What Is a Silent Auction? (+Tips, Tricks, and Best Software in 2019)

Lauren Fram
Lauren Fram  |  January 7, 2019

Silent auctions have become a staple of charity events. Odds are, if you’re dressed up and at an event, there’s probably a silent auction happening somewhere.

Rather than rely solely on the pen and paper route, events are increasingly turning to auction software to help organize and run silent auctions.

What is a silent auction?

Silent auctions are auctions that occur during an event without using an auctioneer and do not demand the full attention of the guests. Items are placed out on tables with a bidding sheet next to each one. Guests can then peruse the items and write down their name and bid amount on the sheet next to the items they would like. At the end of the set bidding period, the person who wrote down the highest bid wins the item.

Silent auctions run during either the entire event or during a set time such as the cocktail or dinner hour. Results are often announced at the end of the event and the winners receive their items. In some cases, there are rules such as how much higher each subsequent bid must be. This is to avoid people outbidding others by a single cent (which certainly doesn’t help a fundraising cause).

Often silent auctions are used as a fundraising tool during an event run by a nonprofit or other charitable organization. The items are typically donated by local organizations or businesses, and an effective silent auction will feature a variety of goods and services.

More and more often, nonprofits and other organizations utilize silent auction software to make it fast and easy for guests to bid on items. Silent auction software even makes it possible for guests who can’t physically attend to still participate in the auction. Typically, these digital silent auctions use guests’ mobile phones to place orders either through an app or a mobile website. Some silent auctions may be able to occur solely through social media, no event required. In these cases, organizers must simply make it clear how the winners will receive their items and what information must be gathered to facilitate shipping or pickup.

Why use a silent auction?

For nonprofits and other organizations, silent auctions provide a good fundraising opportunity where donors receive something in return. Silent auctions are also easy to run because much of the work is done by the bidders, with little input from event coordinators. Obviously, there is a fair amount of upfront coordination to procure the items to be auctioned, but during the event there is little work needed from coordinators. Auction monitors are a good idea, however, just to ensure no items go missing before the end of the night and that no one is placing fake bids.

Silent auctions also don’t detract from the ambiance of the event by requiring the full attention of the guests. Guests can browse the items and bid during a lull or while they’re chatting with other attendees. And, because bidders can see at any given time who the highest bidder is, certain items will see fierce competition. With a mobile silent auction app, bidders can even be notified when they have been outbid.

Aside from the logistical advantages, one must remember that a silent auction is only as profitable as its items are desirable. If no one wants to bid on your aunt’s canned prunes, then it’s likely there won’t be much money raised. Ensuring the items available are desirable and a reasonable value will set up an auction for success. While everyone may want that weekend getaway, many will probably not want to bid thousands of dollars for it. But a few high-end items are good to pepper in just in case someone is feeling extremely motivated.

How can silent auction software help?

Organizing a charity event is taxing in and of itself. Add in a silent auction, and things become more complicated. Procuring items and services can be time-consuming and may require some initial investment. With silent auction software, users can organize the entire auction process from procuring items to collecting payment at the end of the auction.

Here are some silent auction software solutions that can help get you started. These products all contain silent auction features and are organized by their G2 score.

Best silent auction software in 2019

Here are a few of the best silent auction software apps and tools in 2019:

1. Silent Auction Pro

Silent Auction Pro supports a variety of auction formats aside from the eponymous silent auctions. The platform also helps plan charity events, making it easy to plan both an auction and an event at the same time. Designed specifically for charitable organizations, Silent Auction Pro can handle events both big and small.

free-silent-auction-softwareImage courtesy of Silent Auction Pro

Features

  • Payment processing for event tickets and online donations
  • Reports and analytics
  • Guest check-in
  • Online and mobile bidding tools
  • Outbid text and email notifications
  • Auction winner notifications
  • Online leaderboards and bidding statuses
  • Integration with mobile credit card readers
  • Customizable event and auction materials (websites, programs, bidding sheets)

