Conducting Silent Auctions – An Overview 

Fundraisers for charity have not been passing through the best of times in recent years. The main events such as auctions, gala dinners, movie shows, and such others that required a lot of people to be confined in a space have mostly been banned by most countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Add strict social distancing norms to the mix and you have a scenario that nightmares are made of when it comes to raising funds for charity.  

Fortunately, filling this vacuum has been silent auctions which have kept the main objective in place of fundraising through auctions without the physical proximity of often hundreds of people packed into a small venue. But before going into the mode of bidding and the conduct of silent auctions, a quick look and comparison into the auctions that have come down through the ages and the new avatar will be in order.

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Traditional auctions

These events are a lot of fun and excitement not to talk about competitive and often fierce bidding. The items for auction are brought from the donors and sponsoring merchants and displayed for verification by the attendees at the venue. The auctions are conducted by an auctioneer with a paddle who goads the participants to bid higher and higher. In general, there is a lot of bonhomie around and regular visitors to these auctions become like a part of one big family. The auctions are a very important part of the social calendar and very looked-forward-to events by the regulars – both the organizers and the donors to charity. But then came the Covid-19 pandemic and turned things on their head.

Silent auctions

Silent auctions are precisely what the name suggests – auctions where the bidding is done silently and all the participants keep their peace and maintain social distance from one another. As in traditional auctions, the items here are displayed on tables in a hall and the participants inspect them before placing the bids. There is not much interaction amongst the participants and no auctioneer conducts the proceedings.

Instead, in front of every item on the table, there is a printed sheet with ten to fifteen rows where the bidders write their offers. At the end of the auction, the winners are declared, the payment received and the items are shipped. 

The main difference between the usual events and silent auctions is the duration of the program. The older type of auctions is more hectic with a sense of urgency to finish the proceedings the same day depending of course on the number of items being put up. But it is rare for traditional auctions to last for more than a couple of days or three at the most as the auctioneer and the organizers have to contend with the specific booking of the venue. 

Silent auctions, on the other hand, are more laid-back affairs. Since there is no auctioneer to hasten the proceedings, the participants take their time to inspect the goods and place their bids. If the auction is held through bidding sheets it does not usually last more than one or two days. However, it is not uncommon for silent auctions to run through a week if the bidding process is restricted to online only. 

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Bidding at Silent Auctions

There are two types of bidding at silent auctions.

The first has been sketchily discussed above and goes something like this. In front of every item displayed is a sheet of paper with rows where the bids are written by the participants. When the auction is declared closed, the highest bidder is declared the winner. Payment is made at the venue and it is usually the responsibility of the winner to take the item along. 

While the process appears simple, the downside is that it is quite slow as the bidders can take their own time to place their numbers without any auctioneer goading them on. For such an auction to be successful, the attendees must work unitedly to quicken the process. Because of this laid-back attitude of the participants, the average final bids are generally not high.

The other type of bidding at silent auctions is through any Internet-enabled device like smartphone, laptop, or tablet. This convenience of this bidding has boosted the popularity of silent auctions today and more than adequately filled the fall of traditional auctions caused by restrictions on movement and physical gatherings in closed venues. 

As in typical silent auctions with paper sheets, the participants inspect the items displayed at the venues to decide on those that interest them. But there any similarity ends. The bidder uses a device to place the bids from anywhere after completing the initial verification. Hence, the venue is never crowded with attendees. Once a bid is crossed by another participant, a notification is sent to the last bidder who can either place a higher bid or let it go.

The advantage here is that a participant need not be present at the venue and can bid while doing some other work. Further, the bidder does not have to be glued to the hand-held device at all times during the duration of the silent auctions. A maximum bid may be set and the bidder will only be informed for further advice when that amount is reached by the others. The bidding software used during mobile bidding at silent auctions takes care of the whole process. 

As against paper bidding, the numbers reached in mobile bidding are higher, making it profitable for organizers. This is primarily because of the convenience of bidding on the go and participants become more involved in the silent auctions. 

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