School Auction: PTO Leaders Share What Sells


by Rose Hamilton


The key to a successful school auction is in the goods. We asked our community to share what items have been big hits recently. Hands down, some of the best auction items are special events for the kids (like being principal for a day) or a special outing with a teacher.

The bonus? Most of these auction items will not cost your group a cent, and they can be last-minute additions to your event.

It’s also worth thinking about what items won’t work at your event. In general, items with a narrow appeal (calling for very specific tastes) or those that are perceived to have limited value (a one-hour consultation with a financial expert no one has heard of) typically won’t do well.

Here’s a selection of school auction items that tend to work:

A behind-the-scenes tour with the custodian. The kids get to go in the basement, see the boiler room, the kitchen, and other off-limits places in the school. Kids love it! —Andrea D.

148 silent auction ideas for items to sell (plus 7 to skip)

A school T-shirt signed by the staff. It was almost free [to create] and one of the favorites! Another favorite was a Saturday babysitting day offered by two teachers and a geocaching day offered by another teacher. —Suzanna F.

Teachers donate [a lunch with students like] a trip to Chuck E. Cheese. These are priceless! There are arguments over them because they are so popular! —Crystal H.

A teacher donated a movie afternoon for five kids. This year, we’re doing a Star Wars-theme party for 20 kids on a half-day. We will provide lunch and activities. —Angela E.

We offered lunch with firemen and policemen and tours of their stations. —Brandy R.

We always do really well with gift baskets [with swag] from our local "feeder" high schools. As a Catholic elementary school, they are always looking for ways to win over kids with swag! Parents love them, too! —Amy J.

One of our grandmas made a T-shirt quilt with some of our school’s old T-shirts. That was nice this year. —Tori C.

Lunch with a teacher and one friend. The teachers don’t mind buying a pizza and spending 30 minutes with students. —Tanya K.

Here’s what may not work so well for a school auction fundraiser:

  • Artwork done by amateurs (other than the school’s own students). There’s no emotional connection.

  • Collectibles with a narrow appeal, like figurines, decorative glassware, or coins.

  • Anything used, unless it’s antique and obviously valuable. It’s an auction, not a yard sale.

  • Certificates for partial value, like offering $100 off a service.

  • Homemade items, unless they are of exceptional quality or have a connection to the families at the school.

  • Anything with a lot of fine print—it’s too hard for your guests to digest the information during the auction.

  • Anything that might be perceived as having restrictions to it. This one’s particularly important if you are auctioning vacations. Parents don’t want to get stuck with a getaway weekend that they can only take advantage of during a few time slots during the year.

For more help with your school auction, check out these resources:

148 Silent Auction Ideas and More

School auction clip art

Ultimate Donation List

Silent auction bid sheet

Live auction bid sheet (exclusively for PTO Today Plus members)

Originally posted in 2015 and updated regularly.

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