Best Silent Auction Item Ideas and Templates to Wow Donors

Best Silent Auction Item Ideas to Wow Your Donors (plus Tips and Templates)

April 26, 2024
10 minutes
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What auction items make potential donors raise their paddles and up their bids with abandon? That’s why we’re gathered here today, auctioneers. The best silent auction items for nonprofit fundraisers are ones that establish or deepen your donors' connection with your nonprofit's cause—and amp up the excitement so that donations go through the roof. 

Giving back feels great, but part of the allure of an auction is giving back while getting something for yourself, too. So, it stands to reason that a truly awesome auction is one that features an array of jaw-dropping, must-have items and experiences.

Nonprofit auction item tips and tricks

You’re doing an auction—congratulations! Now that you’re committed, you have a lot of planning to do to make it a success. And, as we’ve discussed, a big part of that success lies in your auction item bounty. As you embark on your auction item procurement journey, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind to gather popular items that are sure to sell.

Before your auction…

  1. Decide what type of auction
  2. Get Funraise Auctions
  3. Start gathering items
  4. Put together a procurement team
  5. Stay organized
  6. Create a wishlist
  7. Prioritize quality over quantity
  8. Market your auction items

1. Carefully consider whether you want to do a live auction, silent auction, or both

Then, consider which items you’ll include in each. Gift baskets, gift certificates, and lower-value items work best in a silent auction. Save the big-ticket items and life-changing experiences for the live auction.

2. Get Funraise Auctions

You heard us. You need an easy-to-build silent auction website and an easy-to-use auction software. You'll want bidding alerts to increase fundraising auction revenue and maintain donor engagement. You'll thank us for seamless bid payment collection once your successful silent auction is over. 

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3. Start the item procurement process early

Honestly, the earlier the better—but we’d say six months before a fundraising event is the absolute latest.

4. Assemble an amazing (and very extroverted) procurement team

This can be development staff members, board members, and/or volunteers. Everyone should be outgoing, organized, and unafraid to ask everyone they know (and many they don’t) to help out.

5. Stay organized

Have a shared spreadsheet to keep track of who’s asking who, who’s already been asked, items acquired, and next steps. Use procurement forms to capture donor information, track items, and keep everything above board.

6. Create an auction item wishlist

What are your donors' favorite auction items? Air fryers, baseball games, streaming service subscriptions, video games? Brainstorm all your dream items, write them down, and share them with your procurement team and board members. It’ll help guide and inspire everyone throughout the procurement process.

7. Don’t overdo it

While you don’t want folks bemoaning their still-overflowing wallet at the end of the night, you do want to prioritize quality over quantity.

8. Promote your items well in advance

Like any special event, an auction is much more successful when you publicize it. And your items can help! Advertise your best and brightest auction offerings on social media, in marketing emails, on the event website, and via text. Unveil these exciting goodies one at a time to build anticipation.

At the auction…

  1. Make a list
  2. Keep prices under wraps
  3. Give your items a glow-up
  4. Add a special appeal item to the lineup
  5. Space them out
  6. Stagger closing times

1. List it out

A paper program (we’re so old-fashioned!) helps guests know what to expect—and you can list out the big-ticket items to build excitement and let bidders know when to get those paddles (or phones) ready.

2. Never publish item prices

After all, technically it’s all priceless because bidders are also bidding on the opportunity to do good. (Yeah, we’re using the term “technically” very loosely). You do, however, need to include Fair Market Value on your donors' receipts so that they can properly account for them on their taxes. 

3. Make silent auction items look ah-may-zing

Put them on pedestals, drape them in ribbons, and frame them with balloons. The better things look, the more folks want to bid.

4. Make a special appeal item

Remember that not everyone who attends your event wants to walk away with an actual item—but everyone there wants to support your cause. Include a special appeal, as well as a silent auction item that allows folks to fund activities at your organization (e.g., $50 = one tutoring session), so that everyone has the opportunity to give.

5. Space out the good stuff

Scatter the best silent auction items around the room rather than having them all in one place. If it’s an online auction, intersperse them throughout the digital catalog.

6. Stagger your silent auction closing times to build anticipation

Further, having some items close after the live auction can ensure everyone sticks around until the end.

