The key thing to remember about a silent auction request is that the solicitation letter needs to be about what the donor wants and needs, not about what the charity wants and needs. Sure, donors care about the cause, but in large part, theirs is a marketing and community relations decision. Your job is to think the way that they do. Here are a few tips and things to consider:

Who Should Sign the Solitication Letter?

The signer for an auction request should not simply be the event’s volunteer chair, or organization president. Signing the letter should not be a privilege for an otherwise behind-the-scenes worker, but should utilize whatever willing person is best known to the donors on your target list (at least local ones). If you’ve got a bona fide celebrity supporting your organization, ask them. Or ask a “local celebrity” – city council member, influential business owner, well-known principal. The signer should inspire the donor to want that person to know they have given (or at least not want them to know they haven’t given.)

What Should the Solicitation Letter Include?

This is not the time to brag about your organization or offer testimonials or success stories. Give them the Ws – the who, what, where, when and why of your event. Name drop influential or well-known people being honored (or even better, enlist them as an honorary board and create event letterhead integrating their names). Tell them who the guests are your event will be – quantify and qualify. For example, “the guests for the evening will include more than 250 local leaders, business owners and community members.” Include a sentence by your “celebrity signer” about why the cause and event is personally important to them.

For local requests, remind them that asking community members to spend locally also means that you are relying on local business to support local causes. Give donors a quick sense of when and how the auction will be featured within the larger event. Remind them that a gift certificate or purchase can create a regular new client or customer. And that new happy customers generate enthusiastic referrals.

Lastly, be sure to include how they will be recognized for their donation. Here are some ways you can recognize donors and include them in your letter.

Display auction donations with recognition of the donor on the bid sheet and display signage.
Invite them to include a small stack of brochures or business cards to display with their donation.
If you are creating auction catalog or event program, add a page thanking auction donors.
Create a sign featuring auction donors to display at your event.
If your event is small or has limited attendance (a school event, for example), consider an ad in a community paper thanking donors for their community-minded support.
Include an insert or section in your organization’s newsletter or email communication thanking auction donors and asking readers to thank those businesses personally for supporting a cause they care about.
Send the donors a certificate to display thanking them for their support of your cause.
Focusing on these items in your letter will maximize the marketing and community relations impact and highlight the return-on-investment of a donation to your event. This makes it easier for donors to say yes, even in a lean economy.

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Paul Linus is a reputed online journalist who started his career with print media and later paved towards news websites including Huffington Post.