Pricing

  • Bidsheet Basic: $99
    • Print bidsheets and gift certificates
    • Unlimited users
    • Manage contacts and donations
  • Bidsheet Plus: $348 plus a 2 percent fee of gross proceeds for each event
    • All Bidsheet Basic features
    • Event check-in and checkout
    • Texting bid winners
    • Credit card processing
    • Reports and analytics
    • Ticket sales
  • Bidsheet Pro: $497 plus a 2 percent fee of gross proceeds for each event
    • All Bidsheet Plus and Basic features
    • Seating charts
    • Online programs
    • Scheduled notifications
    • Thank you letters
    • Leaderboards
  • Mobile Plus: $647 plus a 2 percent fee of gross proceeds for each event
    • All Bidsheet Basic and Plus features
    • Mobile and desktop bidding
    • Text outbid notifications
    • Self checkout
  • Mobile Pro: $796 plus a 2 percent fee of gross proceeds for each event
    • All Bidsheet Basic, Plus and Pro features plus Mobile Plus features

What users say:

“We have seen an increase in the amount of money we bring in from our silent auction. It makes the bidding experience so seamless and easy. We don't have to hassle with bidders about whether someone bid the correct increments, etc. We have realized the benefits of our planning committee being able to socialize and enjoy the event and not worry about the silent auction. Other benefits include the event attendees’ overall enjoyment with online bidding and wanting to be a part of the event.”
Silent Auction Pro review by Erika Z.

“The Silent Auction Pro team thinks of everything for you! As an elementary school auction co-chair, with a full-time job and two kiddos ... putting on a school auction is a huge undertaking, and not my primary area of expertise, obviously! Silent Auction Pro has helped us transition from a paper-only auction to a mobile bidding auction over the past several years. Their customer support is stellar.”
Silent Auction Pro review by Ginny V.


2. SchoolAuction.net

SchoolAuction.net is a platform that provides a variety of auction formats for schools and other organizations. With mobile and online bidding options, organizations can spend more time planning their event and less time worrying about the auction.

silent-auction-apps

Image courtesy of SchoolAuction.net

Features

  • Unlimited items and bidders
  • Support for online auctions, art shows, blind bidding, donations, golf tournaments
  • Customizable auction websites and donation pages
  • Online and offline ticket sales
  • Event check-in and checkout
  • Email notifications and invitations
  • Donor, guest, catalog item lists
  • Bidsheets
  • Credit card processing

Pricing

  • Standard: $1,000/year
    • Up to 4 events
    • Online auctions, golf tournaments, art shows, donations
    • Unlimited items and bidders
    • Online and offline ticket sales
    • Check-in and checkout
  • Plus: $1,500/year
    • All Standard features
    • Credit card processing integration
    • Mobile bidding
    • Sponsorships
    • Recurring donations
  • Premium: $2,500/year
    • All Standard and Plus features
    • Two one-hour private training webinars

What users say

“This was the first time we used online bidding for our silent auction and it went really well. There was a user learning curve for our staff and volunteers, but we are glad we went with SchoolAuction. Their software simplified the bidding and check out processes greatly and freed staff and volunteers to focus more on creating relationship with attendees.”
SchoolAuction.net review by a user

“This software is the complete package for every aspect of putting on a silent auction. It has made us more professional and allowed us to be able to print a custom receipt at the end of the event for each attendee.”
SchoolAuction.net review by Patti M.


3. BiddingOwl.com

BiddingOwl.com is a free auction tool that allows users to create an auction using a variety of formats. The cloud-based software allows users to create online auctions and traditional auction materials, as well as set up mobile auctions.

silent-auction-technologyImage courtesy of BiddingOwl.com

Features

  • Customizable auction websites
  • Track bids and prices
  • Donor profiles and donation history
  • Raffle tickets
  • Integrated invoicing and payment
  • Sponsorships
  • Bidsheets
  • Mobile bidding

Pricing

  • All versions are free
    • Five percent fee on each winning bid of an online auction, traditional live auctions incur no fees

What users say

“Pretty simple to use as far as loading all of our silent auction items. Not expensive, meaning that the site doesn't take a huge cut of our earnings.”
BiddingOwl.com review by a user in higher education


