How To Run A Silent Auction

July 1, 2020


How To Run A Silent Auction

In May 2019, artist Jeff Koons sold a rabbit-shaped, stainless steel sculpture called, “Rabbit,” for $91 million at public auction. It was the highest-priced piece of art ever sold by a living artist. An auction can seem like a 1-percenter only exclusive experience for everyday people. Not so. If you know how to run a silent auction, you can replicate the auction experience locally.

An auction is a public sale of valuable items to the bidding public. If you’ve never been to one, you’ve most definitely seen it characterized in popular culture.

The item on public sale is bid upon by bidders in attendance.

Meanwhile, the auctioneer updates the latest bid, and encourages new bids, in rhythmic chants.

(Image courtesy M.C. Morgan via CC BY-SA 2.0) It’s no coincidence that auctioneers talk in hyper-fast cadences and chants while they moderate auction sales. Many art and antique auctions are marketed to rich people. That’s big money. Auctioneers chant in fast comical, tones to entrance attending bidders, stoke excitement, and encourage bidding engagement.

Why am I explaining how the basic auction?

Well, because a silent auction is nothing like a traditional auction.

A silent auction can be launched by an individual or small organization to quickly raise funds for profit or a cause.

There is no fast-talking, chanting auctioneer.

Bids are offered silently via paper ballots.

Public auctions of extravagant and expensive items are marketed exclusively to rich people to ensure healthy profits.

Silent auctions are grassroots efforts that must be aggressively marketed locally to promote the event to encourage sizable attendance.

Also, organizers of silent auctions need to coordinate with local communities, nonprofits, and small businesses to source valuable items to auction.

However, if you want to know how to run a silent auction, you’ll need an extended explanation.

How to Run a Silent Auction: The Basics

If you want to learn how to run a silent auction, you must first understand that it won’t be easy.

It will be a marketing and logistics nightmare to organize. You may have to ally yourself with a local non-profit or small business.

Before we get into all of that, let’s start with the, “what,” and the, “why?”

What Are You Selling and Why?

OK. You want to run a silent auction.

What are you going to sell and why?

Jeff Koons sold “Rabbit,” for $91 million dollars to Bob Mnuchin, the father of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

There’s a reason for that.

(Image courtesy Fred Romero via CC BY 2.0) I don’t know art, but I know this bunny rabbit sculpture is worth $91 million. Jeff Koons and his agent didn’t sell this sculpture by accident. Koons has a decades-long reputation as an artist and his agent worked a network of rich, interested buyers.

What is it that you want to sell at silent auction?

Why should a demographic of local, working-class people with limited incomes come bid at your silent auction?

What will you sell that will attract such people? Why should they care or part with their money for your auction?

Decide what you will sell and how to market such items. It could be a car sourced from a local used car business or via donation. You could start a local donation drive or ask local businesses to partner with you to source items to auction.

Will you solely benefit from the auction? Is there a cause you can market that justifies the auction and which will motivate people to participate?

Brainstorm extensively on what you will sell, how you will source it, and how you will market the auction before holding it.

You could network with a multitude of businesses and auction services they offer.

For example, auctioning a spa visit, dining experience, furniture, and so on.

That takes us to the next point of how to run a silent auction – you can’t do it alone.

Partner Up With Businesses and Source Volunteers

You may want to coordinate a silent auction with a local business or nonprofit agency.


They have networks and local demographic statistics that could be useful to you since you need bidders to show up.

You need to provide a proposal and business plan to convince such businesses or agency to team up.

Network with friends, local community centers, nonprofit agencies, or colleges to recruit volunteers.

Networking with volunteers will be important to the success of your silent auction. Volunteers can staff the auction, help source items, advertise the event online, and setup and close down the event.

The most efficient way to market and advertise your silent auction is through the use of social media and texting.

Partnering with a local agency and recruiting volunteers is the best way to source items and to market to local bidders.

Now, how to run a silent auction.

The Silent Auction

You’ll need to rent or lease a large space to display the items that will be auctioned.

Be savvy. Use your network to find safe, clean, large commercial spaces that can be used for free during off-hours.

A local business or nonprofit agency may be able to help with that.

The items to be displayed on auction should be placed on tabled and spaced apart, especially in this age of social distancing.

The bidders bid silently, unlike a lively public auction with an auctioneer.

Bidders can bid with paper ballots or text messaging methods controlled by volunteers.


Remember that local working-class people can’t bid as though a $91 million bunny rabbit statue is on sale.

It won’t help your cause to embarrass those with limited incomes to have an auctioneer encourage the next person to place a larger bid.

There won’t be any fast chanting auctioneer involved. A moderator or volunteers will coordinate the collection of silent bids.

Then, winning bids are announced, paid for, and given to the winning bids.

Consult With Someone Who Has Conducted a Silent Auction

If you want to know how to run a silent auction, I hope this basic primer helped.

I also hope I didn’t make seem easier than it is in reality.

Consult a local business, nonprofit agency, or someone who has run a silent auction to get tips.

Here are some sites that offer more information on how to run a silent auction:

This site, Donor Search, has a great directory of silent auction software and apps which can help your organizational needs.

You won’t need to sell a $91 million-dollar rabbit statue to know how to run a silent auction.

Still, you will put in just as much work to organize the endeavor as though you were.

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