There is nothing more frustrating than attending a silent auction fundraiser where auction items have been haphazardly displayed. Visually pleasing auction tables are a high priority! You want bidders to get excited about the
items you are displaying. Your goal is to encourage people to bid on items – not pass them by.
How you set up auction tables depends on the actual number of auction items and the amount of space you have to work with. Go out to your venue and physically pre-determine where you are going to set up silent auction tables. Do a configuration of how you want to place the tables and make sure you allow plenty of “elbow room.”
It is wise to set up “mock” tables before the day of the event to show how you want the auction items arranged. When arranging mock tables, remember to place a bid sheet beside or in front of each item. Bid sheets are printed on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper and take up a fair chunk of space on the table.
Collect or cut out 8 1/2″ x 11″ pieces of cardboard in case you need to “mount” a bid sheet, e.g., when displaying a picture on a wall, hang the bid sheet with a cardboard backing from the picture itself. The cardboard backing gives bidders a hard surface to write on. Use ribbon, raffia, or twine to attach the bid sheet to auction items. (Use a foldback clip to attach the bid sheet to the cardboard.)
Tables are normally 6 or 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. You can use both sides of a 4-foot-wide table to display items, as long as the tables are not pushed up against a wall. Use tulle, painted cardboard scenes, fabric, stars, shapes, etc., as dividers down the center of tables, to utilize both sides of the length of the tables.
If tables are pushed up against a wall, use easels, stands, etc., behind the tables or use the wall itself to display items, e.g., pictures and sculptures.
Depending on the number of items you have collected, you can either place items sporadically or sort them into specific categories such as food/dining, jewelry, spa/health/fitness, sports, travel, children, etc.
Drape fabric over your auction tables to make them look more appealing. Fabric stores will often lend you a bolt or two of material in exchange for a mention in your evening’s program.
“Skirting” the silent auction tables is an alternative to using fabric. Hotels, restaurants, and golf clubs normally have an abundance of skirting and table linens on hand. Make sure you pre-arrange skirting and linens with the venue coordinator.
If you cannot get your hands on fabric, skirting, or table linens, use a roll of newsprint from the art room at the local school. Get students (or parent volunteers) to paint a theme on the paper and tape it around the tables. You can get creative with artwork, it all depends on your theme! (This idea is great when doing a school fundraiser. Get the kids involved!)
If using fabric or table linens, place small-to-medium sized boxes UNDER the fabric to make “display stands” for auction items. For example: a set of earrings would be more noticeable displayed higher than other items. It is also wise to keep “original” gift certificates with the event cashier(s) and display “mock” certificates in plexi-frames on the silent auction tables.
By using fabric, skirting, and/or newsprint, you not only make your tables more appealing, you create space under the tables for hiding boxes, bags, packaging, etc. (This space comes in very handy for volunteers’ purses, water bottles and shoes from sore feet!)
People like to SEE and FEEL what they are bidding on! Never display items in their original packaging, e.g., take the toaster out of the box and put a couple slices of bread in it!
Auction items don’t necessarily have to be placed on tables – utilize floor space, easels, room dividers, etc., when planning your layout. Get creative and arrange plants, furniture and other large auction items in groupings. (Make sure you have individual bid sheets attached to the items so bidders know they are part of the auction!) When displaying lamps, try to locate them near a plug – they look so much more appealing lit up.
Cello-wrapped wine, food, and spa baskets are great in auctions, although you don’t want an overabundance of them. If it is difficult to see what is inside a particular basket, list the contents so that guests know what they are bidding on.
It is also important to ensure auction items are in good shape, clean, and in proper working order, e.g., batteries in the flashlight!
As a final touch place tea lights, sparkles or colored glitter on auction tables to help create a theme or enhance the ambiance.
After ensuring the auction tables are properly set up, it is a good idea to have volunteers man the tables. They will keep an eye on the bid sheets, ensure the bid increments are being placed correctly and answer any questions the bidders may have. In essence, the volunteers become the “salespeople” of the visually pleasing auction tables you have taken so much time and effort to set up!