How to run a silent auction

silent auction sheets

A silent auction allows you to be more creative with prizes, and offers great profit potential.

Rather than an auctioneer calling out prices for items and taking raised hands as bids, a silent auction is all done on paper (hence the 'silent'). It gives people the chance, during an event such as the Christmas fair, to view the items available and see what takes their fancy. People can revisit bidding sheets to outbid fellow parents before the auction closes. When asking for prizes, you can be really creative - from a spa day to a boiler service, a term of karate lessons to theatre tickets. 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.


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.


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.


Prepare your bidding sheets to include a description of the prize and the value, with spaces 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.


Set up your auction 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 time-frame. Where the bid is a service (i.e. singing lessons) stipulate appropriate 'use-by' dates.


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. For items that met the minimum bid but weren't picked up on the day, you will need to call the bidder. Some people may change their mind about their bid, so you may need to call the next person on the sheet. Thank all bidders and cultivate your donors by sending thank you letters detailing how much the event raised and how this has contributed towards your fundraising goal.

Tips and advice for running a silent auction


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

At busy times of year, such as Christmas, get requests for prizes sent out before other organisations start asking. 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.

Alternative ideas

For a bit of fun you could always hold back a few smaller prizes for a 'mystery auction' where the only information you provide is a cryptic clue. No one will know exactly what they're bidding on, so a picture of a swimming pool could turn out to be a fabulous spa day or simply a pair of swimming goggles. Or consider theming your auction, for example, 'family fun' might have prizes of family tickets to local wildlife parks, cinemas, activity centres and family-friendly restaurants.

Reserve price and 'buy it now':

Consider including a reserve price (around 10% of the total value) for prizes with a high value. Have a 'buy it now' option on some of the prizes - especially those with a lower value.

Be creative

The more unique the prizes you secure, the more excitement (and bids) you will generate. Offer the usual fare (like restaurant vouchers), but also seek out special, one-of-a-kind items such as tickets to big sporting events or a meal for six on the chef's tasting table at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

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 school, based on the guidance provided.