Donation Ideas for Silent Auction

by Janet Beal
Individual donations account for most of a nonprofit's financing.

Individual donations account for most of a nonprofit's financing.

Conducting a silent auction is a popular way to raise funds for your organization. The major challenges for a silent auction tend to be acquiring donated prizes and services that can be auctioned off. Knowing your community and reaching out beyond it can produce creative auction items that will make your fundraiser a success.

Allowing Enough Time

Ideally, you need to gather your volunteer solicitors together eight to ten weeks before your event. This allows several processes to take place. First, volunteers new to silent auctions may have a lot of questions: the size and number of donations wanted, territory to be covered, ways to approach potential but unfamiliar donors, and the procedures for securing donations. You will need to make a schedule, perhaps divide solicitation by geographic or other territory (six blocks of the Pine Street shopping area; all the pizza places in town; landscape services and garden centers). A solicitation letter telling about your event and organization, a participation/support certificate that can be posted by merchants, a donation form, and any other information you need volunteers to take on solicitation calls need to be prepared. You need to schedule pickups of donations and arrange secure storage for donated items. Eight to ten weeks allow you enough time to navigate your campaign around major holidays, competing events, and school vacations for a successful auction.

Donation Ideas--Expanding Your Strengths

Examine your community in terms of highly popular activities. If your town is sports-mad, team tickets are certain to stimulate auction activity. Since these are often hard to get, stretch beyond the majors. Minor league teams often provide great action and welcome more attendees. If the pro games are out of reach, look at college teams--some of them are fantastic. Seek out team memorabilia donations as well--fans are collectors. Check out opportunities to offer playing time: tennis court, bowling alley, driving range, gym, and batting cage time all make good auction items. Additionally, local experts can be asked to provide, for example consultation on a golf swing, yoga lessons, or a private clinic on tennis strategies.

Donation Ideas--Things To Do

Reach outside your community for the length of a day-trip. Gift certificates for auction could include: upstate apple orchards, balloon rides, admission to a historic site, summer theater and museum tickets. Keep mileage within reason, with an auction item waiting at the destination.

Donation Ideas--Advice and Guidance

Appeal to homeowners and fashionistas with donated hours of an expert's time: a renovator can offer time to brainstorm a new deck; a trained decorator can tackle the lighting problems in a den; a nutritionist can make dieting an informed success instead of a misery. Offer an hour of training tips from a dog-trainer. Look to the professionals in your community and ask what advice they can offer auction attendees.

Donation Ideas--Down and Dirty

Prizes don't always have to be glamorous to be appealing. Consider a certificate from the car wash, not for a standard wash but for one of those tempting detailing jobs. Eight hours of weeding on call will appeal to many garden-lovers. In harsh climates, driveway resealing makes a great auction prize. So does 4 hours of garage cleaning, with everything hauled to the dump; a donation of gutter-cleaning; or a day of free professional housecleaning. These slightly more humble services don't always appear on the auction circuit--and providers may appreciate wider publicity of their services.

Donation Ideas--A Little Something for a Big Something

Offer a free business-card ad in your event journal in exchange for a donation. This puts valuable advertising in the hands of auction attendees, who may generate more business for the donor.

Donation Ideas--Making a Lot of a Little

Sometimes an organization will find itself with willing donors and many small prizes. Consider bundling related small prizes together to encourage greater bidding. A variety of kitchen items look more intriguing in a pretty basket lined with crisp new tea towels (add the small gift certificate from the cheese store to increase interest). Put together the hardware-store bird feeder, a pet-store bag of birdseed, and a bird-walk at the local nature center.

Donation Ideas--Spreading the Enthusiasm

Do everything you can to bring some visual unity to large and small auction items. Clearly some will be for bigger spenders than others. Giving all your items the same signature bow or other consistent touch conveys a sense that, while items may be of different value, all auction participants are of equal value.

About the Author

Janet Beal has written for various websites, covering a variety of topics, including gardening, home, child development and cultural issues. Her work has appeared on early childhood education and consumer education websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard University and a Master of Science in early childhood education from the College of New Rochelle.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images