Silent auctions are popular at many fundraisers because… well… because they are silent! In many respects, silent auctions easily fit into a scheduled event. They often take place during a cocktail reception, thereby not detracting from any portion of a speaking program. In contrast, live auctions require that time be set aside during the formal program to sell the items. Galas are often tightly scripted, so a silent auction fits more easily into the schedule of events. And of course, silent auctions require no auctioneer. Consequently, a silent auction can be easier for volunteers to manage.
But how does one secure the auction items? Any silent auction will be more successful when a variety of items are offered that appeal to a cross section of the guests.
Here are a some steps for procuring the goods.
1. Identify items / donors
Where do your patrons shop? What stores do your volunteers like? What “stuff” is popular?
Create a list of targeted donors. You’ll need addresses and — when at all possible — include a contact name. Call the store to get the name, if need be. “To Whom It May Concern” is destined for File 13 (i.e. “the trash”) with little guilt. A letter addressed to “Jim Smith, Store Manager” has a better chance of being read.
2. Craft your letter.
Be authentic. Tell your story. Give a fact or two. And keep it to one page.
For specific examples of how to write a great letter, visit my website and poke around my blog. I’ve got a post or two with examples.
3. Mail the letter, and follow up with a phone call.
The phone call is key! Seven to ten days after mailing the letter, follow up with a call. Some groups will craft a script and have silent auction ideas their intern make the calls. Other times, it’s a contact who knows the store manager (or some key personnel). Regardless of who does it, someone needs to call.
Sometimes letters get lost.. sometimes they are buried under stacks of mail…sometimes letters are accidentally thrown away. If a letter is overlooked, set aside, or misplaced, you can always re-email another letter once you’ve got someone on the phone.
4. Take notes
Some companies have a specific amount of donations they allot for charities each year. When you ask for a donation, the company might have already reached their annual level of giving. If you missed the deadline for donations this year, ask when would be a good time to contact them *next* year. Take notes! Write down the date, and be sure to send your letter (and make your phone call) within the designated window the following year. A “no” this year does not necessarily mean you will receive a “no” next year. You might just need to ask at a different time of year.
5. Say thank-you
If someone donates, thank them profusely and thank them more than once. (Visit my blog for information on when to thank and how to thank.) Even if they don’t donate, thank them for their time. Politeness is always appreciated.