How many gala and event coordinators have struggled with this question?
While opinions are varied on the subject, here’s my recommendation: close the silent auction when people are done bidding! 😉
OK, that sounds simple, but it’s really a targeted statement. Most of my clients these days use electronic bidding platforms for their events (and I recommend that option to almost everyone). That option affords the opportunity, among other things, to offer early absentee bidding, and remote bidding as well, on silent auction items. I’ve often recommended adding items to the silent auction bidding page as soon as they come in, and use those items to create more interest in the silent auction during pre-event publicity. I’d recommend having items available for up to a month ahead of the event date.
If we assume that ALL items have been promoted and available for bidding for at least a week, then we culminate in the close of the silent auction at the specified time at the event, and attendees and absentee bidders have had sufficient time to view, and bid on, the items. My suggestion of when to close is when you’ve diverted the crowd’s attention AWAY from the silent auction, shut it down. If it’s a sit-down dinner event, keep the silent auction open through dinner. You might even have a “Super-Silent” group of items that stays open until even after the auction and ‘ask’, giving bidders another opportunity to buy items, but the majority of the silent auction is over.
How about closing in sections? By doing so, you help generate visibility for the silent auction, as your MC or Auctioneer will be announcing silent auction closings throughout the cocktail reception and dinner. Closing in sections is usually best done by value, rather than by category.
Previous thinking among auction and industry leaders was that all silent auction items must be closed before the ‘ask’, giving those bidders who didn’t win anything the opportunity to make a donation in the ‘ask’ portion. However, a recent study in the northwest U.S. showed that a bidder who bids in the silent or live auction isn’t necessarily an individual who is going to make a donation in the ‘ask’. It’s two different types of attendees, one gives out of the goodness of their heart (or their connection to the mission), and the other wants to bid/compete/win.
Bottom line is, for a weekend evening event, ALL your fundraising activities (silent auction, live auction, ‘ask’, raffle sales, etc.) should be completed no later than 10pm, and guests should be able to complete check-out at that time. For a weekday event, the target completion hour is 9pm. Sure, other portions of the program can continue later- bands, comedians, dancing, etc., but make sure your bidders and givers can complete checkout by the hours mentioned above.
Usually, if the silent auction lasts into the dancing/general frivolity portion of the evening, no further bids will be generated, and you’re just prolonging checkout. Also, be reminded that people tend to bid at the last minute; more bids are generated in the last 30 minutes of a well-publicized and well-organized auction, so people will often bid at the last minute, whenever you tell them that ‘last minute’ is.
Making a call on-the-fly to extend a silent auction is usually not going to help much, and usually indicates either a) a lack of desirable items, or b) an inefficient job of directing attendees to participate. In either case, extending the auction 30 minutes because there’s not much bidding is just prolonging the agony. Stay on schedule, and get to the live auction and ask, where your professional auctioneer will generate more proceeds anyway! 😉