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How to Price Silent Auction Items: Maximize Revenue in 2024

At a Glance

  • Calculate fair market value by retail price, comparable events, and item appeal
  • Set your starting bids at 40-50% of FMV with buy-now options at 150-200%
  • Set your bidding increments at 10% of your item's FMV

Determining Fair Market Value

The first step to pricing your silent auction items is determining their fair market value. This will be the foundation for all your pricing, so it’s important to take the time to get it right. 

What is Fair Market Value? 

Fair market value, or FMV, is the highest amount an item can be sold for in a fair and open market. 

In other words, it’s the price both you and your bidders would agree is fair to pay for an auction item.

Fair market value can be different than an item's cost. Cost is fixed at the time of purchase, while FMV can change over time based on perceived value, demand, and other factors. 

silent auction strategy

How to Determine Fair Market Value

Calculating fair market value involves several key steps to ensure you're pricing items accurately and competitively: 

🔎 Research Retail Price

If the item is new, simply search the retail price online or through the manufacturer. This will be your fair market value. 

For items with no clear price such as antiques or memorabilia, consult with experts in the field or browse online marketplaces such as eBay or Facebook.

While experiences such as travel can be harder to price, reputable auction consignment companies will provide you with an FMV and average bid value.

⚖️ Compare With Other Events

Evaluating the FMV of items across similar nonprofit events can give you valuable insight into your own pricing. 

For the most accurate picture, compare events similar to your own in terms of size, auction items, and attendees. 

✨ Consider Uniqueness and Appeal

Unique or one-of-a-kind prizes command higher prices at auction, as do trending or high-demand items such as travel experiences or exclusive events. 

When pricing these items, research recent auction results and consider the item's brand, rarity, appeal, and cultural value. 

The more exclusive and memorable the experience, the higher the potential bidding.

themed silent auction baskets

Setting Your Starting Bids

At a Glance

  • Set your starting bids at 30-50% of fair market value 
  • Price buy-now options at 150-200% of fair market value
  • Avoid buy-now options for items that can spark bidding wars

Once you've determined the fair market value of each item, it's time to set the starting bids. 

A general rule of thumb is to price items at 30-50% of their fair market value. 

When considering that range, aim to set a starting bid that at least covers the item's cost. This ensures you’ll never suffer a loss even if the item sells at the opening bid.

Let’s break it down further: 

how to price silent auction items

Standard Silent Auction Items

30 to 40 % of FMV


Standard auction items make up the bulk of your silent auction table and should be priced at 30-40% of their FMV.

As these items are easily accessible elsewhere, a lower starting bid can make them more attractive to bidders, driving more competition and ultimately raising more funds. 

High-Value Silent Auction Items

50 % of FMV


Due to their exclusivity and appeal, high-value lots should be priced at 50% of their FMV.

A higher price point helps reflect their worth and attract more serious bidders. 

However, be cautious not to set the starting bid too high, as this may discourage participation and limit the potential for competitive bidding.

Buy it Now Price

150 to 200 % of FMV

'Buy-now' or 'Buy it Now' options allow your donors to buy a silent auction item immediately without competing in a bidding war. 

Since the price won’t be driven up by competitive bidding, buy-now options should be priced at 150-200% of the item’s FMV. 

Should You Include a Buy-Now Option?

Buy-now options are a strategic way to capture guaranteed funds from your auction table and can drive a sense of urgency that jumpstarts bidding.

However, buy-now options should always be used in moderation. The last thing you want is to discourage competitive bidding and lose out on valuable funds. 

Avoid a Buy-Now Option for These Items:

❌ One-of-a-kind experiences

❌ Items that could “outbid” the buy-now price

❌ Unique, popular, or emotionally charged items

❌ Items that have previously started bidding wars

Setting Your Bidding Increments

At a Glance

  • Set bid increments at 10% of the fair market value
  • Indicate the bid increment amount clearly on the bid sheet
  • Mark the percentage as a rounded dollar amount

Setting the right bid increments is an equally important part of your pricing strategy. 

Bid increments are the minimum amount by which a new bid must exceed the previous bid. 

Fundraising experts recommend a minimum bid increment of 10% of an item’s FMV. This ensures that it's not too high to discourage bidding.

Mark the starting bid and bid increments clearly on your bid sheet to avoid any potential confusion. Amounts should always be converted to a rounded dollar value so bidders understand what they’re pledging at a glance. 

