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Silent Auction Strategy #4: 10 Elements of an Effective Bid Sheet

In the previous posts of this series, I’ve covered naming your silent auction sections, staggering their closing times, and choosing the right number of items for your benefit auction. In this installment, I’m moving from abstract organizational matters to something more tangible: silent auction bid sheets.

We’re often asked “What makes a good silent auction bid sheet?” Well, here’s our answer. The following ten elements should appear on each bid sheet:

1. Name of Your Organization

Your silent/live auction event is a great way to reinforce awareness of your organization and excitement around the cause for which you’re raising money. Include the name of your organization on all of your materials — bid sheets, catalog, signage etc. — to remind your guests that they are at your event to support your cause, not simply to get a good deal on an auction item.

2. Catalog Number

Be sure to assign a catalog number to every item (e.g. basket, bundle, package) in your auction. The catalog number should appear both on the bid sheet and in the catalog. This will make it easier for your guests to find what they’re looking for during the event, and for your committee to record winning bids. It’s also a good idea to tag the item itself with its catalog number so that the bidder can easily match the item to the bid sheet that belongs to it. This is especially important if someone accidentally rearranges the items or bid sheets on the table.

3. Title of the Auction Item

Use a short phrase to describe the auction item, and resist the urge to choose clever titles over clear ones. For example, if the item is a picnic basket, “Picnic In The Park” is a fine name. “Eat Your Heart Out,” however, isn’t specific enough. If the bidder is in too big a hurry to read the description on the bid sheet, he may think that he’s bidding on the box of chocolate bon bons or 10 pounds of frozen sirloin sitting on either side of the picnic basket.

4. Description of the Auction Item

The bidder needs to know exactly what he/she is bidding on, so provide details about the item. For example, a description for the item “4 Tickets to a Baseball Game” should include the date, time, and seat locations of those tickets. If the item is comprised of many items (i.e. you’re auctioning off a package, bundle, or basket) then describe its contents. Don’t forget to include restrictions, if there are any.

5. Donor’s Name

Donors are crucial to the success of your auction, since without them you would have nothing to auction off. So be sure to keep your donors happy by giving them the recognition they deserve. Happy donors are repeat donors.

6. Item’s Value

Many factors go into a bidder’s decision-making process when placing a bid, but an item’s value is one of the biggest. Even if you don’t include a dollar value, a statement of inestimable worth — like “priceless” — can help tempt a bidder into trying to win that item. Whatever an item’s value — whether it’s $1, $100, $1000, or Priceless — make sure it appears on the bid sheet. There are cases when you might want to hide an item’s value altogether, but this should be very rare. If you’re considering hiding a value, try instead to think creatively. Choosing to replace the dollar value with a phrase like “Once in a lifetime chance” might help make the difference between a few lonely bids and a heated competition.

7. Starting Bid

This is the price at which bidding begins for the auction package, and should be the minimum amount that you would accept for the item. Setting starting bids is an art, a delicate balance. I tend to recommend a starting bid of somewhere between 25% and 40% of an item’s value, depending on your audience and the item itself. Setting the starting bid too high will discourage bidders from diving in to bid, whereas setting the starting bid too low may mean that the item won’t reach its maximum potential.

8. Minimum Raise

This is the minimum amount by which a bid must be increased in order to become the new high bid. The raise amount should be a whole dollar amount between 5% and 10% of the item’s value. Here are some examples: a minimum raise of $2 or $5 works well for items valued at less than $100. For items valued between $100 and $1000, the minimum raise may be $10, $25 or $50. For items with values of over $1000, set the minimum raise at $100, $200, $250 or even more.

9. Win-It-Now Price

The Win-It-Now price is the price at which a bidder may immediately become the item’s winner with no further bidding allowed. This gives bidders the opportunity to guarantee a win on a coveted auction package by agreeing to pay a premium price. In general, I recommend setting the Win-It-Now price at about 150% of the item’s value. If it’s a highly desirable or emotionally charged item — like a classroom quilt with each child’s handprint — then it’s best to not set a Win-It-Now price at all. This will give everyone at the event an opportunity to win, or at least the opportunity to push up the price the eventual winner will pay.

10. Just the Right Number of Rows

What is the right number of rows on a bid sheet? In my experience, the answer is, no more than 20. Why? Most silent auction items receive between 10 and 15 bids. That makes a bid sheet of 20 rows appear fuller than a sheet with 30 or more rows. A fuller-looking bid sheet, in turn, makes the item seem more sought-after and desirable than a sparsely populated sheet. It says to bidders, “Look at me! People really want this item — don’t you?” If bidding does get heated and you need more rows, have some blank bid sheets on hand and pop them into place where needed. Multiple filled bid sheets lined up next to each other scream out for attention even more than a single full sheet does.

Where can I find bid sheets?

ReadySetAuction generates bid sheets with all of these ten elements for you — fully populated, formatted, and ready to print (example).

You can get a first-hand look at how easy ReadySetAuction makes it by requesting a free trial:

Try ReadySetAuction Now

Having a small event and simply need to create a few bid sheets one at a time? Download this editable, printable bid sheet template in PDF format courtesy of ReadySetAuction.

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