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Silent auction bid sheet formatting is one of those topics on which auction chairs hold a wide range of deeply-held opinions. I talk to school auction chairs across the country on a daily basis, and bid sheets are easily one of the most frequent topics.

So, for the first three or four installments in this series of tips and tricks, I want to explore some of the common bid-sheet choices that auction chairs hold diverging opinions on, and present the arguments I hear on each side of the fence for each. Please feel free to contribute your opinions in the comments section below. And if this discussion is useful to you, you can sign up to be notified every time I put up a new installment in this series by signing up with the form on the left.

Choice#1: Print Bid Increments, or Not?

Everyone seems to agree on this much: each bid sheet should have the Minimum Bid and Minimum Raise printed clearly across the top, and have the Minimum Bid printed again in on the top line of the bid list, in the Bid column. The question is: should you have the rest of the bid increments calculated and printed down the Bid column, so that your guests only have to write their bidder number and name on the appropiate line?

(Need something to help you visualize this? Click here to download a sample bid sheet with the increments printed. Click here to download a sample without printed bid increments. Each of these was generated automatically with the software.)

The argument for printing every bid increment is that it keeps guests from writing down bids for less than the next qualifying bid - they don’t have to think, they don’t have to add, they just have to write their name (and, we hope, their bidder number). Few guests get too distracted (or drunk) to be able to manage writing their name.

On the other hand, printing all of the bid increments establishes a psychological “ceiling” for the bidding on that item. That bid on the last line is likely to be read by your guests that you don’t really expect anyone to bid any higher - even if you hold no such expectation, and really want them to bid higher! And, just as your guests are not going to put in a bid that is lower than the next qualifying bid if you print the increments for them, they’re also not likely to put in a bid that is HIGHER than the next qualifying bid - they may skip a few lines occasionally, but more often than not, we see the bids go line-by-line.

The key to making the right decision for your school auction is to know your audience - is this your school’s first auction, or has there been a tendency for your guests to ignore minimum-raise numbers in the past? If so, print the increments. Or is your audience used to auctions, and generally willing to take the second or two to do the addition in their heads? Then you can take a chance, and shouldn’t give them that “bid ceiling” for each item.

Factor in the environment - if you’re going to have loud music, a lot of items and a lot of people crowding the tables, and/or an open bar, then that argues for printing the increments. If it’s a black-tie affair and a little less raucous, then printing the increments may hurt more than it helps.


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