The Value of Silent Auction Swag

In addition to great auction items, the best events include some swag so that no one walks home empty-handed. If you’re on the swag train, here are a few things to keep in mind as well as some swag-spiration that’s sure to put some swagger in your guests’ steps. (We just can’t help ourselves.)

  • Swag branded with your nonprofit’s logo keeps on giving by promoting your organization long after your event has ended. If non-donors see your swag, they see your organization. For this reason, consider swag that supporters can wear (beanies!) or take out and about (eco-friendly water bottles!). Raising donor spirits and raising brand awareness at the same time? It’s a win-win (especially for the lucky winner).
  • Try Insta-worthy swag—and share your hashtag. If supporters share photos across social media, you’ll benefit from free advertising.
  • Keep it green. We know money is tight, but buying poorly made goods that are going to wind up in a landfill benefits no one. In fact, since so many donors are concerned with the environment, those items that seemed like a great deal might actually turn some people off from supporting your cause.
  • Looking to get swag without taking a chunk out of your event budget? First, ask your event sponsors. Sure, they’ll get promoted—but they’ll also foot the bill.
  • Some larger corporations will donate bulk products. Focus on organizations that align with your nonprofit’s work and get that online application for an online auction in as early as possible.
  • Try a virtual swag bag. Different businesses donate lots of small gift cards—say, one free donut at a donut shop—with you emailing the swag to attendees. This is often more appealing for local businesses because it can bring in new customers. After all, who walks out of a donut shop with just one donut?
  • If you’re stuck, turn to your volunteers. Maybe one’s a baker. If so, host a baking party, then bundle those brownies with a ribbon and a gift tag with your logo. Yay!

The best silent auction ideas

You’ve done your prep work and secured your swag. Now, it’s onto those auction items. You want to appeal to a wide range of people, so we’ve broken the items below into four main categories that are sure to sell out.

  • Experiences
  • VIP perks
  • Special trips
  • Unique silent auction items
  • Gift baskets
  • Community Spotlight items

Travel and experiences silent auction item ideas

After quarantine days at home, everyone’s all about making memorable experiences. Give the people what they want by offering an array of unique real-world adventures. Some travel and experiences silent auction item ideas include luxury hotel and resort stays, hot air balloon rides, vineyard tours and wine tastings, and mountain passes with ski and snowboarding lessons.

Foraging dinner

Guests can have their fiddlehead ferns and eat them, too, with a local foraging outing followed by a delicious meal using the fruits (er, mushrooms) of their labors.

Cooking lesson

An oldie but a goodie. Ask a local chef to auction off a private cooking lesson followed by a private meal. If they can hold it at their restaurant, all the better.

Drink tasting

Whether bidders are sipping their way through the wines of the Rioja or sampling an array of Kahlúa cocktails, everyone loves a guided beverage tasting.

Guided rafting or kayaking trip

Get the adrenaline pumping and the bidders buzzing with a family-friendly, all-inclusive rafting or kayaking experience.

Vineyard tours and wine tastings

Vineyard tours and wine tastings are appealing due to the popularity of wine among enthusiasts who enjoy seeing the wine-making process and exploring vineyards. And, let's face it, folks who love to drink wine.

Hot air balloon ride

It can be romantic, a family adventure, or even just a fun solo ride in the sky. But no matter who your donor brings along, it's bound to be memorable. Especially if it were part of a vineyard tour...

Mountain passes with ski and snowboarding lessons

Snow lovers and individuals seeking winter activities would be interested in mountain passes with ski and snowboarding lessons as a silent auction item.

All the tickets

Concert tickets, game tickets, event tickets, season tickets, airline tickets, more event tickets, tickets that don't expire, tickets to wild and unusual events, tickets to once-in-a-lifetime experiences... just all the tickets you can get your hands on. Bonus: you get to hold all of them at once and fan yourself with them as a way to gain auction attention.

Try a package deal

Put together a travel package with a gas card, snacks, earplugs, and a neck pillow. Or a fitness package with weights, a yoga mat, and a gym membership. Maybe a vacation package with sunglasses, a beach chair, cozy robes, and even more snacks?

