The silent auction fundraiser often accounts for 50-100% of your fundraising auction revenue and the single most import ingredient to maximum your income is the bid sheet. To be most productive the bid sheet should contain:

  1. Logo of your organization (branding is important)
  2. Catalog number prominently displayed
  3. Complete and simple description of the item
  4. Starting bid
  5. Pre-printed increments

The Starting Bid

When we started in the fundraising auction business many years ago the most common starting or minimum bid was 25% of value on all items. We now recommend no less than 35%-40% and have to come to understand that while it is easy to start all items at the same amount it is simply poor practice. There are items which sell more aggressively than others and it is just good sense to base the starting bid on the relative salability of the item or category. But how do we determine what sell better than others. Recently we concluded a study of almost 50 auctions and determined that there were definite similarities in fundraising auctions. That study showed:

Best Sellers: (End up selling over 85%)

    • Restaurants – Easy to get, just ask while dining
    • Sports – Toys for the boys
    • Trips/Vacations – The price is right
    • Baskets – Greater than the sum of the parts
    • Handmade – Value is always exceeded
    • Wine – Always a winner
    • Cigars Men love cigars
    • Men’s Toys – TV, DVD, MP3, and more

Poor Sellers: (End up selling under 40%)

    • Home/Garden – Everyones taste is different
    • Boutique – Fashion is in the eye of the beholder
    • Services – Everyone gives, no one buys
    • Art – Art is in the eye of the beholder


    • Jewelry – Easy to look at, hard to sell
    • Memoribilia – Always popular with the guys

Are you getting a substantial portion of the consignment? Do you tell the guests that only a portion goes to the charity?

What this chart illustrates is that the starting bid percentage can be based on the category and not use one percentage for all items as if they were equal. While this chart will provide general guidelines, it is essential that you look at past data from your own organization’s fundraising auctions.

Best Sellers

Be aggressive. These items should have opening bids of no less than 50%.

Poor Sellers

Be discriminate. Look carefully at the quality of your items in these areas and consider starting bids in the 35% range but do not be afraid of using 25% or less for items that you consider over-priced or hard to sell. You stand a better chance of getting that crucial first bid.


Following these rules you will be will on your way to create bid sheets that will encourage aggressive bidding and maximize your income from the fundraising silent auction.

By Maureen and John Winter
Reprinted with permission of the autho