Your PTO needs to earn some money. Your group has strong community support. You’re not intimidated by planning a large event. You can pull together a committed group of volunteers, maybe even 15 or 20 people. You can afford to wait several months for the payoff. You want to try something more interactive and engaging than a traditional sales fundraiser. Are you nodding your head? Then an auction might be just the fundraising project for your PTO.
Auctions are fun, exhausting, profitable, complicated, and exciting. Unlike a fundraiser supported by a professional fundraising company, an auction requires your PTO to do most of the work on its own. But for the right group, the benefits of an auction fundraiser can outweigh the challenges of going it alone. Done well, a good auction can be quite rewarding for your group, often more so than other fundraising activities. An auction is also a social event that brings together families, friends, staff, and the community at large in mutual support of the PTO and the school. For some parent groups, the annual auction gala has become an important tradition, with the event growing in popularity and profit each year.
The planning for the basic auction gala follows a fairly consistent work plan. First you must assemble a strong team of dedicated volunteers. Your group then solicits donations, which will become your auction items. Fairly early on, you’ll need to make some important decisions about the format of your event. For example, will your auction be the only activity at the event, or will you incorporate the auction into a carnival, game night, or something else? Will it be held at the school or off-site? Will you offer food? Will this be an adults-only event? Will you charge for tickets? Will you offer both silent auction and live auction items?
Regardless of format, you’ll need to publicize your event and generate enthusiasm within the school and community at large. There are some administrative tasks that must be handled, such as tracking your auction inventory, managing ticket sales, and developing bid sheets and a catalog for your guests. Creative tasks include designing decorations and preparing appealing displays for the auction items. There’s plenty of up-front work to keep your team busy.
During the event itself, guests place written bids for silent auction items during a specified time period. When bidding closes, the highest bidder “wins” the item. If you include a live auction in your event, the auctioneer entices verbal bidding from the guests as a group, with the excitement growing until the final “Sold!” Typically winners pay for their items before they leave and take the items home so that by the end of the evening, all that’s left is a room full of exhausted, but happy, volunteers.
Keys for Auction Success
Recruit strong volunteers. Your core planning team will be working together for several months and dealing with issues and challenges, so recruit wisely. This is the time to personally reach out to your most dedicated and talented members. There are plenty of jobs for less experienced helpers, too, so everyone can be involved at some point.
Make major decisions early. You’ll need to decide right from the start the basic format of your event. Planning a family-oriented auction in your school gym differs significantly from the planning you’ll do for an adults-only dinner gala at a social club.
Consider your community and design your event accordingly. Some communities are comfortable with an event at a fancy country club. Others might be more inclined to support a less formal venue. Location and format also affect ticket price, which could have a ripple effect on the bid amounts. The local economy also matters when designing an event like this; yes, this is a fundraiser, but you want people to be able to afford to bid.
Collect a range of items at different price points. Solicit big-ticket items like professional sports tickets or a mini-vacation package, but also seek out small- and medium-value items like restaurant gift certificates and jewelry. Several very low-value items can even be bundled into an appealing basket.
Delegate the work. There’s too much for one or two people to handle. The chairperson will have a lot on her plate. Redistributing even small tasks will help.
Engage teachers and students by encouraging each classroom to develop a special auction donation. Some of the most profitable items are student art projects. You can also assign a theme to each class and ask them to collect a basket of items related to that theme.
Consider using auction software. There are many tasks that go into a successful auction event, some of which are computer-dependent. You can certainly do the computer work on your own, but some groups prefer to purchase professional software.
Pay attention to presentation and bundling. You want your auction items to look appealing and valuable so guests are eager to bid. Signage, décor, and lighting can all enhance the display.
Incorporate the purpose of the auction into your marketing and decorations so bidders remember why you’re asking for their money.
Set up early in the day so you have time to make adjustments if necessary. You might be surprised by how much table length you need to display all your auction items. Lighting can also pose a problem; you may need to bring in extra lamps so your guests can read the bid sheets easily.
Keep things moving throughout the evening. A DJ, an enthusiastic emcee, and especially a professional auctioneer can help keep the crowd energized and actively bidding.
Take lots of photographs. You’ll never remember how things were set up, so a stack of pictures will be valuable to next year’s planning committee.
Top 7 Ways To Increase School Auction Profits
How does the silent auction work?
At a very small auction, winners could be announced verbally, but usually the winners’ names are simply written on the bid sheet. Winners pay for their purchases at the cash-out area and take their items home at the end of the event.
How much can we expect to earn from our auction?
How do we solicit auction donations?
Should we charge for tickets?
Auction Dos and Don’ts
Don’t underestimate the amount of work.
Do ask your families to help solicit donations.
Do be creative with your auction items. One-of-a-kind experiences and “priceless” items usually bring high bids.
Don’t overprice your opening bids. You want people to feel comfortable making that first bid, which will get things going.
Do offer items at a variety of price points. Not everyone can afford to bid on the trip to Las Vegas.
Do advertise the highly valuable items or those with important restrictions well in advance of the event. Encourage your guests to preplan group bidding and check their calendars for items that are date-dependent.
Don’t forget to send a proper thank-you to all your donors and volunteers.
New and Trendy
The most significant change in the world of auction fundraising is the emergence of online fundraising auctions. The popularity of eBay for personal auctions has proved that people are comfortable bidding over the Internet. Now that technology has been adapted for fundraising, and many PTOs are expanding the reach of their auction beyond their local community. Typically, an online auction, run by a company like BiddingForGood, complements the live auction.
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