Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


How to host a holiday (waste-free) workplace silent auction

Make holiday gift giving fun, convenient and charitable

workplace silent auction

How does this sound for your holiday shopping experience?

  • Items are brought to your workplace for you to choose from.
  • All the money you spend goes to a good cause.
  • Gifts include unique, local experiences and time-saving services.
  • No waste is created in the purchase or delivery of the item.

You can make this happen by organizing a workplace silent auction, where employees auction off their talents – baking, gardening, sailing – and bring in items they no longer use, but others would like.

It’s fun! You get to learn about, and benefit from, your coworkers’ talents: homemade baked goods, hand-knitted hats, home-brewed beer.

shared talents

Plus, people love to compete over a coveted item: Usually the most ridiculous white elephant, like a one-hour video of a spinning pizza, or an adult-sized chicken costume.

re-purposed White Elephant gifts

It’s great place to shop for holiday gifts. Instead of the same old gift cards, socks and scented candles, get unique gifts like tickets to your friends and family members' favorite sports team, or music show, or kid-friendly activity like OMSI or the zoo. Or how about a gift of an expert-led mushroom hunting trip, cooking class, sailing adventure on the Willamette, or weekend at a beach cabin?

It feels good to give back to your community. The proceeds from the auction go directly to a local non-profit: The organizing committee can choose one, or have staff submit suggestions and then vote to pick the final one (or two) non-profits. 

Our office has organized a silent auction for the past ten years and has raised over $30,000 for local non-profits. It’s also something people look forward to every year – a little friendly competition, especially over a terribly excellent white elephant gift, can be great for workplace camaraderie.

Gifts of experience

Tips for organizing a workplace (waste-free) silent auction

Be specific about what people should donate. Ask staff to bring in used (but still usable) items, or “gifts of experience.” Emphasize that it’s a “clean out your closet” event, and staff should not buy new items for the event.


  • Sports, theater, music or museum tickets.
  • Skills to offer or teach: bike repair, photography, baking, mushroom hunting, horse-back riding.
  • Adventures: sailing, kayaking, beach or mountain home rentals.
  • Food: certificates for restaurants, coffee, brewpubs.

Home-made items

  • Jams, preserves, baked goods.
  • Knitted scarves, gloves, hats.
  • Art, craft, photography.

Clean out your closet items

  • White elephant items (as-seen-on-tv gadgets, CDs of 90s music).
  • Vintage: Vinyl records, rotary phones, classic books.
  • Children’s books and toys (in good condition).
  • Hobbies that never came to be (cheese making kits, home-brew kits, etc.).

Who organizes?

  1. A crew leader (you!) steps forward.
  2. The organizer recruits other staff volunteers – as many as would like to participate. 

Timeline and tasks

Early December is a good time to hold the auction, since many people are in “gift-buying” mode. Does your workplace have a winter party? If it’s early enough in December, that’s a great time.

Start soliciting re-used items and “gifts of experience” from staff a month or two before the auction (October or November if you’re aiming for a December event).

Choose the organization the auction is raising money for. Register the auction on the organization’s website or contact them to let them know about event.

Start putting items on display one week or more before the auction day.

Remind people the week or day before the auction to bring cash and checks. Designate a volunteer to follow up with any people that haven’t collected their items or paid for them (people may not realize they were the highest bid). Collect funds immediately after the auction ends.

Contact the organization to come retrieve funds, or drop off at their office.