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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

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.

You can make this happen by organizing a workplace (waste-free) silent auction, where employees auction off their talents (like baking or home-brew), share their time (like vacation rentals or kayak trips), or bring in fun or useful items they no longer use. The proceeds from the auction go directly to a local nonprofit.

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 terrible / excellent white elephant gift, can be great for workplace camaraderie.

 What a waste-free silent auction looks like

shared talents

Encourage coworkers to offer items that they enjoy making, like baked goods, or knitted hats, or framed photographs they took. Or offer expertise, in the form of a mushroom hunting trip, cooking class, guided kayak trip, or wildflower hike.

re-purposed White Elephant gifts

You can also encourage people to bring in items they no longer use, but think others would like. Sometimes the most popular items are things like a vintage vinyl record or an adult-sized chicken costume.

Gifts of experience

People can also donate tickets to see a game, or show, or a kid-friendly activity like OMSI or the zoo. 

Tips for organizing a waste-free silent auction

Rally the team

You'll want a leader (or two) to plan the event, plus other volunteers for event prep, check-out, and clean up.

Plan ahead

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. The organizing committee can choose one, or have staff submit suggestions and then vote to pick the final one (or two) nonprofits. 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.

Think about payment options. If cash or check is the only option, remind people ahead of time 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 them off at their office.

Be specific about donations

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.).