You might be tempted to include every item at your disposal in your silent auction. However, the old hand-made quilt knitted a half-century ago that has since been stored in mothballs— you know, the ones that have an aroma that lingers—may not be the best fit.
Your silent auction items need to not only align with your audience’s interests but also be things that guests can’t easily buy anywhere else. For young professionals, think adventurous guided tours of local hiking trails; for families with children, think Disney, local museums, zoos, movies; for sports fanatics, think game tickets or signed memorabilia. The harder to purchase elsewhere, the better.
Check out the following list of silent auction item ideas to begin brainstorming for your next event. We’ve split the list up by audience to help narrow your search. Then, we’ll cover five tips to help you secure the items you choose.
Let’s dive in.
40+ Silent Auction Items Most Likely to Sell
Silent Auction Item Ideas for Sports Fans
Hard-to-Get Game Tickets
Standard game tickets located in an okay, but not outstanding, area of the stadium aren’t likely to pull many bids. However, the best seats in the house (perhaps seats that are always sold out) paired with a parking pass and stadium meals are likely to be a bigger draw.
Your organization could also secure tickets to “once-in-a-lifetime” sporting events— such as the Super Bowl, NBA Playoffs, The Masters, or popular events like The 16th Hole at the Phoenix Open. Again, you’ll want to pair these with airfare and hotel accommodations to ramp up the value even further.
Leveraging connections is key here. For example, if you might have a connection with someone who has season tickets, you could ask them to donate their tickets to one of the more popular games for a good cause.
Meet & Greet
As a sports fan, how often do you get to meet with one of your idols and discuss the game you both love? For most people, the answer is never!
This is somewhat contingent on your charity having an already-exisiting connection with a local athlete. So, turn to your team— do any of your board members, staff members, or volunteers know an athlete personally? Ask that team member to make the ask!
Ride on the Zamboni
When you’re watching a hockey game at home, the time between periods is generally low-excitement— sports commentators will discuss the game and you’ll watch too many commercials. In the arena, however? That’s when the Zamboni takes center stage.
Hockey fans know that the Zamboni is a large vehicle that smooths any impurities on the ice between periods. It’s a (fairly) slow-moving process, making it safe enough for spectators to join in on the fun. If you have a connection to a local AHL (or NHL!) team, ask them if you can auction off a ride on the Zamboni at their next home game.
If you can’t secure a meet and greet with a top player, signed memorabilia is a great alternative!
While you can go to a sports team and ask them to donate signed items, you likely won’t be able to choose the items you get and you’re unlikely to get particularly eye-catching items. These teams simply get too many requests to give every charity an Elway jersey or Manning helmet!
Consider going to an online sports memorabilia auction house like Pristine Auction and finding a desirable item that your nonprofit can purchase for a reasonable price to auction off. This idea only works if you would expect to make at least double what you pay for it!
You’ll only want to auction off items that have a certificate of authenticity from either the sports team itself or a reputable source, such as Beckett, PSA, or JSA. If you purchase the item from a reputable provider like Pristine Auction, items will come with this certificate.
Silent Auction Item Ideas for Music & Arts Fans
For this item, turn to your local arts or history museum to see if they’d be interested in donating a few tickets to an upcoming exhibit.
This item is especially impactful when it comes to traveling exhibits that frequently sell out when they come to town— for example, “Van Gogh Exhibition: The Immersive Experience” or the traveling presidential portraits. If the exhibit is sold out in your area, but you have the final two tickets up for auction, it’s sure to draw in the bids.
Concert or Comedy Show Tickets
If you have any upcoming concerts, traveling broadway performances, or comedy shows rolling through town, tickets for those events make great auction items.
Similar to the game tickets, find a creative way to make this auction item stand out from the standard tickets that guests could purchase elsewhere. For example, maybe you auction off suite tickets in the venue or include a meet-and-greet event with the performer before or after the show. The meet and greet aspect will likely either require purchasing some sort of VIP package to auction off or leveraging any existing connections you have (if any) with the artist or promoter.
Think of your favorite musicians. Perhaps you’re a Guns N’ Roses fan, a Yo-Yo Ma fan, or a Fleetwood Mac fan. Wouldn’t it be cool to win a signed guitar from Slash, cello from Yo-Yo Ma, or tambourine from Stevie Nicks?
Yes! If a musician is known to sign instruments, there’s a good chance you can find it online (similar to the sports memorabilia auction mentioned in a previous section). However, you’ll want to be especially careful to ensure you’re auctioning off an item that is real and certified as authentic by a reputable source.
