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A silent auction is an informal auction without an auctioneer. During the auction period--usually a set amount of time such as 4-6 hours or all day Saturday--bids are written down on a sheet of paper. The bidder can see all the previous bids logged onto the sheet. At the end of the auction, the highest bidder wins the item.

All the items in the silent auction must be donated. Thus, there is very little overhead for this project. Donations are 100% tax deductible. Bigger, nicer items are always preferable. At least one nice "draw" item, such as a VCR or color TV, can generate more people to your auction.

Some of the best items to offer have emotional or psychological value, rather than market value. That's because there's no obvious pre-set upper limit. Autographed basketballs from favorite players, used ballet slippers from a famous dancer, or a used guitar from a rock star are several possibilities. These things can be obtained if you put your request in writing and allow four to six months for a response. (Do not advertise these items until you have them in hand.)

You can be very creative with services offered in your auction. Examples of popular things include air fare to anywhere, season tickets, a hot air balloon ride, landscaping service, or a thirty-minute massage. A local amateur chef could prepare a fine dinner for ten. The choices should be so wide that everyone can get excited about something.

A great deal of work goes into the auction during the week prior. If you have a large number of items/services, and most auctions do, each entry should be numbered and given a bid sheet. At a minimum, each sheet should have a place for a person's full name, his/her bid, and his/her phone number to be used in case of winning. Decide on a minimum bid for each item and write it on the sheet. At some auctions, the bidding increments are set by the organizers. Keep the sheet with the item or attached if necessary. The sheets can be color coded for convenience, such as blue for gift certificates or pink for children's articles.

Prepare a list or catalog of all the items for buyers to review in advance. This is especially important if you have high-ticket items.

Where you hold the auction is an important consideration. Auction items should be displayed in a high traffic area, if possible, such as a large grocery store, the county courthouse, at a festival, etc. Be sure to display the items attractively. A few volunteers are needed to watch the tables and answer questions since not everyone is familiar with silent auctions.

Silent auctions are becoming more creative events. One example is offering theme baskets. This works well if you have a number of small things donated that can be grouped together under a central theme. If you have a bottle of wine, a bottle of bath oil, and a candle, you can create a "romance basket." Or, if you have all kitchen items, it could be a "chef's delight" basket.

Groups will often combine a silent auction with another event in hopes of maximizing revenue. Examples are silent auctions/chili cook-offs and silent auctions/casino nights.

After the big day, volunteers will need to phone the winners and make arrangements for pick-up. Thank-you notes should be sent to everyone who contributed items.