Live Auction or a Silent Auction Fundraiser?

Live Auction or Silent Auction Fundraiser?

Live Vs SilentYour charity is committed to the mission and needs to generate more revenue at this year’s fundraising event.   The million dollar question is which one will raise more money, the Silent Auction or Live Auction?

Many non-profit organization committee members ponder this question each year when brainstorming their annual fundraising event.   I get asked this question often.  My reply, “Incorporate both, the Silent Auction and the Live Auction.  Better yet, add a direct ask called Fund-A-Need.”

10987313_855528537856338_7367807987753773760_nSilent Auctions are very common at fundraising events, but if you have never held a Live Auction, it’s time to give it a whirl.  Live Auctions, believe it or not, are less work and will generate more revenue to meet your ever increasing budget demands.

Many non-profit organizations prefer to plan the charity event around the Silent Auction because they think it is less expensive and involves less work, but that’s simply not the case. Oftentimes, Silent Auctions require more work acquiring hundreds of items,  setting it up, managing bid sheets, and tracking down winners at the end of the night.

The Silent Auction is often run during the social hour of the event.  Silent Auctions, while still effective, tend to generate less per item because guests get distracted by the activity and networking of the social event and forget to check back on their bids or never even get the time to browse the Silent Auction tables in the first place.


A Live Auction will yield a higher return on your items simply because your guests are now focused  on this high energy period in the program while a persuasive individual encourages higher bids from your attendees.

During a Live Auction, attendees are going head-to-head against other attendees.  It’s very exciting for other guests to watch the bidding wars take place which generates passionate fervor in the room.  The bidders often get so caught up in the electric pandemonium that they call out higher bids without a second thought.  When the live auction is completed, it’s time to add one more critical component in fundraising.

The Fund-A-Need, a direct give, allows all the attendees to participate.   Guests who didn’t win an item in the Live or Silent Auction may still want to support the cause.  This is an efficient way to engage the audience with the mission of your charity and ask everyone to give from their hearts.

To optimize revenue for your next charity fundraiser, try incorporating these powerful hints in the Silent/ Live Auction and Fund-A-Need.

1.  Silent Auction

  • Promote the Silent Auction LOUDLY.
  • Advertise and use social media to get the word out.
  • Add mobile bidding.
  • Display items randomly at tables.
  • If you do not have mobile bidding, ask your auctioneer to give constant updates and countdowns when the silent auction is getting ready to close.
  • Close your silent auction by tables and not all at once giving more time to bid up popular items.

2. Fundraising Auctioneer

  • Hire an experienced professional auctioneer who understands charity auctioneering. Fundraising auctioneers are worth every penny and should be hired for non-profit events.  They understand the fundraising components which are essential when wanting to increase funds raised.
  • Your auctioneer should become part of the planning committee which he/she should be asked to give advice on how to sequence the items in the live auction that will promote maximum giving.
  • Fundraising auctioneers should have a team of bid spotters in the audience to promote bidding.  The “auctioneer team” should arrive early to chat with the guests and peak their interest in the live auction items.

3.  Live Auction Items

  • Quality experiences and items are needed for the live auction.  An auctioneer is only as good as the items that are being auctioned.  If needed, use consignment trips.  These trips can be sold multiple times and is the secret to record-setting funds raised.
  • Seven to ten items should be the maximum offered in the Live Auction.  Having “MORE” is not better.
  • Live Auction programs should be distributed with descriptions for each item to all guests.
  • Live Auction should be planned for early in the evening.
  • Slide show presentation should be made and accompany the Live Auction item on a big screen as it is being auctioned.

4. Banquet Room Set-up Guidelines

  • Quality sound system should be one of the highest priorities.
  • Make sure all guests can easily see the stage.
  • Live auction items should be check out immediately (Right after auction item is won.)


5. Fund-A-Need 

  • Make a heart-felt mission video to show before the direct give.
  • Make sure the mission and goal is known by attendees.
  • Four different giving levels with a description of each level should be created for the Fund-A-Need.
  • Have an experienced fundraising auctioneer who understands direct giving.
  • Plan, train volunteers, and rehearse how to collect money before and follow the plan.

6. Additional Opportunities to Increase Revenue 

  •  Raffles
  •  Staging flowers or centerpieces at the end of the evening should be sold
  •  Place a table with assorted bottles of wine at the doorway asking for donation
  •  Merchandise to purchase

Charity fundraising events, no matter what activity is used to raise funds, are a lot of work for committee members, board members, and the volunteers.  If the non-profit organization has a dedicated following and is investing the time in having a fundraising event,  “let the event work for you.”   Just remember this formula:

Fundraising Auctioneer (Silent Auction + Live Auction) + Fund-A-Need = Record Breaking Funds Raised            

Ron and I wish each fundraising organization the best of luck.  I would love to hear your comments.

Debbie Hitzel

Impact Auctions Event Fundraising Specialist


About the Author:  Debbie and Ron Hitzel, auctioneer team for Impact Auctions, have been in the fundraising business for over a decade raising money for charity causes close to their hearts. When Ron’s nephew was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, Ron joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team-in-Training to help raise money for blood cancer research where he quickly assumed the role of fundraising coordinator for his team because of his passion. Through trial and error he found silent auctions to be an effective way to raise “just enough” money. Over time, he realized that securing silent auction items was a tedious task that demanded much energy and time that exhausted his volunteers as well as himself. Meanwhile, Debbie had begun working for a fundraising company and quickly saw the benefits of raising MORE with live auctions at charity events. With her event planning guidance, Ron tried his skills as an auctioneer at their next charity fundraiser. The outcome spoke for itself as the net-profit was doubled in thirty minutes. Debbie and Ron’s new passion for helping fundraisers with live auctions had begun,  Impact Auctions was founded.

“Fundraisers are the catalysts of change.” Unknown

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