Oftentimes, cities or regions will have locally famous artists who are known for creating art that features the area itself. For example, maybe for your area, this is a local street artist (a la Banksy) or a local landscape painter who has depicted your town’s skyline beautifully.
Consider asking them to create a one-of-a-kind art piece that celebrates your area (or your cause more generally, if you’re not located in a single area) and donating it to be auctioned off. Or, even if you have to purchase the art from the artist, it could be worth it for bidders to purchase the piece made just for your event!
This idea involves coordinating a collaboration project between a local artist and someone who is helped by your cause— for example, a child who has cancer creating art for a nonprofit that benefits cancer research.
The two people work together to make an art piece before the event and the art is auctioned off during the event. You’d be surprised; these pieces often go for really high bidding prices when guests are passionate about your mission!
Silent Auction Items for School Auctions
Education-related silent auction items are ideal for school auctions ranging from Pre-K to universities. These auctions are most often scheduled by PTO/PTA or alumni organizations, and you’ll want to feature items that appeal to students or parents of students, depending on who will be attending.
These silent auction items can be best grouped into two categories: class baskets and in-school experiences.
Class baskets are usually assembled by the different classes in a school. Generally, each class picks a theme, students contribute some money (for example $10 to $20), and the teacher does the shopping and assembles the themed basket.
Here are a few popular ideas:
School Spirit Gear Basket
Stuff a basket full of school spirit gear, including jerseys, hats, bumper stickers, t-shirts, pom-poms, coffee mugs, and more.
College Rivals Basket
Pit two classrooms against one another, with each class creating a basket that is themed for one half of a popular college rivalry (i.e. Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, University of Michigan vs. Michigan State, etc.). Then, the two classes can battle it out to see which team “wins” by getting the most bids!
Book Lovers Basket
This basket would contain books as well as memorabilia that book lovers would appreciate (think bookmarks, reading lights, etc.).
Consider giving this basket a theme, such as children’s classics, mystery novels, or even cookbooks. You could focus all of your class baskets around books, and give each classroom a specific genre to feature!
Test Prep Basket
This is a valuable basket for college-bound students who are facing the ACT and SAT. This basket could include helpful study materials, such as noise-canceling headphones and study prep books.
One way to truly make this basket stand out is to partner with a local test prep company and include a spot in their next test prep classes. Because the most widely sought out test and college prep consultants often are booked well in advance, this could be a hot-ticket item for parents who want to set their child up for success.
School experiences generally involve giving a student (or parent) special privileges for one day or an extended period. These privileges improve their school experience. This includes ideas such as:
Principal for a Day
This gives one lucky student the opportunity to be the principal of your school for a day.
Give them a lanyard and name tag and allow them to trail the principal, experiencing everything from morning announcements to leading assemblies to eating lunch with the esteemed authority figure themself.
Pull the Fire Alarm
This auction item is the only chance that students will have to pull the fire alarm at school (legally, at least). Essentially, you’ll auction off the opportunity for a student to pull the alarm as part of the school’s next fire drill practice. It’s harmless fun!
School graduations— specifically Kindergarten and 6th grade— are hot-ticket events. Consider auctioning off front-row seats to the event for parents who want to be in the perfect position to capture pictures of the big event.
First in Line at Carpool Pickup
If you have small children, have you spent thirty minutes to an hour waiting in the after-school car pickup line? Or, rushed to get there thirty minutes before dismissal so you didn’t have to wait too long? If so, you understand the horror that is the after-school pickup line.
This item gives parents a special spot in the carpool pickup line, like a reserved parking space right by the entrance of the school. It’s basically the golden ticket for parents who want to eat dinner at a reasonable hour.
Silent Auction Items for Families with Younger Children
Theme Park Tickets
This could be tickets to a local theme park or water park, along the lines of Six Flags/Schlitterbahn/Cedar Point, or you could go all-out and get tickets to one of the Disney or Universal parks.
Remember that theme park tickets, alone, can be easily purchased outside of your auction. Aim to get at least 4 tickets and bundle in a hotel room, flights, some restaurant coupons, or access to in-demand and often sold-out experiences (such as brunches with the princesses at Disney) to make it a full vacation.
Movie Theatre Rental
This item works best when there’s a blockbuster movie on the horizon— such as an upcoming Marvel flick or the next Frozen.
