How to make more money with your next silent auction

This week, I'm pleased to introduce Sherry Truhlar. Sherry is an auction expert so I've asked her to come and share with us how to make our nonprofit's next silent auction better. Be sure to check out her free guide of auction items -- listing the 100 best-selling items to sell in your benefit auction -- at

by Sherry Truhlar

Wanna make more money in your silent auction? Re-read your descriptions.

If you’re wondering why some items in your silent auction just aren’t getting the bidding activity you expected, re-read your silent auction descriptions. In any metropolitan area, guests need to know the suburb, town, or general location of the business. Washington, D.C. commuters have some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. You better believe we want to know where something is located before we buy!

Nobody wants to buy a $40 gift card only to find out the business is a 50-minute commute. I might be interested in buying that gift certificate for bird seed from The Wren’s Nest, but only if I know where The Wren’s Nest is located. Is it within 20 minutes of my home or office? Great! If it’s located 60 minutes away, I might still be interested in buying, but I’ll give it as a gift to my sister-in-law, who lives in that area.

Guests need to know if delivery is included.

This is most commonly heard when the item being sold is large, like a piano, playhouse, or holiday tree. And between school auctions and non-profit gala auctions, I hear it more often at school silent auctions where these large, more awkward types of items are more frequently donated.

If delivery is included — or is available for a modest fee — be sure to mention that in the description. Delivery could be the make-it-or-break-it reason as to why a guest bids.

Guests must understand if the business service is coming to them, or if they are going to the business service.

I might be interested in signing up for a massage session, but only if that massage is available to me in my home, or within a 10-minute drive of my home or office. Outside of that, I’m not bidding.

So if the description says, “Jen Smith is a certified massage therapist,” but fails to tell me if Jen Smith is providing these services to me in my home or at her studio, I won’t bid.

Some services are vague. Like what about those services with the home designer? Am I taking my pillow cushions to her at her retail outlet, or is she coming to me?

And what about the seamstress who is going to create my one-of-a-kind fitted suit? Am I going to her, or is she coming to me? If she’s are coming to me, I’m likely ready to bid a little more.

My floor team are outstanding sales support in any auction. They find an item and work it until it has bids…or until they have outright sold it to a guest.

But if a silent auction description is lacking key information, my sales reps must leave their post to find someone in the marketing department who knows about this item and can provide the missing details.

Follow these simple steps, and you will raise more money at your next silent auction!

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to


  1. Great suggestions Sherry. I frequently have to work silent auctions with my company, and you would be surprised how many organizations forget to inform their bidders important information about location and delivery. Another thing that we have noticed is that when organizations choose to do electronic bidding rather than the traditional bidding, the organization raises more money. It makes it easier for the guests to view which items have not yet been bid on as well as set maximum bids so that they can enjoy themselves during the evening without having to constantly go back to the table. We've noticed a fairly large jump in fundraising efforts when technology is introduced at the event.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jordan. I am also working with electronic bidding at more events. However I would say, ?you might make more money with it?.

    Vendors point to gains as high as 50% over paper-based bidding.

    My take is that you?ll enjoy those higher gains if your group has never invested in any auction improvements. If you?ve been making changes along the way, either from self-education or working with a creative consultant or auctioneer, you might not see as significant of an improvement.

    So what?s the right answer? It depends on your goals and what you?re trying to achieve.

    If readers are looking for more opinions on electronic bidding, here?s a piece ?Make your silent auction slick?


  1. [...] Make More Money on Your Next Silent Auction Some easy tips on how to increase the chance that someone will bid on your auction items ? simply by improving the item description. [...]

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