VIP perks and high-end items for auction

We all like to feel special—it’s human nature. By offering exclusive high-end items that make anyone feel like a VIP, your donor base will raise their paddles as they dust off their suits and crowns.

Reserved seats

From seats at a sold-out show to a skybox at the big game for the local sports team, exclusive seats are sure to attract a crowd. Add in a limo ride to and from the event, and you're taking VIP to VVIP.

After-hours experience

When the doors close at 5:00, the party’s just beginning. Auction off a private after-hours tour of an animal sanctuary or a late-night shopping trip at a boutique (don’t forget the coffee!).

Private lesson

From ikebana to candle-making, kombucha to macrame or music lessons with a rock star, private lessons with an expert are a great way to bring in the bids and build your supporters’ skill sets.

First-class airline seats

Shockingly, first-class seats are a lot nicer than economy seats. Maybe your attendees can’t get behind a $2,000 plane ticket, but we bet they’d give those warm nuts and unlimited mimosas a try for a good cause!

Designer bags and custom jewelry

Everyone wants to have the latest, most unique high-end bag or accessory–do you know anyone who wants to have the same necklace as their friends or colleagues? These items have the potential to attract more bids and increase the overall response to the event by appealing to attendees' desire for luxury and uniqueness. They also like feeling generous and trendy, but who doesn't?

Special trips for auctions

Travel is always popular, and what’s more exciting than having the winning bid and getting that sweet sense of anticipation for the next few months? One tip: it’s wise to offer a range of trip types, near and far, by bike and by plane.

Weekend getaway

Do your board members have a beach house or a lakeside cottage just a short drive away? Auction off a few days away from the hustle and bustle, being sure to mention any special amenities to up the bids. Hot tub, anyone?

Local staycation

Encourage your guests to be tourists in their own town by planning a dream staycation package. Include a hotel stay, meals, and tickets to local activities (could be time-sensitive concert tickets or more general tickets to the local botanical gardens). Include a few made-here treasures, too, such as locally made chocolate.

Road trip

Road trips are great, but they take a lot of forethought. Instead, plan out an incredible road trip for your guests and take care of every detail. Map stops along the way, pre-purchase the tickets, and book all the lodgings. Don’t forget a AAA membership and a playlist!

Luxury trip abroad

If you offer international travel, make sure it’s flexible and make sure it’s incredible. After all, bidding on a $10,000+ trip is a big commitment. Include reviews of the property, lots of photos, and a list of activities so bidders can feel confident in going big.

Unique silent auction items

When it comes to planning a successful silent auction, offering unique and desirable items is key to attracting donors and maximizing fundraising potential. To help you wow your donors and stand out from the crowd, we've compiled a list of some of the best silent auction item ideas.

Dinner and drinks silent auction item ideas

One dinner and drinks items suggestion is to offer a five-course meal at a top restaurant, providing donors with the opportunity to enjoy a luxurious dining experience—or go the opposite direction and host a 5-course menu at a local dive bar. Another idea is to seek donations for cooking lessons from a local chef, giving bidders the chance to enhance their culinary skills, or go waaaay off the wall and offer a unique experience like a pig roast at the donor's home. 

Family-focused silent auction item ideas

When you think family-focused silent auction item ideas, think family photoshoots or paintings by a local artist. Parents and grandparents just can't get enough of lil' Junior. If family eye candy isn't the jam, another idea is a group paintball outing, which can offer families a fun and exciting activity to enjoy together. Or maybe both ideas. At the same time. 

Popular silent auction items related to sports

Popular silent auction items related to sports include sports memorabilia, tickets, and golf foursomes at private clubs. Sports memorabilia, such as signed items from favorite athletes, are highly sought after, appealing to many sports fans looking to showcase prized possessions. Additionally, game tickets for various sporting events are often donated by season ticket holders or by directly contacting sports teams, providing an exciting auction item for attendees.

Homemade Auction Items

Homemade auction items can be a great addition to any silent auction event, as they offer a personal touch and unique appeal that can attract donors. Handmade auction item ideas range from handmade crafts and artwork to baked goods, to artisan jewelry and hand-sewn clothing or accessories, to anything you can find a tutorial for on TikTok or YouTube. 

