images, such as a picture of the travel destination in a vacation package.

3. Donor or Sponsor Information

To maximize your silent auction’s revenue, try to procure items for free or at reduced prices. You can accomplish this through a combination of researching existing nonprofit discounts and partnering with businesses to secure in-kind donations.

Double the Donation’s guide to corporate sponsorships explains that partnerships between businesses and nonprofits should be mutually beneficial. In exchange for donated auction items, your nonprofit can provide the benefit of free advertising to your sponsors by including their logo and a blurb on the bid sheet about the sponsor like: “Thanks to [company name] for providing this item.” This recognition also serves as a way to publicly show appreciation to sponsors for their generosity.

4. Starting Bid and Minimum Bid Increments

Establishing starting bid amounts and minimum bid increments can prompt bidding wars and ultimately earn you more for each item, so write these numbers in bold on your bid sheets. For items that are hard to value, such as original artwork or one-of-a-kind experiences, the starting bid amounts can also give supporters an idea of their worth.

The general consensus among fundraising auction experts is to establish a minimum bid amount of approximately 40% of each item’s fair market value, which you can often find through online research. Then, set the minimum bid increment at approximately 10% of the starting bid, although you might choose a lower amount for high-value items to encourage more competition.

5. “Buy Now” Option

For many event participants, the competition of an auction is what keeps them engaged. However, you can ensure you’ll earn a lot on your big-ticket silent auction items by including a “Buy Now” option on those bid sheets.

Set the “Buy Now” price at 100% of the item’s regular retail price or slightly higher. Then, add as many spaces for supporters to write their names as you have items available. For example, if you have four concert tickets but want to sell them as two sets of two, include two “Buy Now” spaces.

6. Supporter Contact Information

Having supporters put down their email address and phone number next to their names on your bid sheet serves two purposes:

  • It helps you track down the winning bidder for each item at the end of the event.
  • It ensures that you have the supporter’s contact information to follow up with them after the event.

After your auction, check that this contact information is stored in your donor database, along with the amount each supporter spent at the auction. That way, you can include specific information about individual contributions in your thank-you emails, making the message more personal and showing supporters that your organization values them.

Whether you’re inputting item information into your virtual auction platform or printing paper bid sheets for an in-person event, including the six elements above allows you to showcase your silent auction items effectively. Once you have your bid sheets’ content finalized, focus on developing a layout that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to follow, which helps supporters understand the bidding process and gives the sheets a professional look. Happy fundraising!

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