How Does a Silent Auction Work?

by Kathy Adams

A silent auction is a bit different from a traditional auction in that attendees do not always know the current high bid -- while an auctioneer may be present, he is not calling out the highest bid amount on one particular item or closing bids once bidders stop bidding. Bidding in a silent auction is done privately via clipboards or on sheets of paper set up at tables; you may bid on multiple items at once. Afterward, the written bids are examined and the person who bid the highest for each item claims and pays for that item.

Silent-Auction Basics

Bidding on items in a silent auction happens silently -- each bid is written down on an auction bid sheet dedicated to a specific category or auctioned item. In some cases, each guest has his own clipboard with all of the auction items listed upon it and bids the highest amount he would be willing to pay for whichever items are of interest. Silent-auction attendees are not aware of other bid amounts when the auction is conducted using individual clipboards. If guests are asked to write on a shared bid sheet at an auction table, they may be assigned numbers first so bidders only see the number assigned to competing bidders, rather than the bidders' names. This sometimes results in higher bids because friends might not bid against friends if they see their names on the sheet.

The Fun in Fund-Raising

Silent auctions are typically held at fund-raising events, as this type of auction meshes well with other events such as charity dinners or even live auctions. Since a silent auction does not carry with it the usual noise of a live auction, it isn't as disruptive as auction calling would be during a formal event such as a dinner. It also doesn't require constant attention to the auctioneer or host, as guests bid what they choose to and the closing time for bidding on each item or section is announced.

It's in the Numbers

Because a silent auction is most often a means to raise funds for a cause, success is determined by bids that reach or go beyond market value for each item offered. If there are too many items auctioned and few attendees, this may result in some items receiving no bids or, at best, small bids. Offering approximately one item per two silent-auction attendees helps guarantee interest and competitive bidding.

Keeping Attention

At a regular live auction, the auctioneer's calls grab the attention of guests in the room, keeping interested attendees focused on the item at hand. Because a silent auction has no continual auction calling, an event host or auctioneer informs guests over a microphone that bidding on one item, or one section or table full of items, ends at a specific time, reminding them several times so as to increase interest. At an event with many auction items, bidding usually closes in stages, with the bidding closing on the lowest value items first. The best or highest value items are saved for the end of the auction.

Photo Credits

  • Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images