Creative Silent Auction Ideas

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Although fundraisers are typically associated with non-profit organizations like churches and nongovernmental organizations, businesses can and do hold fundraisers as well. An entrepreneur could hold a fundraiser to collect the startup capital necessary to launch a new business, or an existing company could hold a fundraiser to get a quick injection of liquid capital to fund a new product line or an expansion.

Silent auctions are a popular type of fundraiser for a variety of reasons. They create a social atmosphere that encourages networking and spending time with others in the community. At a silent auction, participants have the opportunity to bid on and potentially win alluring prizes without the pressure that comes with a traditional auction.

Choosing Unique Silent Auction Ideas

One way organizers can increase the likelihood that their silent auctions will garner attention and support is to choose unique silent auction ideas. One way to do this is to conduct a survey of known and potential donors that asks what interests them and what types of fundraisers they would support. Their answers can be surprising, and these answers provide valuable insight for organizers looking for unique silent auction ideas.

Above all, silent auction organizers should choose prizes that are interesting to the donors who will attend their auctions. Prizes of paid-for business seminars and professional memberships might be very attractive to young professionals and recent college graduates but less so to stay-at-home mothers and retired individuals.

No matter what kind of prizes are offered at a silent auction, it is important that the organizer secure these prizes as far ahead of the event as possible. This gives the organizer and the businesses donating the prizes time to get them together and package them nicely — and to change prizes or secure new prize sources if issues arise between the auction's organizer and the businesses supplying the prizes.

Silent auction organizers should reach out to small business owners via email or phone call to ask them to donate prizes to silent auctions. By making direct contact with the individual responsible for making donation decisions, the organizer has a better chance of securing a donation for an upcoming silent auction.

Themed Gift Baskets

Although themed gift baskets are popular silent auction items, they do not have to be boring or generic. Gift baskets can be created with very specific themes in mind, like a "mom of toddler survival kit" with energy drinks, wet wipes, a phone charger, a sleep mask and crackers or a "late-night dog walker" basket with pet waste bags, a rechargeable flashlight, hand warmers and a rain poncho.

Beyond creating themed gift baskets around specific scenarios, gift baskets can be created to help their winners reach specific goals. For example, a "nail that interview!” gift basket can include teeth-whitening strips, a book about communicating effectively in interviews, a personal-grooming kit and quality stationery for resumes, CVs and cover letters.

Another type of themed gift basket could be a "cool car" basket that includes seat and steering-wheel covers, a remote starter kit and a gift certificate for a car wash and detailing.

Prizes That Encourage More Giving

One category of creative silent auction items consists of prizes that can help the winner continue to help others, either by providing the same type of relief that the NGO provides or by engaging in other types of charitable giving. A few ideas for these kinds of prize packages include:

  • Donations in the winner’s name to other charities and organizations

  • Sponsorship of a child or animal

  • A grocery store gift card with the intent that items purchased be donated to a food bank

  • Items produced by ethical and sustainable companies

  • A paid-for seminar with a financial adviser

    about charitable giving 

Prizes Related to Self-Care

Another category of creative silent auction items are items meant to encourage the winner’s self-care. Instead of simply being stuff for the winner to take home, these kinds of prizes encourage the winner to make healthy changes in her life that she might not otherwise pursue. Prizes crafted to promote self-care can be a great choice for any type of nonprofit organization, particularly those that promote healthy communities.

One component of a self-care gift basket can be admission to a gym, a meditation course or a yoga studio. It could also be a gift certificate for personal training sessions. Accessing a gym, yoga studio or personal training for free can make these kinds of self-care accessible to individuals who otherwise might not be able to afford them. Similarly, a self-care prize package can include a paid subscription to a meditation app like Headspace or Insight Timer.

Self-care baskets can also include equipment that the winner will need to practice the type of self-care offered by the basket. For example, a package that includes a gift certificate for yoga classes can also include a yoga mat and mat-cleaning wipes in a soothing scent. A gift basket that includes personal training sessions can also include protein bars, a water bottle and a hand towel. Other creative silent auction items for fitness-related prizes include pedometers, athletic apparel and health supplements.

Auction Items That Support the Community

In a proposal for starting an NGO, an organizer might choose to focus on fundraising prizes that support the local community in some way. Often, local businesses donate items and gift certificates for their services to silent auctions. Beyond these types of prizes, though, other groups involved with a silent auction can donate experiences within the community, like a gift certificate to a local restaurant or admission to a local theater or museum.

Other silent auction prizes that can help the winners become more involved with their communities are paid memberships to community organizations. These can be organizations for adults, like Toastmasters or the local chamber of commerce, or dues for youth sports or scouting that an individual might want to win for his child.

Prizes like this can also be offered with the intention of them being “paid forward”, such as the winner of a year of scouting dues giving it to a child whose family cannot afford for her to join the Girl Scouts.

Prizes for Every Member of the Family

In an effective silent auction, there are prizes for everybody. One way to ensure that the prizes at a silent auction have a wide appeal is to create a list of specific members of a family, like mom, dad, grandma and grandpa and create baskets with these individuals in mind. Organizers can take care to ensure every member of a family is considered, including the pets.

A basket on which a dog owner might want to bid could include dog toys, dog treats and gift certificates for dog-centered services like grooming and doggy day care. A basket that appeals to a cat owner might have a bag of catnip and some cat toys. Gift baskets can even be created for rodent owners or aquarium enthusiasts with fun toys for small mammals or colorful rocks and tank decorations for fish owners.

Prizes That Encourage Spending Quality Time With Loved Ones

Building prize baskets around objectives rather than collections of things is another effective way to create attractive silent auction prizes that can raise a lot of money for an NGO. Ideas for this type of prize basket include:

  • A basket with fun activities for grandparents to do with their grandchildren

  • A gift basket for a couple’s night in with massage oils, a bottle of wine and a gift certificate for a delivered meal from a local restaurant

  • A family fun gift basket that includes sunblock, towels and a set of passes to a local water park 

With high-quality, attractive prizes and effective marketing, a silent auction can attract many donors who will support the initiative that the silent auction was created to support. In fact, a successful silent auction can serve as long-term marketing for a business or non-profit organization because after donors have a positive experience with an organization’s silent auction, they are likely to continue supporting the organization's future fundraising events.

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About the Author

Lindsay Kramer has been a full-time writer since 2014. In that time, she's experienced the ups, downs and crazy twists life tends to take when you're launching, building and leading a small business. As a small business owner, her favorite aspect about writing in this field is helping other small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs become more fluent in the terminology and concepts they face in this role. Previously, she's written on entrepreneurship for 99designs and covered business law topics for law firms.