Creative Silent Auction Ideas for Your Event

by Joe Garecht

Silent auctions have become a valuable revenue stream for most mid- and large-sized fundraising events.  (If you’re not yet using a silent auction, it makes a great — though often time-consuming – addition to events).

Of course, as auctions have become de rigueur at fundraising events, attendees have come to expect bigger, better, and bolder items at every event they attend.  Below, we present some creative silent auction ideas to spice up your next event and keep your donors bidding and buying.

But First, Remember the Basics

Before adding new or different items to your silent auction, be sure that you have all the “basics” covered.  Guests who attend your event will expect you to have certain items available, including gift certificates, gift baskets, perhaps some sports or theatre tickets available, and any items that you “normally” have at your event.  Before launching some of these more creative silent auction ideas, be sure you have these basics ready for your event.


When you’re ready to take your auction to the next level, one category of big-ticket item you can add is “experiences.”  People love to bid on things they can’t find anywhere else… things they consider priceless.  And auction supporters will often donate items to a non-profit that they wouldn’t offer for sale elsewhere.

Examples of good experiences to offer include: a backstage pass to a ballet performance, a chance to ride in the local news helicopter during a traffic report, the opportunity for you and a friend to play basketball with two members of the local professional team, etc.


Services performed by your staff, your board, or a group of your supporters are great silent auction ideas.  For example, your board could host a party for the winner and 10 of their friends at the board president’s house where the board cooks the food, waits on tables, and plays bartender.  Or, a group of supporters could offer to clean the winner’s house.  Likewise, your staff could take the winner’s car to get oil changes every three months for a year.  Be creative!

Mission-Related Items

Adding a mission-related component to your event auction is my favorite outside the box silent auction idea.  At every silent auction I have ever attended, I have seen people who bid on and lost items walk out the door with money in their pocket that they were expecting to spend… and that they would be more than happy to donate to the school, church, or charity in a creative way.  Cue the mission-related sale.  There are two ways to add this component to your auction.

First, set up a table where you offer services to your clients to be sponsored in an auction-like setting.  For example, if you serve the homeless meals and it costs $10 per meal, but out a bid sheet letting people bid on how many meals they will buy for your clients.  The winner may be 23, 45, or 200 meals, depending on your donor base.

Only the winner has to pay –he or she writes a check for the total amount (in the case of 200 meals, that would be $2,000 at $10 per meal) which your organization then uses to provide the service.  You could set up several of these types of auctions on the same table.

Second, set up a “Buy a Service” table right by the exit door.  As people leave, ask them to buy a service for one of your clients.  Offer numerous levels of services that the donor can “purchase” on a client’s behalf.   This isn’t done in an auction setting, but is designed to allow people who have money to spend, but who lost their bids, to donate the money to your non-profit in a creative way.

For example, if you are running a sports program for underprivileged youth, you could offer donors the chance to “buy” a set of baseballs for you for $10, a uniform for a child for $20, or cover the fees you have to pay to use the field for one day for $50.

Be resourceful with your event, and use these creative silent auction ideas to make sure your donors stay engaged with your auction, your event, and your organization.

For more event ideas, check out Using Ad Calendar Fundraising at Your Next Event.  For a detailed, easy to follow guide to running your next silent auction, read The Silent Auction Handbook.


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ali June 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm

hi, thanks for all the useful information- i’m an artist form the uk but working in fairtrade in south america and we all have to be involved in fundraing for the organisation to continue existing- it’s great to get information for ‘non-fundraisers’ !

Joni July 31, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Hi Joe,
In assessing our recent fundraising event and our take from the silent auction, of the 83 items in the auction, only 14 received bids that were higher than the value. What would you suggest to increase the bidding to maintain or exceed the item value?
Thank you

Joe Garecht August 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm


Great question. It sounds like you need some combination of the following: (1) more people at your event, (2) more exciting or unique items, and (3) higher-level donors at your event than you currently have.

That being said, whether or not you receive bids above market price depends on what type of items you are offering. If you are offering a $100 restaurant gift card, chances are it will go for 90-110% of the market value. If you are offering a week at a vacation home, with the week being valued at $5,000, you will likely get 50-75% of that value, unless you have a large and affluent crowd, in which case you may get up to 100% of value.


Tina January 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Hi Joe,
I am co-chair of an auction/dinner event. While we seek out donations for various items, our committee also relies on the 4-H clubs to donate baskets for the live auction part of the evening. I am worried many are stuck- last year we had 6 Family Fun Movie Night themed baskets. The crowd we had bought each one BUT the donors were dissapointed at the first went for $250 but the last went for $50. THere is not much I can do there but I would like to offer some new ideas to these well meaning donors.
We did learn last year an Event Auctioneer is SO MUCH better than a Livestock Auctioneer!!!

Joe Garecht January 4, 2014 at 9:43 pm


Thanks for your question. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to provide a list of suggested auction items to the 4-H clubs and everyone who is putting together items for you, and to note that you often have too many gift baskets, or too many movie night baskets, and ask that they consider something new this year. Some great ideas for them are: jewelry, gift cards, vacations, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, “experiences,” golf rounds, etc.


Tina January 4, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Thanks Joe,
I will try the list when I send out our save the date postcards. I will share a “basket” that was a HUGE hit was called a MISC. Tub. The club brought in a 40qt Rubbermaid FULL of white elephant items. The fun was the container was sealed shut and only the leader knew exactly what was in there. Bidding lasted 10 minutes and everyone enjoyed watching the winner open their treasure!
Jewlery has been tricky…..what has been a HUGE hit are items made by our kids. A handmade wooden clock had to go to live auction after two full sheets of bidding!
Anyway….thanks for your help….back to donation letters!

Maria Pietrzykowski July 21, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Hi Joe,
I am trying to put together a silent auction for a friend who while serving in the army in Italy was in and accident. She has since been in a coma (3months) and her parents expenses are going through the roof. Which is where the money would go. That being said, I seem to be getting small donations, a gift cert. for a bakery, a free haircut…… I can’t afford to make these into baskets out of pocket so what do I with all these little donations to make the most money.
Thank you for your time,

Joe Garecht July 21, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Hi Maria,

Thanks for your question — many successful silent auctions have been built on small donations. If you can find 50 small items, and they each sell for an average of $40, that’s $2,000 raised. When you pair that with a raffle and ticket sales to an event, you could easily raise $4,000 – $5,000 through such an event. It’s a lot of work, I know, but it still would likely be very helpful for your friend.

You can also start looking for sponsors for the event — that’s where the majority of the money is raised for larger events. For information on how to find sponsors, see:


Let me know if you have any other questions!


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