Essentially, the winner of this item gets to rent out a screen in a movie theatre for a private showing of an upcoming release. They can invite their friends and family to join in on the fun and perhaps even access unlimited popcorn and drinks as well.
Movie Night Baskets
A movie night basket is perfect for families who want to bond together but not have to interact with the general public while doing so.
This basket can include things like movie theatre snacks (popcorn, candy, soda), Blu-ray copies of popular family movies, a year-long streaming service subscription like Disney+, and comfy items (blankets, slippers, etc.) Tailor the items to the age group you’re targeting— the movies that elementary school students will enjoy will differ from those of high school students or young adults.
If you have children, have you ever wished that you could stop time, even for just a moment? Unfortunately, you can’t auction off a time machine that freezes kids in their adorable younger years… but you can auction off a family portrait painting session with a local esteemed artist.
This item is a slightly more precious keepsake than a straightforward photoshoot, and many families may not think to sit for a painted portrait otherwise.
Children’s Museum Tickets
If your community has a children’s museum of some sort, consider putting together a package where you auction off a family set of tickets, parking, and a meal at a local restaurant! Or, considering these types of museums are generally hands-on and packed with kids all trying to experience the exhibits at once, you could auction off an hour or two in the museum before it opens to the public— giving exclusive access to everything before the spot gets busy for the day.
With this item, parents access a full day of entertainment and learning for their family, without having to coordinate any of the pesky details themselves.
Silent Auction Ideas for Gift Baskets
Game Night Basket
This basket is perfect for the competitive guests in your midst— those who break into a full interpretive dance for Charades and contemplate getting a finance degree to win in Monopoly.
For this basket, include a wide range of board games that would work for various group sizes. For example, Sequence and Cribbage are great for two-person game nights, while Twister, Pictionary, and Codenames are fun for larger groups. You can also include snacks, notepads for keeping track of the game night winners, and other fun enhancements. Remember to align the games with your audience. You probably wouldn’t want to include a game like Cards Against Humanity for an elementary school auction, for example.
“Strike It Rich” Basket
This basket is perfect for auction guests who want to test their luck and see if they can leave your auction with more money than they walked into it with.
Include lottery tickets and a range of scratch-off tickets. The main value in this basket is in the unknown— the guest who purchases this basket could win big or they could win nothing at all. With that in mind, include a few additional items such as chocolate “gold” coins and a poker set with cards.
A grillmaster basket is perfect for guests at your auction who know how to operate a grill or smoker… without catching the house on fire.
In this basket, include charcoal and matches, basic meat seasonings and more specialized rubs/marinades, barbeque sauce, and basic tools (tongs, meat thermometer, heat-safe gloves, knives, cutting board, grill scrubber, skewers, etc.). Winners should be able to “just add meat” to the basket and be able to bring their summer cooking dreams to life.
Have you ever watched a bartender create a specialized drink, thought “It can’t be that hard,” and then tried to recreate it at home? Did your personal creation turn out well, or did it turn into a totally non-drinkable, potentially toxic combination of alcohol and juice? Turns out, it is that hard.
Mixology is a skill just like any other, and your mixology basket should give winners all of the tools they need to learn it. A book of cocktail recipes, mixer drinks, a mixology set (a shaker, muddler, strainer, etc.), and cocktail glasses are a great start for this basket.
Local Sampler Basket
How long have you lived in your area? If you’ve lived there for a while, have you visited all of the local restaurants and shops? If you’re like many people, you might have a hometown bucket list that you swear you’ll get to, but then rarely actually work on.
With a local sampler basket, you can include items that empower the winner to be a tourist in their own town. For example, gift cards to restaurants, baked goods from bakeries, coffee beans from local roasters, and so forth— each an item pulled from the best local spots in your area.
Tailgating / SuperFan Basket
A tailgating basket is perfect for auction guests who never miss a game and willingly show up hours in advance to get the same tailgating spot that they’ve been parked in year after year. You could create a general tailgating basket, or take it a step further to make a SuprFan basket that includes merch for a specific sports team.
This basket can include items such as a crockpot, folding chairs (or even chair pads for uncomfortable stadium seating), team merch (hats, jerseys, bumper stickers, car flags, etc.), snacks, activities (horseshoes, footballs, cornhole, etc.), bug spray, first aid supplies, and more.
Bonus! The Handbid team put together a list of creative ideas for auction baskets (and a ton of creative names to go along with them). Check out our list of silent auction basket names if you’re ready to get more creative than the standard wine-and-dine date night.