4. Accelevents Mobile Auctions

Accelevents Mobile Auctions is a silent auction platform that focuses on using mobile phones to bid. Donors can bid via text message and receive notifications when they are outbid. As a result, donors do not need to be at an event to participate in a silent auction. Organizers can also set up online auctions for bidding via web browser.

what-is-a-silent-auctionImage courtesy of Accelevents Mobile Auctions

Features

  • Customizable mobile silent auctions
  • Real-time updates on auction performance
  • Bidding via text
  • Outbid notifications via text
  • Online bidding
  • Pre-event bidding
  • Customizable fundraising websites
  • Payment processing
  • Customizable emails

Pricing

  • Auctions: $1 per participant plus $99 activation fee per auction
    • Unlimited items
    • Real-time updates
    • Credit card processing
  • Text to give and online donations: $29/month plus 1 percent of each donation
    • Text message and online donations
    • Real-time updates
    • Recurring donations

What users say

“Easy to use and awesome support! Any questions I had during the setup process or while my event was going on, I received a quick response from the support team. This is a one-stop shop for your next fundraiser. Loved that I could easily share on all my social media platforms to get the word out! Attendees to my event were able to pay via their phone and do all their bidding. I had a silent auction going on during a charity basketball game and they were able to see the products and go online without any issues to bid and pay at the end of the event!”
Accelevents Mobile Auctions review by Andrew A.

“Boston Cancer Support hosted a fantastic event that exceeded our expectations. Accelevents was the perfect partner to host our silent auction. No more hovering around an item, giving rival bidders awkward looks! The smartphone app was the perfect solution. In fact, the event was being hosted in Boston, and one of the auction winners was actually on vacation in Vietnam! Talk about leveling the playing field for a silent auction!”
Accelevents Mobile Auctions review by Susan C.


5. ReadySetAuction

ReadySetAuction allows users to create a variety of auctions, including traditional silent auctions and mobile auctions. ReadySetAuction is designed for nonprofit organizations to manage their fundraising efforts and extend their reach. The platform also contains basic event-planning tools to help create fundraising events.

silent-auction-solutionsImage courtesy of ReadySetAuction

Features

  • Donor, guest and donation lists
  • Bidsheets
  • Customizable auction catalogs
  • Guest check-in and checkout
  • Credit card processing
  • Email receipts
  • Reports and analytics
  • Donor profiles

Pricing

  • Essentials: $1,099/year
    • Auction prep with donor and guest lists
    • Guest check-in
    • Payment processing
    • Donor histories and profiles
    • Reports and analytics
  • Select: $1,499/year
    • All Essentials features
    • Self checkout for guests
    • Customizable auction website with online donations
    • Online auction procurement forms
    • Digital auction catalog
    • Sell tickets
    • Event sponsorships
    • Auction leaderboards
  • Complete: $1,999/year
    • All Essentials and Select features
    • Online and mobile bidding

What users say

“My company switched from Greater Giving to ReadySetAuction this year for our Fall Festival and Silent Auction and what a difference did it make. RSA saved me so much time this year; all I had to do was put the correct information in and the software did everything else for me (no more days of having to type the same information three different times in three different places). This software is EXTREMELY user-friendly, their customer service is top notch and the price is right.”
ReadySetAuction review by Janine Z.


Next steps with silent auctions in 2019 

Silent auctions are a great fundraising option, and while they can be successful even if they’re completely analog using pen and paper, silent auction software can make them even easier to run. With the advent of mobile auction software, guests can participate in an auction even if they aren’t able to attend the event. With so many types of auctions available and so many online auction sites, charities can even branch out from the silent auction model.

For more information on fundraising software, check out the best free fundraising software in 2019.

Lauren Fram
Author

Lauren Fram

Having lived on both the East and West Coasts, Lauren has settled in the happy medium of the Midwest. After nearly 13 years in Chicago, she has fully co-opted the Midwestern habit of saying "oop" when nearly bumping into things. In her free time she enjoys games of all sorts, and is particularly fond of board games and tabletop RPGs.