Silent auctions are one of the most popular nonprofit fundraising events, and for good reason. They can be held in person or virtually, appeal to a wide range of supporters, and make great annual fundraisers. Although silent auctions work well on their own, they can also be paired with other events like galas or golf tournaments to increase your organization’s fundraising revenue.
As with any fundraising event, your team will need to develop a marketing plan to spread the word about your silent auction. Effective event promotions will not only get supporters in the door, but also ensure they come excited to bid on your valuable auction items.
In this guide, we’ll walk through five strategies for marketing your silent auction, including how to:
- Understand Your Audience
- Leverage Multiple Communication Channels
- Track and Analyze Marketing Data
- Feature Your Auction Items in Your Marketing Materials
- Acknowledge Your Event Sponsors
As you implement these strategies, try to make event registration as easy as possible. Create a streamlined online sign-up form and include links to it in all of your communications so supporters can easily register no matter how they discover your auction. Let’s get started!
1. Understand Your Audience
Before marketing your silent auction, it’s useful to know who you’re trying to reach. Understanding your audience allows you to create more targeted messages and leverage the most effective communication channels for promoting your auction.
To drive supporter engagement, try segmenting your audience based on shared characteristics, which could include their:
- Demographics, such as age, location, education, family status, and employment.
- Giving history, including their average donation amount, frequency and recency of giving, and lifetime value to your organization.
- Past engagement besides monetary contributions—consider previous event attendance, volunteer hours, in-kind donations, and communication preferences.
Once you’ve identified these shared characteristics among supporters, decide which segments you want to prioritize in your event marketing and tailor your messages to those segments. For example, if your silent auction is part of a gala, you may focus on major donors and invite each of them individually. However, if you’re trying to engage younger supporters through your auction, posting regular updates on your website and social media will likely be effective.
2. Leverage Multiple Communication Channels
Although segmenting your supporters will let you know which communication methods to prioritize, it’s always most effective to leverage several channels. During your event marketing campaign, promote your silent auction using the following methods:
- Your nonprofit’s website. Create a calendar of upcoming events at your organization, along with dedicated pages where supporters can learn more about each one.
- Email marketing. In addition to sending out email blasts dedicated to the auction, feature it in your nonprofit’s regular newsletter if you have one.
- Social media. Tailor your social media posts to each platform your organization uses. For example, you might first design a graphic and write a brief caption about your event for Facebook, then adapt that information into a short video for TikTok and Instagram Reels.
- Digital ads. Google has an ad grant program that allows eligible nonprofits to receive a monthly advertising stipend, which you can use to promote your auction in Google search results.
- Direct mail. While many nonprofits focus on digital event marketing, direct mail can still be useful for reaching certain audiences and supplementing your online efforts.
3. Track and Analyze Marketing Data
Your silent auction marketing efforts will be more effective across the board if they’re data-driven. NPOInfo’s guide to nonprofit data collection suggests leveraging several types of marketing data to improve your outreach, including:
- Website traffic, particularly the number of people who visit your event information page.
- Email open rates, which are often affected by timing, frequency, and subject lines.
- Social media engagement on auction-related posts, including likes, comments, and shares.
- Click-through rates to your event registration form across all of your digital marketing channels.
Tracking and analyzing this information will allow you to identify what areas of your event marketing campaign are going well and where you could improve by adjusting your strategy. Your data can not only boost your impact in promoting your upcoming silent auction, but also help you develop a more effective marketing plan for future events.
4. Feature Your Auction Items in Your Marketing Materials
According to the auction experts at Winspire, procuring auction items that are high-value, high-quality, and of interest to participants is critical to your event’s success. To get supporters excited to attend the auction and place bids, feature photos and short descriptions of your big-ticket items in your promotional materials, such as:
- Exclusive tickets to concerts, Broadway shows, or athletic events
- Popular technology like new smartphones, smart watches, and TVs
- Vacation packages—travel-related items tend to be best-sellers at auction!
Because silent auctions usually feature a wide range of items, you don’t need to design a full auction catalog as you would for a live auction that includes fewer, higher-value goods. However, you can effectively highlight a few of your most valuable silent auction items by creating a shorter PDF booklet, which you can link to on your website and in marketing emails.
5. Acknowledge Your Event Sponsors
Partnering with for-profit businesses can help your nonprofit offset costs for many fundraising events. Auctions particularly benefit from corporate sponsorships because sponsors can provide items for free or at reduced costs in addition to financial support. Your corporate partners can also help spread the word about your auction through word of mouth, and their customers may be interested in attending.
For a sponsorship to succeed, it needs to be mutually beneficial. In exchange for a business’s support, your nonprofit can provide them with free advertising. Include your sponsors’ logos in your marketing materials, on the signs at your event venue, and on the bid sheet for each auction item they contributed. Doing so not only increases brand recognition for the business but also helps you recognize and thank sponsors for making your auction possible.
The key to fundraising event promotion is to spread the word early and often, and silent auctions are no exception. Segmenting your audience and developing a data-driven, multi-channel marketing campaign are general best practices in nonprofit event marketing. Promoting an auction effectively also requires that you pay special attention to the way you feature your auction items and recognize the sponsors who provide them.