Use signage (a bid board) to let silent auction bidders know they won

silent auction checkout process reusable bid board

This reusable bid board was placed near the check-out area. The circled bid numbers alerted guests that they needed to pick-up an item.

A common question I field from guests is, “How will I know if I won anything in the silent auction? If I didn’t win anything, I don’t want to stand in the check-out line.”

How can you easily let bidders know they won?

There are several ways to let winners know.

Sure, you can invest hundreds or thousands of dollars into technology … but if you’re running a manual process, the simplest way is to incorporate some signage into your silent auction checkout process.  You need to create a bid board.

The bid board signage can be reusable or one-time use. I’ve shared four types of bid boards in this post.
silent auction checkout process bidboard foamcore

This was made of foamcore and had bid numbers pre-printed on it.

Reusable bid boards are made of a material (a chalkboard or white board) that allows winning bid numbers to be circled and erased each year.

In contrast, one-time-use bid boards are meant to be used once and are constructed of posterboard or foamcore.

Signage SHOULD list the winning bid numbers in numerical order.

This allows a bidder to quickly scan the list and see if he’s a winner.

silent auction checkout process bid board handwritten

This handwritten bid board signage might not be as attractive, but it’s just as functional.

The signage SHOULD NOT list the names of the winners or specify items they won.

That information is unnecessary to the purpose of the winning bid board. In fact, the only reason a guest’s name would be listed is if the organization isn’t using bid numbers. (And if your group isn’t using bid numbers, why not? The benefits of using bid numbers are well established.)

And for the purposes of a fast checkout, it is irrelevant whether a guest won Item #1 or Item #40, or both.  They simply need to know they won something.

Place the auction signage in areas easily seen by guests.
Silent auction checkout process bid board using stickers

This client printed large stickers of each bid number prior to the auction. Once silent auction winners were known, the bid numbers of the winners were transferred to a flip chart, ordered numerically.

1. If guests must exit the main area from a common door (such as guests leaving from a single ballroom door), the signage can be displayed just outside those doors. Guests will view the sign as they walk through the door on their way to coat check and check-out. Station a volunteer or two next to the sign to draw attention to it, just as an airline will station a representative outside of the jetway to alert offloading passengers of gate changes.

silent auction checkout process powerpoint

A Powerpoint slide projected into the ballroom makes it easy for guests to see if they won a silent auction item before they leave the room.

2. The signage can also be posted near the check-out area itself. Put the sign on a easel so it’s at eye-level or a little above for easy viewing and reading.

3.  In addition (or in place of) signage, your event can make use of A/V screens by displaying the winning bid numbers on the screen.

A volunteer will need to create a Powerpoint slide once the high bidders are finalized. Save the slide to a handy zip drive and run it over to the individual handling the A/V equipment. He can easily upload the slide and display it to the crowd. While guests enjoy their meal, they can see whether they had the winning bid in the silent auction.

Simple-Auction-Checkout-smlThere is a lot of misinformation on the Web on how volunteers should be running checkout. 

Checkout isn’t hard, but there are a lot of steps.  For the straightforward, easiest process, here’s your tool:  Simple Auction Checkout.

This DVD, manual, and the accompanying downloadable tools online have helped dozens of charities iron out their checkout issues and I guarantee it will help you, too.

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About Sherry Truhlar

Fundraising auctioneer and sage, helping schools and nonprofits across the USA plan more profitable benefit auctions. A prolific writer for her own blog and other fundraising sites, her advice is tapped by thousands of auction planners seeking to improve their benefit auctions. Read her book, take her classes, or read what others say as she’s been covered in Town & Country Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Northern Virginia Magazine, AUCTIONEER, and other publications.


  1. Sherry,
    What a great concept. Years ago we used a similar system to record the winning bids – before computers became so useful and before we started using bidder numbers instead of names. Everyone had a great time watching the board to see what they won.
    Laurel Gibson, Carolina Sunshine

    • Well good for you for switching to bid numbers! That seems to be a big hurdle for some organizations, but for a number of reasons, I advocate using bid numbers over names.

  2. Where do you get the professional looking bid boards?