Seasonal Silent Auction Items
Ski Lift Passes
For people who enjoy skiing, snowboarding, or even some particularly exciting sledding, ski lift tickets are an essential part of a successful winter vacation. However, not only are lift tickets expensive, but they can often sell out during peak season. So, you might end up traveling to a mountain resort for three days only to spend the entire time enjoying apres-ski activities without the skiing.
Take this item to the next level by making it a bundle. For example, pair lift tickets with a 3 day stay at a local ski resort or even a one-on-one lesson with one of the resort’s resident ski/snowboard instructors.
Reserved Seating at a Community Event
Whether they’re for Fourth of July fireworks, a New Year’s Eve countdown, or even a holiday tree lighting, the events hosted in your community are probably hot ticket experiences. And, if you’ve ever shown up to July Fourth fireworks two hours early to get the “best” seats— only to walk away with too many mosquito bites to count— you can understand the appeal of reserved seating at these events.
Auction off a roped-off seating area at your town’s top events. Consider bundling this with reserved parking to provide a truly premium experience.
Holiday Decorating Services
There are two types of people in this world: those who take down their holiday decorations on December 26th, and those who receive a “friendly” reminder from their homeowners’ association about mid-way through January, ensuring those external lights are taken down in a timely manner.
Regardless of which type you or your guests relate to (no judgment here!), there’s no denying that putting up and taking down winter holiday decorations can be a drag. Auction off exterior holiday decorating services and the lucky winner can leave the balancing precariously on ladders and handling of glass bulbs to the professionals. Another twist on this is Christmas tree-related services— delivering the tree before the season and picking it up and recycling it after the fact.
Muscle for Hire Packages
Similar to holiday decorating in the winter, many people are completing home projects in the spring as part of spring cleaning. Consider auctioning off muscle-for-hire services— this could cover lawn mowing and weeding, moving large furniture, or even hauling items out of an attic.
Unique Silent Auction Items
Fly the Flag
Most public buildings and schools have a few flag poles, often flying the U.S. flag and the relevant state flag. With this item, the winner gets to choose a flag to fly alongside those two— for example, the flag for their alma mater.
Local Tour Tickets
This item is similar to the “Local Sampler Basket” mentioned in an earlier section. However, instead of giving winning bidders a basket of items, they get tickets to all of the hottest attractions in town.
It’s fairly easy to go online and purchase tickets to your local museum, aquarium, or zoo and make a reservation at a local restaurant. However, there are often special experiences (think: petting dolphins, viewing traveling exhibits, etc.) that have timed visitation and sell out fairly quickly. For this auction item, you’ll want to plot out an entire day of local tour activities down to the hour, and specifically focus on those hard-to-get experiences. The biggest benefit of winning this is that all of the planning is handled!
Streaming Services Basket
At this point, many people have “cut the cord” and rely on streaming services for TV access. Consider creating a streaming basket that includes a one-year subscription to multiple streaming services.
The main benefit of this basket is that winners won’t need to coordinate and subscribe to all of the streaming services themselves!
Rare Wine or Bourbon
For many people, their knowledge of wine or bourbon ends with “pairs well with steak/seafood/Italian/etc.“ That’s not necessarily who you’re targeting with this auction item.
Do your research to hunt down rare (i.e. hard for even the most skilled shoppers) wine or bourbon and auction it off at your event. Chances are that true collectors will pay well over the market rate to add the bottles to their collections!
Fine Dining Experience
We’ve mentioned that it’s generally easy to book a restaurant reservation. So, rather than simply auctioning off a booked reservation and paid meal at a fine dining establishment, go the whole nine yards by auctioning off a full experience.
Ask the restaurant’s executive chef to host a one-of-a-kind dining experience during which they present each meal and walk the guests through how each course came to life.
Personal Assistant for a Day
Let’s face it— when was the last time that you actually made it to the end of your “to-do” list for the day? If you’re like many people, you might carry a few items into tomorrow, and then the next day, and beyond.
What if you could hire someone for one day to take your “to-dos” down to zero? It would be well worth the price, right? Auction off this experience and allow someone to purchase the services of a personal assistant for one day.
How To Get Items for Your Silent Auction
You have a list of ideas, now it’s time to go out into the world and procure them!
Can you simply take your list of ideas into a local business/sports arena/restaurant and ask them to donate out of the blue? Sure, but you’re going to need to be strategic to actually be successful.