Seasonal and holiday experiences

Seasonal and holiday experiences that can be included in a silent auction could range from unique visits by characters like Santa or the Easter Bunny to hosting a traditional holiday dinner. Offer a luxurious limo ride to see Christmas lights to create a memorable experience for a family or couple during the holiday season—and don't forget the festive beverages!

Gift baskets for auction

Gift baskets—especially themed baskets—are popular silent auction items. Guests can ogle the many goodies, and smaller items are much more appealing when there are lots of them—especially if you add bows.

Spa day

It’s been a stressful year. Longer than that, actually. The point is: everyone needs to de-stress and focus on wellness these days, which makes a spa-day-in-a-box a sure-fire hit. Plus, you can use up a lot of odds and ends. Candles, mugs, individual face masks (the non-pandemic kind), chocolate, a bathrobe… anything’s spa-worthy with enough twine.

And for those who need to get away to relax? Pair a spa gift certificate, with comfy slippers and a robe to create a luxurious and enticing package for bidders.

Dinner for two

Who doesn’t want to break out of their dining rut with all the ingredients needed for a romantic dinner for two? You can also include any specialized equipment (perhaps a mortar and pestle for grinding spices) and a bottle of good vino. And instead of a basket, how about a pot? One more idea: switch it up and make it a brunch basket in an ice bucket!

Wine cellar or Beer box or Whiskey crate

Alcohol does great at auctions, and a basket of excellent wines from around the world is sure to sell. You can choose wines from a single region, mix it up and procure whiskeys, or bring the chill with craft beers. Add some glasses, a couple of snacks, et voilà!

Puppy love

There are bound to be some fur-parents in your audience, so put together a wonderful assortment of goods for their lucky (but deserving) pups. Treats, toys, and accessories galore, and put everything in a cozy dog bed. Throw in a gift card for a grooming session and nail trim, too.

Mystery boxes

Put small or out-of-place items together in mystery baskets. Donors have no idea what they're getting until they buy one. Make sure that one box includes a high-value item, like a piece of jewelry or even cash.

Golf clubs

You may be thinking that you'll need an XXXL basket to hold golf clubs, but we say you're thinking too hard. Just look at the golf bag and squint; do you see what we see? It's a silent auction basket of sorts. Put a bow on it, and it'll get bookoo basket bucks.

Gardening box

A Garden in a Box gift basket for a silent auction can include a variety of gardening tools, seeds, succulents, and other essentials for gardening enthusiasts, providing a unique and practical option for the auction. And if they've got a brown thumb? Gardening gloves to cover it up. 

(Wo)Man crate

Items for a Man Crate gift basket can include fine cigars, liquor, a poker game set, and a local golf club certificate. Sure, it's called a Man Crate, but this is one of those auction items that a lot of people would be into. Add a bottle of nail polish for kicks and make it even more inclusive. 

Baby box

Most babies aren't going to be bidding, but you could certainly add a diaper with pockets for the babies who need wallet storage. If you're targeting parents, a Baby Gift Basket can include diapers, wipes, clothes, rattles, pacifiers, and a few special touches for the newborn or expecting parents.

Foodie's delight

A Foodie's Delight gift basket can include gift certificates to local restaurants or grocery stores, small chef necessities, spices, and other Epicurean delights. And maybe a cookbook or two!

Community Spotlight silent auction items

Community spotlight silent auction items promote companies and services in a silent auction by not only raising funds but also serving as a platform to showcase a company's offerings. Silent auctions featuring community spotlight auction items provide a platform for exposure, fostering partnerships, and engaging donors in a meaningful way, and raising money for your nonprofit's cause all at the same time. 

By incorporating items related to local businesses or services, you can highlight the diversity and quality of products available in your community. Think of the adorable goat farm down the road—their goat cheese should be known all over the county! Or at least their weekly goat yoga sessions. 

Seriously though, especially for community-based nonprofits, having local businesses contribute to your silent auction item display is more than just scoring an awesome fundraising item. It shows that your organization's mission is aligned with your community's values. By integrating the story of the company or service into the event, donors can gain a better understanding of the organization's work and impact in the community. This storytelling approach not only engages the audience but also educates them about the unique offerings of the featured companies or services.

