Nonprofits are always looking for ways to diversify their revenue and engage their donors in new and exciting ways. By hosting an auction, you can gather your supporters together and offer them a thrilling event in which they can support your cause and potentially take home a prize.

While many charitable organizations have traditionally held live auctions, silent auctions are extremely versatile to in-person, virtual, or hybrid formats. Without the pressure of live bidding, they’re also less intimidating for attendees, encouraging more people to show up and contribute to your mission.

One of the most important elements of any silent auction is your bid sheets. These forms act as the roadmap to silent auctions and allow bidders to submit their bids with ease.

On your bid sheets, you’ll want to answer as many bidder questions as possible upfront and collect useful information from your supporters, so it’s important that you get them right. In this guide, we’ll provide five tips to help you design successful bid sheets that enhance your nonprofit’s silent auction experience.

This image shows five strategies for successful bid sheet design, as outlined in the text below.

1. Choose a clear and professional layout.

Start off by using a bid sheet template for a clean, easy-to-follow design. Having a consistent layout for all your bid sheets adds an extra sense of cohesiveness to your event materials and sets your silent auction up for success.

When developing your template, make sure it includes:

  • A bold, legible font
  • Headers or titles for each section
  • Sufficient spacing between each section
  • Fields for all important information, such as contact information and item details

Keep your bid sheet template simple so attendees can effortlessly skim it and understand how the bidding process works. If you need help customizing your template, reach out to a nonprofit graphic designer for assistance.

2. Incorporate your branding.

Branding should be a part of all event materials, and your bid sheets are no different. Make it clear that your bid sheets are associated with your nonprofit’s event with branded elements. That way, you can maintain brand awareness and keep your cause top of mind for donors throughout the event.

To fully incorporate your nonprofit’s branding into your bid sheets, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Include your logo. Your logo is perhaps the most recognizable aspect of your brand. Place it at the top of your bid sheets to catch attendees’ attention and remind them who they’re supporting.
  • Use your color scheme. After your logo, your nonprofit’s color scheme is the next most important element for brand recognition. While more subtle than your logo, your organization’s colors will invoke a sense of familiarity for your supporters and allow your bid sheets to match your other event marketing materials.
  • Add your mission statement. The essence of your nonprofit’s brand is your mission. It’s crucial to remind donors where their funds will go so they’re focused on the true purpose of the event. Condense your mission into a simple statement that will fit on your bid sheets. For example, a children’s hospital may write, “This silent auction’s proceeds will touch the lives of sick children and help us fund lifesaving treatment.”

Before you put your bid sheets to use, consider testing different options with a focus group within your organization. You may experiment with different logo placement, color and font usage, and mission statement variations. Then, ask the group which bid sheet they think most effectively showcases your nonprofit’s branding and values.

3. Describe each item in detail.

Besides supporting your mission, bidders will attend your silent auction for the chance to take home amazing new items. Winspire’s silent auction item ideas guide presents a variety of items you might procure, from luxury hotel stays to cooking classes to signed memorabilia.

With all of these amazing items up for grabs, you’ll need to describe each item in detail to help attendees decide which ones they should place their bids on. Make sure your bid sheets include the following details about each item:

  • A specific title. While the items available likely speak for themselves, you can add clarity to each item by tacking on a descriptive title. For example, Double the Donation recommends naming a vacation package “5 Night Getaway in Maui for 2” instead of “A Trip to Hawaii” so bidders know exactly what they’re bidding on from the get-go. You may also choose a more creative title such as “Aloha Adventure: 5 Nights in Paradise” that’s both descriptive and attention-grabbing.
  • Everything included in the item. An item like the vacation package described above isn’t truly a singular item. This package may include airline tickets, hotel stays, excursions, and meals. Ensure you list everything that each bundled item encompasses so participants are aware of the full value of each package before bidding.
  • Restrictions on the item’s use. Let’s say this Hawaii vacation package is only valid for specific travel dates, excluding all major holidays. This restriction is important to note so that bidders can decide whether they’d still like the item. Other item restrictions may include gift certificate expiration dates, location-specific items, and additional costs.

To standardize your item descriptions, consider including an item chart on your bid sheets that includes a small image of each item and accompanying information. This chart will allow bidders to easily compare and contrast different items, which will help them decide which items they’d most like to bid on.

4. Highlight your sponsors.

Your sponsors are essential to making your event happen. These businesses make procuring auction items easy and allow your nonprofit to save on event costs.

To reciprocate the support they’ve shown you, make sure to highlight your sponsors on your bid sheets. Next to each item description, add a statement of who donated each item. For example, you may write, “Our sponsor Top Pizza Shop donated this cooking class. They are among the best restaurants in the area, and we’re grateful for their continued support.”

This acknowledgment shows that you appreciate your sponsors and want to build mutually beneficial relationships with them. For best results, look to secure sponsorships with companies whose values align with yours. That way, it’s easy to develop a continuous partnership that benefits both parties.

5. Offer a variety of bidding options.

To increase engagement, make it as convenient as possible for attendees to submit their bids and participate in your auction. Include the following pieces of information on your bid sheets to guide participants’ bidding decisions:

  • Starting bid amount. Do your research to determine an appropriate starting bid amount for each item. Most auction hosts will find the fair market value of the item and start the bidding at 30-50% of that cost.
  • Minimum bid increment. It’s standard to set a minimum bid increment of 10% of the item’s fair market value. That way, you keep the momentum of the bidding process going.
  • “Buy now” option. If a bidder is particularly excited about an item, they might be tempted to purchase it on the spot. Allow them to do so with a “buy now” option priced at 150-200% of the item’s fair market value.

Remember to also accept a variety of payment methods, including cash, credit, debit, check, or online payment, to increase the chances that winning bidders will check out efficiently.

With an effective bid sheet design, you can increase participant engagement and earn even more for your cause. Don’t forget to leverage the contact information you’ve collected to thank bidders for participating—regardless of whether they took home an item—to ensure they feel appreciated for their support.