You know what makes peanut butter even better? Jelly. How about cookies? Milk. Brownies? Ice cream!

We could go on and on. Point is, a winning combination makes things even better.

Do you know what also makes a winning combination? Auctions and raffles!

That’s precisely what a Chinese auction or penny social is: a hybrid of a silent auction and a raffle. It’s two great fundraisers rolled into one.

Penny socials are a fabulous way to raise money and spirits alike, but how do you get one started?

To answer that question and more, we’ve pulled together a step-by-step set of instructions for running the perfect Chinese auction or penny social.

Let’s get to it!

Here is your step-by-step guide to to running the perfect Chinese Auction or Penny Social:


Before you decide to host a Chinese auction or penny social, you first need to know exactly what a Chinese auction or penny social is.

For starters, you might be wondering: are penny socials and Chinese auctions the same thing?

Essentially, yes. While the origin of the term “Chinese auction” is unclear, some people steer away from using the term to avoid causing any inadvertent offense. You can always refer to Chinese auctions as penny socials if that makes you and your supporters feel more comfortable.

If “penny social” doesn’t tickle your fancy, either, you can also refer to Chinese auctions as:

  • Tricky Trays
  • Lucky Number Dinners
  • Pick-a-Prize
  • Yankee Swaps
  • Chance Auctions

But before we stray too far, let’s get back to the original question: what are penny socials, tricky trays, lucky number dinners, and yankee swaps?

Penny socials are basically traditional silent auctions with a twist.

Instead of submitting bids through a mobile bidding app or writing a bid amount on a bid sheet next to the item being auctioned off, participants in penny socials buy tickets ahead of or during the event. They then place any number of tickets into a bowl or bucket next to their desired item.

The more tickets a donor places in a given bowl or bucket, the more likely that donor is to be chosen. In that way, it’s a lot like a raffle.

What are the rules?

1. Each participant buys as many sheets of raffle tickets as they’d like (each sheet has roughly 25 raffle tickets on it). If you’re using auction software, your attendees can also purchase virtual raffle tickets online through an auction site branded to your event.

2. Much like traditional silent auctions, all of the tables are set up around the room, and participants are encouraged to wander about, depositing tickets into whatever baskets float their boat (either physically or virtually).

3. There is no rule regarding how many tickets can be placed in a single bowl or bucket.

4. Once all of the tickets have been “spent” on all of the baskets, the emcee will go around to each of the tables, select a single ticket from each item’s bucket, and announce the lucky winners.

5. The winners can either retrieve their prizes right away or wait until later to claim their goods.

While this is how Chinese auctions are most commonly structured, you can tweak the format to adjust to the needs of your organization.

As long as an element of raffle is incorporated into a silent auction, there really is no wrong way to host a penny social or Chinese auction!

Also—keep in mind that many jurisdictions have rules and regulations around raffles. Check with your local authorities before hosting a raffle to make sure that you’re complying with all of the guidelines.


Thanks to my friends at BidPal for sharing this great information on Chinese Auctions and Penny Socials!  I hope you learned as much as I did!