If your nonprofit has been fundraising for a few years, you’ve likely hosted—or at least considered hosting—a silent auction. Silent auctions are one of the most flexible fundraisers out there. They pair well with a variety of campaigns and other events, and they can be held in person, virtually, or in a hybrid format. Plus, you can adapt your auction item list to align with your supporters’ specific interests.

Bid sheets are essential silent auction tools for several reasons. Their most basic purpose is to compile your supporters’ bids in one place, encouraging bidding wars that engage auction participants and help maximize your event revenue. Good bid sheets also serve as the silent auction equivalent of a live auction catalog, since they explain and showcase each item in a way that gets supporters excited to bid on it.

To take your nonprofit’s silent auction bid sheets to the next level, follow these five best practices when creating them:

  1. Incorporate Your Nonprofit’s Branding
  2. Write Detailed Item Descriptions
  3. Acknowledge Your Event Sponsors
  4. Include Multiple Bidding Options
  5. Collect Supporters’ Contact Information

As you implement the tips in this guide, keep in mind that designing paper bid sheets for an in-person silent auction requires a slightly different approach than you’d use to create mobile sheets for a virtual or hybrid event. Consider your fundraising event solution’s capabilities and adapt your bid sheet strategy accordingly. Let’s dive in!

1. Incorporate Your Nonprofit’s Branding

Branding makes your organization recognizable and memorable for supporters, building a sense of trust that encourages them to contribute to your mission. If the participants in your silent auction see elements of your nonprofit’s brand on every bid sheet, they’ll feel reassured that their contributions will go toward a good cause. Plus, newer supporters will become more familiar with your organization and its mission throughout the auction.

Whether you’re creating mobile bid sheets in your event software or leveraging nonprofit graphic design resources to lay out printed versions, make sure to include the following brand aspects:

  • Your organization’s logo. Place your logo at the top of each bid sheet so that it’s the first thing supporters see and recognize.
  • Mission information. If your nonprofit’s mission statement is concise, you could copy it directly onto your bid sheets. If it’s longer than a sentence or two, write a short blurb about the cause your auction will support instead. For example, an animal shelter could write something like this: “All proceeds from this silent auction will go toward expanding our facilities so we can care for more dogs and cats in need in our community.”
  • Consistent colors and fonts. On paper bid sheets, use a color scheme that matches your logo and the same typefaces that your organization uses in other marketing materials. These brand elements may be more challenging to include on mobile bid sheets, but try to incorporate your brand colors and fonts if your software allows for customization.

Additionally, include images on your bid sheets—either a photo of the physical item or one related to the experience you’re selling, such as a picture of a travel destination included in a vacation package. Doing so gives supporters a better idea of what they’re bidding on, especially if they’re participating virtually. For paper bid sheets, strategically placed images combined with consistent branding will give your sheets a professional look.

2. Write Detailed Item Descriptions

In addition to the images on your bid sheets, well-written item descriptions help supporters know exactly what they’re bidding on. More than that, the description can pique participants’ interest and get them excited about winning each prize.

For each item description, make sure to include:

  • A catchy title. Grab supporters’ attention right away by coming up with a creative title for each item. For example, a gift basket themed around gardening will be more appealing if it’s called “Garden-in-a-Box” or “Plant Lovers’ Paradise” than if the name is simply “Gardening Supplies Basket.”
  • Everything the winning bidder will receive. Especially for bundled items like baskets or vacation packages, adding this information helps supporters understand what is included with each item and its overall value, while also ensuring they take home their entire prize after the auction.
  • Any restrictions on the item’s use. If a gift certificate expires or a travel experience requires the winning bidder to fly a specific airline, auction participants should know up front to make an informed decision about whether they want the item.

Although your descriptions should be thorough, they also need to be easy for supporters to skim as they browse your selection of auction items. Keep paragraphs short, use bullet points where possible, and write as concisely as you can while still including all necessary information.

3. Acknowledge Your Event Sponsors

According to Winspire, how you procure auction items is just as important as what items you procure. Getting an item for free or at a reduced price will maximize the revenue you can earn by selling it at auction, and the best way to do this is by securing event sponsorships.

Many large companies will sponsor nonprofit events as part of their corporate philanthropy efforts, and smaller businesses may also be willing to partner with your organization to make a positive impact on their community. Although financial sponsorships can be beneficial for silent auctions, you’ll likely get the most value from asking your sponsors to donate auction items.

However, for a sponsorship to succeed, it needs to be mutually beneficial. In return for providing an auction item, the business will receive free publicity from your nonprofit. Adding a brief acknowledgment section to the bid sheet for each donated item that includes the sponsor’s logo and a note that says, “This item was contributed by [business name and brief description],” advertises your nonprofit’s corporate partners and thanks them for their support.

4. Include Multiple Bidding Options

When creating the section of your bid sheet where supporters will actually input their bids, it’s important to balance maximizing your potential revenue with engaging supporters. There are three main numbers you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • Starting bid amount. Auction experts tend to agree that each item’s starting bid amount should be about 40% of its fair market value, which you can usually figure out through online research.
  • Minimum bid increment. This number should be no more than 10% of the starting bid amount to make it easier for supporters to increase their bids and encourage bidding wars.
  • “Buy Now” option. For certain items, you can include an option on your bid sheet for eager supporters to automatically win them by paying 100% to 150% of their fair market value. While this can help your nonprofit bring in more funding, it’s less engaging for auction participants than starting a bidding war would be, so save this option just for your most valuable items.

Let’s say your nonprofit has secured two front-row seats at a concert which have a total fair market value of $1,000. Your starting bid amount would be $400 with a minimum bid increment of up to $40, and a supporter would pay between $1,000 and $1,500 if they chose the “Buy Now” option.

5. Collect Supporters’ Contact Information

When auction participants add their name and bid amount to a bid sheet, they should also be prompted to include their phone number and email address for two reasons. First, it ensures you can track down the winning bidder for each item after your event, reducing the chances of items going unclaimed.

Second, it allows you to send individual thank-you messages to each supporter that address them by name and mention which items they purchased. According to eCardWidget’s guide to donor recognition, personalized communications let donors know that your nonprofit sees them as more than their gifts, which helps build lasting relationships.

Bid sheets are more than just a data collection tool. They help your nonprofit advertise your auction items, engage auction participants, maximize your fundraising revenue, and thank your sponsors and supporters. Before your next silent auction, spend some time working with your fundraising event software or taking stock of your graphic design resources so you can create the best possible bid sheets for your organization.