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Planning Your School's Annual Auction: 4 Tips to Remember

By Clay Boggess on Feb 11, 2023
School Auction

Make a big splash by incorporating these best practices into your next event.

Many schools host regular fundraising campaigns to help support student programs and academics. Whether you're beginning your first-ever school fundraiser or you're a long-time fundraising veteran, auction events provide a fun, engaging, and lucrative way to meet your funding goals.

You may think, "I'm not a professional fundraiser; I'm just a parent who wants to see their kid's school succeed." That's okay! Even if you have no fundraising, auction, or event experience, your school can still make a big splash by incorporating some of these best practices.

1. Choose an auction planning team.

The first step to a successful fundraiser is choosing a team of people who will make the auction possible. Recruit members of your PTA, school administrators, or outside organizers to help you plan out the details of your auction. You'll need to assign people who can take on tasks like:

  • Decorating your auction space
  • Determining the software you'll need for your auction
  • Procuring auction items from donors and partners
  • Creating marketing materials or communications to promote the event

Developing a team of volunteers is crucial to success and will lower your likelihood of burning out! Once you've chosen this team, train them effectively so they know what to do.

2. Select and display auction items that will engage your audience.

The auction items you choose are the bread and butter of any good auction event. Consider choosing them based on your audience and what they will be interested in bidding on. Handbid's list of top auction items lists the following items as some options that typically work well at schools:

  • School spirit gear basket
  • Book lovers basket
  • Test prep basket
  • Principal for a day for a student
  • Pull the fire alarm

You'll want to showcase these items in a way that will also appeal to your audience. Put a strong focus on setting your items up with colorful props, clear signage, and using varying heights in your displays. Provide enough space between the items to avoid overcrowding your tables while still making the tables look full.

3. Gamify your auction activities.

Gamification increases bidding and engagement among your attendees. It's not enough to have an auction. You must find creative ways to get people involved to meet your fundraising goals and keep your bidders returning to your auction every year.

One way to gamify your auction activities is to display a fundraising thermometer. Measure the fundraising progress throughout the event and allow each donor to see their gift's direct impact toward the end fundraising goal. You can even have the students fill in the thermometer with markers, marbles, bouncy balls, or other visuals.

Another way to gamify is by putting up a leaderboard. Display the names of your top bidders or donors at your auction event. This is often a great way to engage and show appreciation for your major donors while spurring a little competition between bidders.

Gamification encourages further engagement in your organization's fundraising efforts, allowing donors to see the impact of their gift and pushing them to do more to make a more significant difference.

4. Get students involved with your auction.

The students at your school can and should participate in your fundraising efforts. Students can do more than ask their parents to bid on items. They can also be a part of the auction planning process. Students can get involved with the auction by providing artwork or other one-of-a-kind items to be auctioned off for the school. This personal touch gets their parents bidding big!

Students may also provide entertainment during the auction, like musical performances, demonstrations, a talent show, and more.

Ask students to write notes of appreciation to everyone who attended the event, thanking them for facilitating school programs. It goes a long way for donors to hear how their involvement made a difference and impacted the lives of your students.

Offer several ways to get involved with your auction.

With the "Stay at Home" era came creative ways to fundraise. Plan several ways for would-be supporters to get involved with your auction so that anyone from anywhere can contribute to your effort quickly and conveniently. Never underestimate the power of grandmas, grandpas, or aunties and uncles to get in on the bidding action for their student's creations!

Of course, people can bid on their favorite auction items at the event itself, but you can also offer other involvement opportunities such as:

  • Bidding online. This allows your at-home and families on the other side of the country to also participate in your fundraiser online through an auction website
  • Volunteering during the event. You can ask for volunteers to help you organize the event and ensure it's successful.
  • Donating outside of the auction. By providing a link or QR code to an online donation page, you can allow those who may not be able to provide a winning bid to give back financially.

Providing additional opportunities to participate in the auction allows your school's supporters to get involved in the most comfortable and motivating ways. For example, some people may not feel financially able to bid or donate but are more than happy to volunteer their time.

With a little bit of planning, some great auction items, and a variety of ways to be involved, you're sure to not only have a successful auction, but meet your fundraising goals, improve the education and resources for our youth, and maybe even get that coveted "Parent of the Year" award!

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Guest Author Bio Jeff Porter, Author

Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid, has spent 18 years in the nonprofit industry. In 2004 he founded the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Colorado, where he still resides as board chair. Jeff learned early on that nonprofits desperately needed better and more affordable fundraising solutions.

Leveraging his software background, he built most of the tools his charities used, and in 2011 he launched Handbid at his fundraising event. The goal was to improve the guest experience, reduce administration and increase revenue.

Handbid accomplished all those goals, effectively doubling revenue in its debut. Nine years later, Handbid's suite of tools has delighted over a half-million guests, generated millions of bids, and helped thousands of charities raise well over $100 million.

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