Additionally, offering exclusive experiences or interactions with prominent community figures, such as the mayor or the local Elvis impersonator, can add a touch of prestige to the event and attract more attention from potential donors.

Companies often want to work with local nonprofits as a way to showcase their brand and reach a wider audience. By partnering with local businesses willing to donate their services or products, your nonprofit can create enticing auction items that draw significant interest and support.

Auction troubleshooting

Now you know what types of auction items you want. But what about those you don’t? First, let’s check out a few items that usually don’t pay off—or run the risk of actively offending your guests (aka hopeful auction winners). Then, we’ll run through what to do when local businesses or key donors approach you with items that you reaalllyyy don’t want to include.

Auction items to avoid

  • Artwork. Generally, artwork is very personal, so it’s unlikely you’ll have a lot of folks bidding on a piece unless it’s done by a well-known artist or the subject matter is relevant to your audience. Get that Thomas Kinkade, friend!
  • Items with a lot of restrictions. Don’t make your donors regret their generosity by including 200 black-out dates for that villa stay in Italy.
  • Items or experiences you’ve offered many times before. Keep it fresh!
  • Anything political that’s unrelated to your cause. Just … don’t. (Political + cause-related? You decide!)
  • Items that have expiration dates. Not that we'd auction off funky expired food, but check restrictions on product warranties, availability on services like photo shoots or haircuts, and limitations on personal offerings that are only good for a season.

How to decline an auction item donation

  • Be as gracious and appreciative as possible. Let the donor know that you are truly grateful for their generosity and explain that you’re so sorry that you can’t accept their donation.
  • Be honest. Tell them why you can’t accept it or why you won’t auction it off. Maybe you tried to auction off a similar item last year and it didn’t sell. Maybe that particular item doesn’t make sense with your mission. Maybe it’s psychedelic mushrooms, and in your state that’s illegal. Whatever the reason, be authentic and respectful.
  • Provide next steps. Don’t leave your donor hanging! Let ‘em know how their donation can still be put to use (unless it’s actively offensive or illegal, of course). Here are some questions to consider:
Is there another organization that would appreciate the item?
Could you sell that vintage lamp on eBay for way more money?
Can you thank a great volunteer with a free teeth whitening section?
  • Be flexible. Sometimes, it’s better to put up an item that won’t sell than risk alienating a key donor. If it’s an ugly coat that they really, really want to donate, start the bidding low and ask your aunt to bid $30 on it.
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How To Get Items for Your Silent Auction - Charity Auction Request Templates

It’s all well and good to plan to procure great auction items. But when you actually sit down to write that all-important auction item donation request, your palms get kinda sweaty, and suddenly, you’re drawing a blank. Never fear! Funraise is here—with a few templates to get those persuasive juices flowing. Keep in mind that these are for individual donors. If you’re writing to a business, be sure to highlight how their donation will benefit them, too.

And of course, with all of these scripts, you’ll want to mix it up! Personalization is key when it comes to donor communications, so if you want to make an impression, try to show that sparkling personality.

Auction item donation request template

Dear [Name],
This [month] is our [event name], and I couldn’t be more excited. Here at [organization name], we [mission]. And this year, we’ve already [whatever amazing feat you’ve accomplished]. With the funds from this event, we’ll be able to [whatever goal you aim to achieve], bringing us even closer to [vision statement].
You’ve been an incredible partner over the past [number] years, and I am so grateful for your support as a [donor’s role(s) at the nonprofit]. Now, I’m reaching out to you again. To [reiterate mission/vision], we’re planning an amazing event with and for our community—and we’re planning to make it our most successful auction yet. That’s where you come in.
We need exciting and unique items and experiences for our live and silent auctions. Specifically, we’re looking for [wishlist items and experiences].
Additionally, we would love to see you at [event] on/at [event details]. You can learn more about the event [here] and purchase tickets [here]. You can also call or email me any time at [contact information]. I hope to see you there!
[Name], I’m so grateful your continued generosity as we [reiterate organizational mission]. With supporters like you, we can [reiterate organizational vision]. Thank you, thank you.
All the best,

Auction item donation thank-you template

Dear [Name],
Last month, we held [event name], our biggest charity fundraising event of the year. It was a festive and fulfilling evening, and thanks to the compassion and dedication of hundreds of donors, we raised over [amount]—and we couldn’t have done it without you.
On behalf of everyone here at [organization], thank you so much for your generous donation of [item information]. With your support, we will continue to [mission statement], with a goal of [vision statement]. Already, we’ve [what you’ve accomplished this year]. With the success of our event, we’ll be able to do so much more.
In addition, please note that your item donation is tax-deductible. Our tax ID number is [number].
Thank you again for standing with us in [reiterate mission]. We look forward to partnering with you in the months and years ahead.

