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January 12, 2018 Silent Auction Bid Sheets – Tips and Tricks

How you format your silent auction bid sheets can make it easier, or harder, for your guests to bid.

Let’s take a few minutes and talk about silent auctions. The sky is the limit regarding how the silent auction portion of a fundraising event can work and look.

You can choose to close the silent auction before or after the program; you can package items together building “baskets” or offer individual items for bid – or both; you can highlight the packages/items with lights and/or display them on different levels of elevation. There is no right or wrong way to facilitate your silent auction. But one constant in a manual silent auction is the silent auction bid sheet. That’s what I want to talk about today as it pertains to fundraising.

Silent auction bid sheets range in size and shape. Whatever size and shape you choose is fine. The deal here is making sure the print is easily read – some of us have sight issues as we’ve gotten older.

Your goal should always be to make it easy for your bidders to bid on the silent auction items.

We have a lot of discussion with clients about whether to pre-fill the silent auction bid sheets with the pre-determined bid increments vs. allowing the guests themselves to write in the amount they want to give for the item. I’ll go ahead and tell you that I am a huge fan of using pre-filled silent auction bid sheets (see my blog on the subject here). The reason for my passion for pre-filled bid sheets is that during the silent auction it’s easier for guests to simply add their bid number on a line with the next bid increment. And when it’s easier for the guests to bid, you will raise more money on each silent auction package/item. However, if you are determined to allow your guests to fill in their own amounts, make sure you do a couple of things to ensure they follow the rules.

Minimum Starting Bids – If you do a Google search for Silent Auction Bid Sheets, most of the results you find will include an area with a “minimum starting bid” with a blank line at the top of the form for the nonprofit to write that minimum dollar amount in. That is a good practice, but I also advise you to go ahead and write that amount on the first bid line. By doing so, the first guest simply has to write their bid number next to that amount and they’re off and running/bidding. I recommend a starting bid of 30% of fair market value, which generates bids from the guests right out of the gate because those early bidders are bidding to get a good deal on the item.

Minimum Bid Increments – On the top of that silent auction bid sheet (that you found on Google), there is also an area indicating the “Minimum Bid Increase”. This number is the minimum amount the bidder has to increase the previous bid by each time a new bid is placed. This is the area that is most troublesome when using these bid sheets. If the minimum is not honored, the bid is in actuality an illegal bid. Plus, one incorrect bid amount can/will begin a chain reaction with future bidding. A big nugget here – make every effort to make sure this information stands out loud and clear on the silent auction bid sheet. Highlight the minimum bid increase with a can’t-be-missed-colored highlighting marker so that there is no way a bidder could NOT see it. And be sure to have plenty of volunteers available who can quickly mark through or handle any illegal bids that might arise. Those steps may not totally solve the problem of illegal bidding but they will definitely prove helpful.

Increase Amount – It’s difficult to guide you on the increase in a blog alone because the increase can vary so much depending on the desirability of the item and the value of the item. Keep in mind, you want to ensure the increase is small enough to encourage bidding but is in keeping with a fundraising spirit.

Value of Items – There is another area on the top of the silent auction bid sheet for filling in the fair market value of the item. A lot of discussion has been had over the years regarding whether to include this information or not. One reason to include it would be that it’s a requirement by the IRS. Personally, I like the value being listed because it gives bidders confidence the item is of greater value than their bids in the early stages of bidding. When the bidding continues and gets closer to or even exceeds the value, I’ve found that the bidders will seldom look at the value. Why would I say that? Think about it. – at this point the guests are in a bidding war and they are no more thinking about the value than the man in the moon. They just want to WIN the item!

Multi-Part Forms – When the silent auction is over you’ll want to leave information on the table so the bidders can circle back to see if they won the item. Most charities have their bid forms printed in multi-part forms with different colored duplicates. The top copy is torn off (after the winning bid amount and bid number is circled) and the remaining copy is left so the guests can view the information. Some groups have a third copy that is given to the winning bidder at checkout, other groups do not.

Bid Numbers vs. Names and Phone Numbers – We see many silent auction bid sheets that ask for the guest’s name and/or address/phone number. I don’t like seeing this information on a form for many reasons. First of all, if you see your friend has the last bid on an item are you going to place a bid? Most people will not, because they don’t want to outbid their friend. You will keep that information confidential if you use bid numbers instead of names. This will even the playing field. Secondly, many of your guests probably do not want their personal information listed for everybody to see. And finally, it takes too long to fill all of that information in anyway, which does not go along with making it easy for the guests to bid.

Buy Now Wording – eBay brought to the auction industry a beautiful thing with “Buy It Now”. You can incorporate this stroke of genius in your silent auction, allowing guests to immediately purchase an item for a maximum amount listed and “Voila!” – the item is sold to their bid number and immediately withdrawn from the mix. But as I started this section out, I mentioned eBay. The term “Buy It Now” is a trademark of eBay so I recommend using the term Guaranteed Purchase or some other catchy title.

Silent auctions are a great way to tap into a lot of money during your fundraising event. Hopefully these nuggets can help you fine-tune your future silent auction events.

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