Silent auctions open up a wealth of opportunities: parents only bid on the items they're interested in, prizes can be more varied and it practically runs itself!
Rather than an auctioneer calling out prices for items and taking raised hands as bids, a silent auction is all done on paper or online (hence the 'silent'). It gives people the chance to view items available and bid what the prize is worth to them. People can revisit lots to outbid fellow parents before the auction closes! When asking for prizes, be creative - from a spa day to a boiler service, a term of karate lessons to expert IT help. Unlike a raffle, where prizes are generally awarded on a pot luck basis, a silent auction allows people to bid only on items that suit their needs.
- Two to three months before: Once you know the date of your event you can start requesting auction prize donations via email, phone or face-to-face. Let companies know what sort of prizes you are after and what coverage they can expect in return. If you are fundraising towards a specific goal, include details. Invite parents to contribute auction prizes, too. Aim for a minimum of 10 high-quality prizes.
- Three to four weeks before: Chase up companies that haven't yet responded and keep records detailing those who have agreed to support you, what prizes they have offered, as well as those who turned down your request and why. Start drumming up excitement by announcing prizes on social media. Display the list on the school noticeboard for everyone to see and send out a letter to parents with a reply slip for those who are unable to attend the event but want to place bids.
- Two weeks before: Write descriptions and create images of your prizes for an online auction. If people can't see the prizes in person, it's important to highlight the main benefits and provide a clear photo. For a paper auction, prepare bidding sheets, including details of the prize and the value. Leave space for names, numbers and the amounts bid. Think about your display - if you only have a small number of items, and it's an informal event, attach bidding sheets to a board, or you may want to place the items themselves or photographs on a table with the bidding sheets on clipboards.
- One week before: If many of your prizes are vouchers or have been received via email, print them off and place in envelopes, writing the details on the front ready to hand out to winners. Given that many people will walk away from your event having been outbid, think about giving them other opportunities to support your cause by setting up a table that allows them to sponsor smaller items, such as £10 towards library resources, £20 towards Santa's grotto presents, etc.
- On the day: Check your online auction is up and running and that all links work. Send out a message on social media to encourage bids. For a live auction, set up your display - include a set of terms next to your bidding sheets. Make sure you have lots of pens! Five minutes before the end, announce that your auction is about to close. Once the auction ends, collect in bid sheets and announce your winners - some may already have left, so call them in the next few days to arrange collection of prizes and payment. Explain that prizes need to be collected and paid for within a certain timeframe. Where the bid is a service (i.e. singing lessons) stipulate appropriate 'use-by' dates.
- After the event: There may be things that, for whatever reason, did not receive any bids or did not reach the reserve price - keep a note of these and let the donors know. If people change their mind about their bid, offer it to the next highest bidder. Thank everyone, and cultivate your donors by sending thank you letters detailing how much the event raised and how this has contributed towards your fundraising goal.
Download a print-friendly PDF version of our step-by-step guide to silent auctions
Silent auction tips and advice
- Legalities: There are no licensing requirements for a silent auction, however you will need to consider the Sale of Goods Act when providing descriptions and stating the value of each item. Parents are providing their names and contact details voluntarily, but these should be destroyed at the end of your event.
- Blind auction: If your supporters would prefer to remain anonymous, invite anyone who wants to bid to register for a unique number. Then all they do is write down their bidder number and the amount against the lots. You reconcile winners and award prizes.
- Be organised: Get requests for prizes sent out before other PTAs start asking! Write descriptions or set up bid sheets, prepare thank you letters ready to send to donors, and be firm with deadlines. Keep detailed notes for future reference: how much did each prize raise; which prizes received the most bids?
- State your terms: Explain that winning bids need to be collected and paid for within a certain timeframe, and that the winner of the lot should arrange collection. If two people bid the same amount, invite them to submit a sealed bid on a piece of paper - the highest bid wins. Where appropriate, include 'use-by' dates. Display your terms next to your bidding sheets.
- Reserve price and 'buy it now'! Consider including a reserve price (around 10% of the total value) for prizes with a high value. Offer a 'buy it now' option on some of the prizes - especially those with a lower value.
- Be creative: The more unique and interesting the prizes you secure, the more excitement (and bids) you will generate. But people also need everyday services, so approach solicitors, garages and hairdressers too.
- Download a silent auction donation request letter
- Download a silent auction letter to parents (with reply slip)
- Download a silent auction sample bidding sheet
Silent auction success stories
'Every year as part of our Christmas fair, we set up a silent auction. I write to many local companies in September and ask for donations. Another committee member, Charlotte, puts the silent auction together with a booklet of the descriptions. We try to get as many as we can! We are very lucky to have a supportive community, in the past we have had items such as: a week's stay in a house in France, wing walking, photo sessions, garden clearance, as well as smaller things such as a ride in a combine harvester, interior design service, babysitting, a haircut or a cleaner for a day! The list of lots for the silent auction goes out in book bags one week before the event. At the fair we have a big whiteboard listing the lots and a column for the bids, as well as forms for each lot, where you put your name, phone number and bid. Charlotte mans the table updating the whiteboard with the latest bid so everyone can see (although people could just add their bid to the list if volunteers are in short supply). It is all very relaxed and at the end of the fair we announce who has been successful for each lot. We give them a month to pay up! Our last silent auction made £1,500 and in previous years it has raised as much as £1,800!'
Kate Thomas, chair, North Cerney Church of England Primary School, Gloucestershire (60 pupils)
'We have run many live and silent auctions at events - most recently at a ball held at Hever Castle last March. The event was hugely successful, selling all 200 tickets in a day and raising nearly £13,000 - more than half of which was generated by the live and silent auctions and the raffle. Planning began in September, with two members coordinating the raffle and auctions. Fortunately, a number of local businesses offered donations of goods and services. Our parents also donated a variety of items from holiday homes and sports memorabilia, to window cleaning! It is always surprising to see what we are offered when we send out our plea for prizes! In addition, the committee phoned or went door-to-door to businesses further afield. Most were happy to contribute something in return for some publicity. The local racecourse and cinema donated family passes and we received vouchers from a number of shops and restaurants. Once we had our prizes (over 60 in total), we divided them between the live auction, raffle and silent auction. The higher-value items - holiday homes, a diamond pendant and a sports car for a weekend - were put in the live auction. The smallest items went into the raffle. We had 12 items for the silent auction, including yoga and pilates classes, a boiler service and England rugby memorabilia. We put details of all the prizes on the school website and promoted the event with posters and emails. The silent auction was positioned somewhere prominent and we created A4 posters for each item, using acrylic document stands to display them next to their bid sheets. We put a starting bid on each sheet as a guide to value, for example, a boiler service worth £80 had an opening bid of £30. Throughout the night guests were able to outbid each other and at the end of the evening the committee collected up the sheets. As most guests were school parents, we were able to gather the money and issue prizes the following week. We sent emails to all the winning bidders, informing them that they had won and how much they owed; they were then able to pay by cheque or bank transfer. Once they had done this, their prize was available for them to collect from the school office. Thank you emails were then sent out to all the donors. It may sound like a lot of work, but with a good team, it's a lot of fun and can be very successful!'
Teresa Hutchings, PTA Chair, Chiddingstone Primary School, Edenbridge, Kent (205 pupils)
The above is intended as guidance only. We recommend that you contact the relevant organisations with specific reference to insurance, legal, health and safety and child protection requirements. Community Inspired Ltd cannot be held responsible for any decisions or actions taken by a PTA, based on the guidance provided.