Template to decline or repurpose auction item donations

Dear [Name],
On behalf of everyone here at [organization], thank you so much for your donation of [item information] for [event]. While we so appreciate your support, we can’t accept your item at this time. Unfortunately, [reason you can’t/don’t want to accept the item].
We are happy to [what you can do with the item]. Alternatively, you can [other actions to take].
Thank you for your understanding and for continuing to stand with us in [reiterate mission]. We are truly grateful, and we look forward to partnering with you in the future.
All the best,

Running an auction is a lot of work, but it can really pay off for your nonprofit in terms of fundraising goals and community building. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a white-glove sale. (It’s an auction thing; look it up!) Ready? Let the bidding commence!

Answer from an Expert: How do you keep participants engaged in fundraising?

Justin Wheeler, Funraise CEO and Co-founder, gave us the answer in a special Virtual Event Q+A session drawing on his experience putting on extremely successful virtual fundraising events:

You may have donors at an event, but don't forget that you're not fundraising in a vacuum; these donors are interacting across different channels. So whether it's texting, social media, or email, sit down with your marketing team and build out a strategy to keep your fundraiser top of mind. And since these folks are raising their hands to talk to you on all these platforms, implement that strategy across those channels.

All about charity auction items: FAQs (answered by AI+human teams)

Which items sell best at a nonprofit auction?

While it depends on your audience, unique experiences or items are most likely to start a bidding war. Focus on sourcing once-in-a-lifetime experiences, exclusive perks, special trips, or one-of-a-kind items.

How many items should you include in a live auction? In a silent auction?

You don’t want folks to fall asleep, so around 8-12 items is a good baseline for your live auction. When it comes to the silent auction, it depends on the size of your space and the size of your audience. But a general rule of thumb is to have about one item (or package) for every four attendees.

Are items donated to a charity auction tax-deductible? What about items purchased?

Donations are tax-deductible. Purchases are tax-deductible beyond the fair market value of the item. So, if someone pays $400 for an item worth $300, $100 of their purchase is tax-deductible.

How can I attract more attendees to bid in a silent auction?

To attract more attendees to bid in a silent auction, consider offering items and experiences that cater to a wide range of interests. Include themed experiences in your auction to pique the interest of potential bidders. By diversifying your auction items and appealing to a broader audience, you can increase attendee engagement and participation.

How can a silent auction be a fun and creative way to promote an organization's mission?

That answer is way too vague for our creative nonprofit friends. All fundraising campaigns and events—actually, all of your actions—have the ultimate goal of promoting your mission and increasing your impact. The better question is: How can you integrate your mission into your auction items and silent auction experience?

How can the organization's mission be integrated into the items and overall experience of a silent auction to excite donors?

To make your silent auction a memorable event that effectively promotes your organization's mission, incorporate storytelling and education into a carefully curated auction item display. Start by using your mission to craft a compelling narrative that resonates with your donors. By weaving your organization's story into the auction experience, you can educate attendees about the impactful work you do while also creating excitement around the items up for bid.

Integrating the organization's mission into the items and experience of a silent auction involves strategically selecting items that align with the mission and convey its impact. By curating items that reflect the organization's values and goals, donors can see firsthand how their contributions support the cause, generating excitement and engagement.

What are some benefits of holding a silent auction fundraiser?

Silent auctions provide nonprofits with the opportunity to raise funds in a fun and interactive way, engage with a wider donor base, and communicate their mission effectively. One key benefit is that silent auctions offer a more relaxed and enjoyable experience for donors compared to live auctions, allowing individuals to participate without feeling pressured. Additionally, auction events can help organizations expand their donor base by attracting smaller donors who may be eager to contribute but are unable to make large donations.

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