Silent Auction Strategy #3: Don’t Overwhelm Your Guests with Too Many Silent Auction Items

Posted by Amanda Foran on August 1, 2011

As the ice cream truck trundled by my office window for the second time today blaring “The Entertainer” in hopes of attracting the young and young at heart, it struck me that the summer of 2011 is just about half over. Fall auction season is, once again, right around the corner. Wow. Time sure does fly.

It also struck me that it’s time for me to add another post to my series on Silent Auction Strategies.

In Strategy posts #1 and #2, I discussed ways to name your silent auction sections and how to stagger their closing times. Next up, I address the optimal number of auction items to feature during your silent auction.

What’s the optimal number of items to feature in your silent auction?

In order to answer this question, you must first answer a more critical question: How many guests do you expect at your event? If the number of items in your silent auction outnumbers your guests by more than a 2.5 to 1 ratio, then you have too many items. You will not have enough guests to generate interest in all of your items. And more importantly, your silent auction items may not reach their full bidding potential.

So, with attendance goals in mind, aim for one to two silent auction items per guest, with three as the upper limit. If you have procured 2 items or more per guest, then you should seriously consider either:

  • bundling items together to be auctioned off as baskets or packages, and or
  • holding an online auction prior to your event. In fact, as I discussed in a previous blog post, items that often go overlooked in your silent auction — like gift certificates, restaurant certificates and event tickets -– tend to receive higher bids and go for close to and even over their values in an online auction. And the online auction will attract bidders who cannot attend your event but who would still like to support it.

How many items should I assign to each silent auction section?

Aim for 35 items per silent section, and try not to exceed 50. With more than 50 items, it becomes cumbersome for your guests to peruse the full contents of a section and remember what interests them.

And don’t forget to stagger the closing times of your sections.

How many silent auction sections should I feature?

The answer to this question boils down to simple math. If you have 150 silent auction items with 35-50 items per section, then you’re looking at three or four auction sections. If you have 250 silent auction items, then five or six auction sections makes a lot of sense.

You can, of course, create more auction sections with fewer items per section. If this is the case, just be sure that no more than 50 items close at a time.

Uh oh, here comes the ice cream truck again. I’ve got to run! I’d love to hear from you about your silent auction experience. Comment below!

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