Additional Factors to Consider When Pricing Silent Auction Items

At a Glance

  • Tailor prices to your event's audience and theme
  • Items that align with your mission can command higher prices 
  • Consider seasonal demand, location, and shipping costs
fundraiser event donor engagement

🙋🏻‍♀️ Know Your Donors

To maximize revenue, tailor item prices to your specific event audience.

Begin by researching donor demographics such as age, income level, and spending power. An item may have a high fair market value, but if your audience is budget-conscious, setting the starting price too high might deter participation.

For a more accurate picture, survey your audience, examine past events, and leverage your CMS for bidders' donation history. 

🎀 Consider Your Event Theme

Think of your silent auction as an extension of your event. Use the space to create attractive visuals that play up your event theme and draw bidders to the table. 

Aligning silent auction items with your event theme can also drive more revenue to your cause than prizes with no significance. 

For instance, rare vintages, wine retreats, or private winery tours may command higher prices at a wine-tasting fundraiser due to their relevance and audience appeal. 

🫱🏻‍🫲🏽 Leverage Donor Loyalty

Your audience's emotional connection to your organization can impact their generosity and the perceived value of your items. 

Choose items that resonate with your mission to encourage higher bids and more audience participation. 

For example, a conservation organization is more likely to raise funds with a bucket-list safari experience than a golf getaway.

Silent Auction Strategy: Maximize Revenue with Silent Auction Pricing

At a Glance

  • Create a sense of urgency to drive competitive bidding 
  • Offer incentives and showcase items effectively to encourage interest 
  • Take advantage of auction consignment to attract bidders and increase revenue

⚠️ Create a Sense of Urgency

Creating a sense of urgency is a proven way to drive competition and kick bidding into high gear. 

This is where buy-it-now-pricing is particularly powerful. As items get snatched up, donors are more likely to place higher bids for fear of missing out. 

Another simple way to drive urgency is by setting a clear closing time for your auction. Be sure to announce the remaining time regularly throughout the event or use countdown timers and reminders for online silent auctions

⚡Offer Bidding Incentives

Bidding incentives can be a powerful way to encourage participation and increase overall revenue. 

Bonus Items

Consider providing bonus items or experiences for high bidders, such as gift cards, a complimentary dinner, or bottle of wine. This is also a great way to ensure donated items don't crowd your silent auction table.


Another idea is to create a raffle or drawing for all participants, regardless of winning bids. This ensures that everyone who takes part in your silent auction feels valued and appreciated, fostering goodwill and encouraging future support.

best auction travel packages charity fundraising events

🏝️ Take Advantage of Auction Consignment

Auction consignment is a simple but powerful way to drive higher bids and attract larger audiences to your event. 

Zero-risk experiences such as auction travel packages allow you to offer high-value prizes at no cost to your organization without the hassle of donation requests. 

Showcasing exclusive and highly appealing showstoppers also helps draw attention to your silent auction table, encouraging more bidding activity.

🎁 Showcase Items Effectively

Presentation can have a significant impact on bidding and goes beyond creating attractive displays. 

Arrange Strategically

Set up your space to encourage flow between displays and allow bidders to freely browse through the space. 

The order of your items is also key. Fundraising experts recommend arranging silent auction items from lowest to highest value. That way, donors bid on multiple items as they progress through the displays. 

Provide Clear Descriptions

Providing clear and detailed descriptions of each item is also crucial. Include information about the item's value, unique features, and any special stories or significance behind it. 

Use high-quality photos and videos to showcase items online or in digital catalogs, allowing bidders to get a closer look and feel more connected to the items they're interested in.

Limit Your Items

Less is more when it comes to silent auction fundraisers. When curating your collection of prizes, stick to one item per two attendees for the best results.

Too many items and some will be left without bids. Too few and you’ll crowd the bid sheet, leaving many donors with nothing to bid on.  

Take Action

Planning a fundraiser for your nonprofit? LuxGive offers a wealth of resources to help you plan and execute a successful benefit event.

At LuxGive, we believe in the transformative power of travel. Our mission is to help nonprofits raise more funds at auction through once-in-a-lifetime home and villa experiences.

Our travel experiences feature Premium Guest Services for trip planning and access to an exceptional portfolio of over 1,500 stunning private properties across the world. 

Whether it’s a luxury Caribbean villa, an enchanting Tuscan apartment, or an alpine lodge steps from the powder, we have something for all your clients' needs.

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