A Guide to the Charity Silent Auction Technology Makeover

MobiulBid on screen

Five features fundraisers love about today’s charity silent auctions.

Charity silent auctions have been a mainstay of modern fundraising for decades. As popular as they are, anyone who has ever been involved agrees that silent auctions of any size are a lot of work, require astute planning, tight organization, and an army of volunteers to ensure the event is a success.

We’re talking live event silent auctions, not to be confused with Internet-based online auctions that all mimic eBay.

Like most things in the information age, the technology revolution has caught up with the silent auction and in a whirlwind of innovation, removed the tedium, added excitement, glammed the process and put the power of success at the fingertips of the organizers and the excitement in the hands of the bidders.

So, let’s take a closer look at five areas where technology has forever changed the silent auction protocol and how you can harness these changes to star in your own success story.

1) Organization and Management

No matter the size of the auction, it is still necessary to gather worthwhile items. Committee members can canvas local merchants, corporations, and patrons or alternately contact a myriad of companies that can source any type of item – fine art, sports memorabilia, travel, dining, and personal experience. Special software now allows you or your event organizer to design your auction online, in most cases with images, full descriptions and pre-set opening bids. This reduces up front time and eliminates the expense of a printed catalog while letting you add or remove items up to the very last minute. Auction items should still be displayed but hold the bid sheets and the pencils.

2) Check-in and Sign-up

Now you can forget the confusion at check-in. If you have found a provider or a program that permits bidders to use their own smartphones – marrying software technology with the popularity of mobility – guests simply register through email, an SMS prompt or short code. Accessing the auction this way makes check-in easy. Collecting credit card information along with name and contact details, provides the administrator with important data stored for later use. Some event planners arrange for attendants with tablets to assist guests who don’t have Internet access.

3) Increased Bidding

Once signed in, guests can review items, build favourite lists and place opening or maximum bids. Bidders are notified immediately if they are outbid and can respond with a keystroke…from anywhere. (Perfect for golf events.) Mobile bidding replaces the scramble to check bid sheets and jostling to markdown re-bids with a quick, seamless response that encourages friendly competition and increased bidding.

Mobile silent auctions provide multiple administrative options and a much better guest experience. More recent platforms include the option to sell multi items at a fixed price and the popular “Fund-a-Cause” feature.

Many programs offer a leader board function that previews auction items then tracks the bidding as well as providing an opportunity to publicly recognize volunteers and thank sponsors.

4) End on a High Note!

As they say, “It’s all fun and games until it’s over.” When it’s over at conventional silent auctions the closing usually triggers a mad rush. Organizers hurry to collect and tally bid sheets, figure out the total by winner and then scramble to generate invoices, find the winners, and decide on a payment method.

This is the number one pitfall you want to avoid at all costs…and now you can. Make sure the system you choose offers an automatic running total of commitments by bidder and instant invoicing at close. Letting you at the end of the evening with a few simple keystrokes, send detailed invoices to each winner’s phone within minutes of closing.

While we can’t speak for all systems…the platform we offer allows guests this time-saving feature combined with the ability to pay from their phones using a secure mobile payment system. The proceeds go straight into the organizers account. Once the invoice is paid, each winner is issued a receipt used to pick up the merchandise. The event closes in minutes rather than hours and even the volunteers get home on time.

Lately we’ve discovered an increasing number of people…in some cases up to 90%… using the mobile payment option.

A new MobilBid features asks guests to enter their credit card information as they place their first bid. When the auction closers, all the winners’ cards are processed, and detailed receipts are sent to the winning bidders used to retrieve their items. No more chasing guests for payment months after the event.

And as for results, one client recently compared two similar events held a year apart. The first event used pencil and paper. A year later the same event, with about the same number and type of items and guests – using our platform saw a revenue increase of just over 78%.

We can’t promise that to all our clients, but it’s not un-common to have increases of 35 to 50%, while some clients have doubled their expectations.

5) Bonus Feature

As a bonus, a few systems store bidding analytics with guest name and contact information for future planning. Handy for your next auction.

There’s a variety of silent auction programs on the market and a lot of them make your job easier, bring value to your efforts and improve results. If you are looking for a supplier for your next auction, ask for references and be sure they can deliver their service in Canada.


Dale Carter is the Director of New Business MobilBid at NDI, a privately-owned technology company based in Toronto, Canada focussing on the academic and non-profit markets. MobilBid is Canada’s only full-featured mobile bidding platform designed and engineered in Canada for non-profits both large and small.