What Should I Sell at My Silent Auction?

Posted by Don Carmichael on 2/27/17 5:30 AM

So you’re having a silent auction but you don’t know what to auction off. Should you sell grandma’s famous homemade cookies? Does everything have to be a high ticket price item? What are the things that will truly push someone from attending your event, to supporting your organization by bidding on an item? Here’s a hint. It’s all about context.

When you’re putting on a silent auction event, one of the biggest disservices you can do to your donors is to expect your donors to bid on items they might not want. You need to be intentional about adding value to their experience and one of the best ways to do that is to have themed baskets.

A themed basket is a great way to give a donor context into what they are purchasing. Does the donor like fishing, cars, art, gardening? What are the things they are interested in? And once you have that knowledge start putting together baskets based around those needs.

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Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Fishing Basket (Fishing lures, rods, reels, fishing hats, fishing line, fishing baskets, needle-nose pliers, fishing nets, rubber worms, hooks, stringer)

Home Scene (Decorator session with an Interior Designer, house cleaning, artificial flower arrangement from arts and crafts store, gift certificate from fabric store, gift certificate from Home Depot or Lowe’s)

Spa (Candles, potpourri, music, CD player, bath salts, free massage, pedicures, manicures, Bath and Body Works gift certificate, big luxurious towels)

Night on the Town (Dinner for two at a nice restaurant, tickets to the theater, limousine service, night at a nice hotel or motel, fruit basket for the room, baby-sitting for all children, car cleaning)

Movie Night (Tickets to the movie theater, dinner for two at a local restaurant, baby-sitting, gift certificates for Movie Gallery or Blockbuster, popcorn, candy, chips, dip, sausages, cheeses, crackers, nuts)

Live Music Night for two couples (Tickets to local (or in another nearby city) music shows, dinner for four, baby-sitting for four)

Gardening (Small hand tools: shovels & weed diggers, edgers, weed-eater, large shovels, hoes, gardening gloves, bulbs, planters, plant food, a gift-certificate at a local nursery, classes for gardening at a local college, servants to help in the garden on a Saturday)

Hunting (Gift certificate at a local hunting store, hunting vests, camouflage gear, reloading equipment, small hand-held heaters, warm gloves or hats, hunting soap, blank targets)

Camping (Folding chair/ table, first aid kit, camping cookware, air pump, sleeping bag, tent, tent pegs, small pillow, small stoves)

Baby Gifts (Blankets, sheets, gift certificates, baby toys, baby books, diaper bags, small miscellaneous stuff: pacifiers, bottles, toiletry items)

Wedding Gifts (Can openers, blenders, towels, bathroom or kitchen items, gardening tools, gift certificate to local store supplying newly-married needs, all in a large new trash can)

Automobile Basket (Air freshener, air pump, fix a flat, gift certificate for Wal Mart, air pressure gauge, oil change gift certificate, car wash and wax, cleaning supplies and cloths)

Tool Time Theme (Hammer, wrench, screwdrivers, power tools, mini-tool kit, tape measure, Home Depot (Lowe’s) gift certificate, etc.)

Sports Baskets (Shirts, athletic shorts, banners, posters, automobile stickers, mugs, tickets to a game, tail-gate party paraphernalia, water bottles, stadium cushions)


If you are able to connect the donor to something they care about and help them feel good about buying it because they are supporting an organization that they love, you’ll have an easy win-win on your hands.

Create the story for the buyer. They are here at your event, engaged enough in your organization to take time out of their busy schedule to attend your event. Cater the baskets to them. Give them value for the money they are spending. Don’t have them walk away from the event thinking that there was nothing worth bidding on.

Remember, creating a good event with valuable products means that you will build loyalty not only for this event going forward but also for your organization.


Have you ever heard someone say that Corporate Sponsors are the secret sauce to creating a steady flow of fundraising dollars to your organization?  Click here to RSVP to our March 1st Webinar on how to recruit corporate sponsors for your next event.

Topics: donors, fundraising, events