Silent auctions—while they have the potential to be done well—can be a lot of work to plan. If you're looking to avoid hours spent hunting down the perfect basket items and meeting tedious tax and legal confines, we’ve got 15 different fundraising ideas you can use to replace the auction and still raise the cash you need.
Skip the silent auction—15 ideas to try instead
1. Try a charity golf tourney, instead of collecting sports memorabilia 🏌
Why sell signed sports gear when you can let supporters relive their glory days instead? As an alternative to a live auction, run a charity golf tournament at the local course, and invite businesses to purchase different sponsorship packages. To increase donations, consider selling concessions, adding upsells (like VIP tickets or drink vouchers), or hosting a driving-range challenge.
2. Try staycations, instead of auctioning off vacation packages 🌴
Sure, you could orchestrate a trip to Paris as a high-ticket item… Or you could invest those dollars back into your local economy. Take the "staycation" route and brainstorm fun events you could organize at local businesses. Rent out a cafe and hold an open mic night, take over a parking lot and create a drive-in movie theater, or host a food truck fiesta where patrons can sample local vendors.
3. Try pub crawls, instead of giving away a wine tasting 🍺
It's not uncommon to auction off booze at an auction event, whether it's top-shelf bottles or a four-course dinner with wine pairings. To switch things up, organize a local pub crawl in your town. Work with local businesses beforehand to reserve one drink per guest per stop, then sell tickets to supporters before your event.
4. Try a talent show, instead of auctioning off front-row seats 🎤
Don't stop at sending just a few silent auction winners to a concert. Instead, invite all of your supporters backstage! Post a casting call to get all the stand-up comedians, karaoke pros, and air-guitar players from your donor base into the spotlight. Ask board members to make up the judges panel and determine how you'll be scoring each contestant. Competitors can pay to enter, attendees can purchase tickets, and sponsors can pay to advertise at your event. Want to take this fundraiser up a notch? Livestream your event for virtual attendees. You can even save the recording to send out after the event so attendees can relive the magic.
5. Try a sweatgiving event, instead hunting for gift certificates 🏆
Local fitness studios are constantly asked to donate free classes or memberships for charity auction events. Instead of offering one workout experience to one supporter, why not share those endorphins with your entire list? Create a "sweatgiving" event where people pay a fixed amount (roughly $20) to enjoy a charity workout class. Want to take your #fitspo event to the next level? Invite local businesses to donate water, sports drinks, T-shirts, and raffle prizes to the athletes.
6. Try a field day, instead of bidding on sports tickets 🏐
Tickets to professional sporting events are high-ticket items for both in-person and online silent auctions. But if you're anything like us, you would rather play than sit on the sidelines. Organize a field day to bring out a supporter's inner athlete, hosting sand volleyball tournaments, roller skating races, capture-the-flag tournaments, and tug-of-war competitions.
7. Try dressing up to give, instead of dressing up to bid 👗
OK, let's be real: One of the best things about a silent auction is the opportunity to glam it up for an evening. Allow your donor base to don their best black-tie-optional attire for a nonprofit gala event—whether held online or virtually. Invite organization executives or volunteers to speak, sharing your mission and values with the public.
8. Try a paint and sip, instead of auctioning off artwork 🎨 🍷
Sure, you could sell artwork to the highest bidder…Or you could allow supporters to create their own. Organize a paint 'n' sip event as a fun night out for potential donors. Here's how it works: Sell tickets in advance, then hire an instructor (you could even ask the art teacher at the local high school) to help supporters paint a scene while sipping wine. You could also host a pottery class, jewelry-making class, or embroidery class to get your donors' creative juices (and glasses of wine!) flowing.
9. Try a run to the finish line, instead of running a silent auction 🏃
If you're dreading putting together your next silent auction, consider organizing a charity walk/run instead. There are limitless ways to put your own creative spin on this classic fundraising idea: Invite supporters to run at their pace, do a 24-hour team relay race, or choose a theme and offer a special promo code to those who dress up. (Pro tip: If you choose to put on a relay race, take advantage of multi-team fundraising to raise money through peer-to-peer networks.)
10. Try a hometown sidewalk day, instead of soliciting gift baskets 🛍
While auction gift baskets are extremely popular items that donors bid on, they can be a headache to piece together. To help streamline your efforts, host a "sidewalk day" in your hometown. Invite cafes, artists, makers, and other creatives to sell their jewelry, food items, crafts, and housewares via tents and tables posted up on the sidewalk. Charge a novel entrance fee (suggested: $5) that supporters can quickly pay via cash, credit card, Venmo, or text-to-donate at the gate.
11. Try out-fundraising, instead of outbidding 💪
A silent auction isn't the only way to foster friendly competition. Team fundraising is a great way to raise more for your mission. Create a fundraising page and encourage individuals to either join an existing team or create their own team when they go to donate. Keep the momentum going with a leaderboard that updates in real-time and play-by-play campaign updates. You could even have a local business or corporate sponsor donate a prize for the winning team—which is easier than asking for several items for silent auction baskets. The more excited the teams are to win (and the closer you get to your fundraising goal), the more likely they are to give additional donations or invite others to join their team.
12. Try multiple giving tiers, instead of one naming opportunity 🧱
Everyone wants to make an impact that lasts, which is why naming opportunities tend to do so well at silent auctions. Give multiple people the chance to leave a legacy by setting up different giving tiers or donor packages. Here's an example: Instead of naming an entire building after the highest bidder, supporters can donate a certain amount to have a brick laid in their honor. This is also a great way to showcase and celebrate the community propelling your mission forward.
13. Try a restaurant fundraiser, instead of setting the table for two 🍽
Instead of auctioning off one special night out, ask a restaurant if they'd be willing to have a cause night where a portion of the night's proceeds goes toward your nonprofit. The best part? This fundraiser benefits you and the restaurant involved by introducing each other to your existing networks.
14. Try a photo contest, instead of auctioning off photography services 📸
A picture is worth a thousand words… So imagine how much a thousand pictures must be worth! Host a photo contest where supporters submit snapshots on social media and tag your organization. You can announce the winners online or host an art gallery showing with printed works of everyone's photos. You can raise funds with this idea in a few ways: Have people pay to submit their photos, attend the art gallery event, or vote for their favorite images. Not only is this a fun way to get your supporters hands-on, but the extra mentions on social media will help raise awareness for your cause.
15. Try a cooking class, instead of giving away goodie baskets 🥖
If you give a supporter a food basket, you will feed them for a day. If you teach a supporter how to whip up the best banana pancakes they've ever eaten, they'll be in your corner for a lifetime! Host a "cooking class for a cause" (either virtually, in-person, or as a hybrid event), and everyone will leave your fundraiser with something yummy. The ticket price to attend can cover the cost of ingredients and offset other expenses. In between cooking lessons, you can chat about your mission and provide opportunities for attendees to make additional donations.
Swap out the silent auction for another creative fundraising idea
Is a silent auction a good fit for some organizations? Of course. But before you start planning, determine if a silent auction is right for you. You may find that you'd rather trade in the bid sheets for a charity golf tournament, gala, 5K run/walk, or drive-thru movie.
If you’re definitely set on hosting a silent auction, we’ve got good news! Givebutter Auctions is here to help you plan the silent auction you’ve always dreamed of.
No matter what kind of fundraising event you decide to run with, Givebutter has all free the tools you need to sell tickets, invite contributors, promote events on social media, and accept all payment types, including Venmo.
Ready to see how Givebutter can help you raise more? Get started with your free account today.
Kylie thrives on supporting others, making everyone’s jobs easier, and cinnamon in her coffee.