Consider these five tips to get items for your charity auction.
Tip #1: Acquire items across a broad price range.
Let’s face it, not every bidder in your auction can afford the $1,000 necklace. Make sure that when you are acquiring donations, you accumulate items with a wide price range. After all, a big part of any successful silent auction is engaging participants. If these attendees don’t see any items within their interests or price range, they won't be interested in bidding. So don’t toss those $25 and $50 donations just yet!
Beyond acquiring items across a broad price range to make sure everyone can get involved, you also need to know your audience and what they’d be interested in. If most of your guests are older (think: in their 50’s or 60’s) and have grown children, Disney and children’s museum excursions are going to be less popular than rare wines and river cruises in Germany. On the other hand, if your guests are mostly young families with children, numerous late-night (read: not child-friendly) events should be substituted for activities that the whole family can participate in.
Tip #2: Make item procurement a team effort!
Brainstorm and organize possible sources of donations with your planning committee and draft them as solicitors. Each of your committees should explore their personal networks to identify potential donations.
If you have a particular business in mind for a donation, identify the best individual you know to request the donation. This is usually the easiest path to acquiring necessary donations. After all, business owners get contacted constantly for donations. So, while your cause may be meaningful to you, it may not be to them. You can circumvent that problem by having someone the business owner knows (even a loyal customer) ask on your behalf.
Tip #3: Communicate the impact of your event to donors.
When you request a donation, convey your event’s purpose. While the donor may not empathize with your cause at the level you do, they will be more likely to donate if they feel their donation is making some sort of impact. So briefly explain or show them what you do. If this auction supports a cause that helps disabled children, show them a picture or take one of your constituents with you (if you can).
Even further, recognize that the biggest incentive for a local business to donate is the positive reputation boost that comes with being philanthropic. With increased emphasis on corporate social responsibility, businesses want customers to see them as generous for donating to the cause. Communicate how the event can generate positive publicity for the donating business.
Tip #4: Don’t be stingy with your gratitude.
Potential donors are not obligated to give to your event. Whether the donation is seen as “big” or “small” by your organization, recognize that it’s a meaningful gift from the donor and express gratitude accordingly.
There are a number of ways to thank these donors for their gifts. A handwritten letter, phone call, face-to-face conversation, or conversation— each will work well as long as it’s personal and authentic.
Beyond that, consider inviting donors to the event itself. This will strengthen the relationship between the donor and your organization, allow them to see the impact of their gift, and give them the opportunity to connect with guests even further (drawing back to the idea of donating being a positive marketing opportunity for donors).
Tip #5: Set your items up for success.
Alright, so you’ve acquired top-notch auction items. But, they’re not receiving the bids you expected. Where’s the disconnect?
It’s probably how your items are displayed.
For example, if you have an in-person silent auction with outdated bidding practices (read: bid sheets), you might have groups of people crowding around items to view them, see the latest bids, and determine if they need to up their offer. This prevents other guests from placing bids and can generally clog up your auction, making it hard to see items.
Or, if you’re hosting a virtual silent auction without effective software, it might be hard for guests to find items and place bids, to begin with.
It’s up to you to position your carefully-curated items for success. With Handbid’s mobile bidding software, you can:
- Empower guests to interact with your auction, view items (full description and photos), and place bids using their mobile phones from anywhere.
- Go paperless— no more crowding around bid sheets or worse, hoping guests don’t steal them and hide them from other bidders (it happens).
- Send push notifications and text alerts to let guests know when they’ve been outbid, giving them the chance to counterbid.
The result? Guests can conveniently peruse your offerings and bid competitively. They’ll have a better experience overall and you’ll see revenue rise as a result.
The items you choose for your auction can make or break the event. Focus on choosing items that are both interesting for your audience and hard for them to get otherwise. That’s the formula for securing high-demand, bid-generating silent auction items.
To continue exploring the world of nonprofit silent auctions, check out the following additional resources:
- Top Silent Auction Rules for Your Nonprofit’s Next Event. Admittedly, silent auction rules are more guidelines than set in stone. But, they're still important! Explore the top "rules" to implement at your next auction here.
- Charity Auctions: The Ultimate Guide [+ Software Tips]. Whether you're new to planning charity auctions or looking to polish your processes, check out this guide.
- Charity Auction Sites: 8+ Best Software Providers Reviewed. Which provider should you partner with for your next charity auction? This list of providers is the perfect place to start your research.