How to Choose Silent Auction Items that Sell

The items you choose to place in your silent auction will play a large part in its success. Although some items have universal appeal, you may want to consider the following questions when choosing your silent auction items:

  • Who will the auction benefit? Your donors are already moved by your cause, so if you can find auction items with a direct relationship to your cause, they are likely to attract a lot of attention. 

  • Who are your donors? Before selecting silent-auction items, nonprofits should consider their donors’ demographics, particularly the type of item that would be of interest to that demographic and the amount their donors are likely to want to spend. If you are opening the auction to a variety of different donors, consider having some smaller packages and some high ticket items to give your bidders a variety.

  • Can you offer experiences in addition to physical items? Most people value experiences more than physical goods. Try to offer experiences that are relevant to your audience and in locations that are close to your bidders. You may want to brainstorm experiences that can be delivered to your bidders’ homes for a personalized intimate experience.

  • Is there an item or experience that your donors typically can’t buy? This could include tickets to an event that’s not open to the public, a behind the scenes tour or a TV studio or local museum, or a chef’s table at a popular local restaurant.The more unique the experience or items you can offer, the more buzz your auction will generate.

Food, Drink and Fun

A great option for your bidders would be restaurant gift certificates. There are creative alternatives that can be brought right to the homes of successful bidders such as:  

  • A dinner party with food catered by a local celebrity chef in the bidder’s home
  • A complete gourmet dinner the winning bidder can easily make in their home. The gourmet dinner package could include “secret” recipes, recipe ingredients, drinks such as wine, beer or designer water, candles, cloth napkins and atmospheric music 
  • The dinner package could be designed by a well-known chef or offered by an exclusive restaurant sponsor. This option is especially great for virtual auctions, because nonprofits can ship them to donors who live anywhere in the country. That means nonprofits can widen their pool of supporters.  


Theatrical Arts 

Tickets to virtual performances are a great option, including symphony or theater performances. Consider whether these options are available your area or available virtually: 

  • “Star for a Day” walk-on role in a movie or TV show 
  • Tickets to a performance of a small but elite musical ensemble where the seating is set apart appropriately for social distancing

Handmade Items and DIY Experiences

Handmade items or experiences where the bidder can unleash their own creativity are very popular with some audiences. Here are a few examples:

  • Handmade quilt 
  • A complete watercolor set with easel, paint, canvases, brushes and a gift certificate to an online course

School-Related Items

If your auction is to benefit a local school, many of the bidders will be parents or alumni and will appreciate it if some of your items relate to the school itself. Some possibilities include:

  • Naming rights to a classroom for a year
  • Furniture made by the school’s students in shop class. Be sure to show the furniture on your auction website rather than just describe it.
  • Books for the library

Creative Bundles and Baskets

When devising gift baskets, come up with themes that will appeal to the bidders attending your auction. Here are a few examples:

  • Gift baskets are a good bet, but you may want to think beyond lotions and soaps. For example, depending on your bidders’ tastes, you could offer an upscale basket such as one including a bottle of rare wine, two crystal wine glasses, the perfect cheese and bread and a book about fine wines.
  • A gift basket that reflects your charity is bound to be a hit. For example, if your silent auction benefits a cat sanctuary, make a gift basket for the donor’s cat with gourmet cat foods, catnip and cat toys as well as a few things for the donor such as a mug or a t-shirt with cat images. 

Home Services

Everyone loves to have help around the house. Some ideas that might be popular with your donors are:

  • Landscaping from an expert or a customized landscaping plan from a renowned landscape designer 
  • Complete home cleaning
  • Cleaning product gift basket


Unique Experiences

People are looking for things to do safely right now, and unique but safe experiences are bound to please. Here’s a few ideas: 

  • A catered party on a yacht for the winning bidder’s family or 10 of their closest friends (with social distancing protocols in place) 
  • A private winery tour
  • A choice of online courses from cooking to computer programming, perhaps including a zoom conversation with a famous person in the field.

Don’t Stop There

Selecting great auction items is important, but you also need the right tools to promote and manage your auction. The all-in-one digital fundraising platform from FrontStream, enables nonprofit organizations to quickly and easily plan, manage and promote online, mobile or in-person auctions. Panorama makes easy to register guests, promote event across all communication channels, upload auction items, photos and descriptions and then process payments through Panorama’s integrated, highly secure payment processing platform. If hosting an online-only, virtual auction, you can open your event to BiddingForGood’s more than 1.7-million strong bidder community.


Want to Learn More About Silent Auction Items that Sell?

For a successful silent auction, offer items and experiences that spark the imaginations of your bidders. For more ideas about successfully choosing silent auction items that attract bidders and increase donations, download our report, 101 Charity Auction Item Ideas.



Share this article