Hosting an auction to raise money for your local school? If you’re new to the wide world of charity auctions, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
This complete guide will walk you through all of the necessary steps of the school auction planning process, plus extra tips and resources from the auction pros here at OneCause. Here’s what we’ll cover:
For specific tips around one of these topics, use the links above to jump to the section you need. Or follow along with us from the top! You’ll be raising more for your school in no time.
School auctions can be an extremely effective and flexible way to raise money for your school. However, if you’ve never planned or attended an auction before, you might have a few questions. Let’s start with the very basics:
A school fundraising auction is an in-person or digital fundraising event in which your school offers donated items, packages, or experiences to guests. Your guests, likely parents and other community members, bid on the items in the hopes of winning them. The winning bidder receives the item, and your school receives the money!
With the right combination of auction items, supporting software, and strategies to keep the event engaging, your school auction can raise a lot of support in just one night.
However, auctions tend to require a relatively heavier investment of your time and resources than other types of more general fundraising events. That’s why it’s important to get started early. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll set your auction up for success and generate a significant return on your investments!
There are three main types of charity auctions that organizations host:
Learn more about any of these categories with our comprehensive guide to charity auctions.
Pro tip: Mobile bidding software can supercharge any type of school auction by streamlining the bidding process and providing your team with real-time insights.
To pull off an effective school auction, you’ll need a support team to tackle important tasks. Here are the main roles that need to be filled:
The exact size of your team will vary depending on the scope of your event. With plenty of helpers and clear, big-picture direction from the auction chair, you’re sure to succeed.
Many schools choose to host their fundraising auctions as standalone events, typically in the spring or at the end of the year, as a party for the community. You might also host your auction as the grand finale event of a larger fundraising campaign. Both approaches are effective, but there are a few key considerations for each:
Have more questions about the basics of auction fundraisers and school auctions? Explore our complete library of resources – guides, eBooks, webinars, and more.
To plan and host an effective auction, you’ll need the right software. It’s definitely possible to manage a small-scale auction manually, although the logistics of item procurement, paper bid sheets or bid tracking, and payment processing can quickly become chaotic.
Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to build out an effective set of tools to help streamline every aspect of your event. Here are the main types of software to look out for:
The OneCause platform is a leading option for school auctions because it covers all of these categories and more. With a comprehensive set of auction management, mobile bidding, event planning, and online giving features (plus all the data and logistical essentials), OneCause is a top choice in the space.
How do you plan a school auction? Here are the core steps you’ll want to follow:
Many school auctions are held in the spring. Here’s an example of how a school might handle the planning process for an auction scheduled for April:
We’ll break the timeline down into stages:
The exact timeline your team follows will vary greatly based on the unique specifics of your auction. The main takeaway from this example is to start early and avoid overwhelming your team during the busiest times of the school year.
Let’s walk through a few extra tips for the item procurement process, arguably the most important step in planning a school auction. Here are 5 pro tips to guide your process:
If you’ve hosted fundraising auctions for your school in the past, your data from those events will be invaluable for guiding your procurement process. What types of items were popular? What types of items got very few bids? How many people attended your last auction? Use these insights to shape your strategy as you begin brainstorming items and packages to procure.
If you haven’t hosted an auction before, your school’s fundraising data is still very useful. Ask yourself questions like:
Target your auction item catalog to what you know your audience will be interested in and can easily afford.
Take some time to draft a list of items and package ideas with your team before spending too much time soliciting businesses and individuals. Consider what your community is interested in and what range of items your average guest will be able to afford.
Creating a “wish list” of items before procuring them ensures your whole team is on the same page. Offering concrete examples also makes it easier for potential donors and sponsors to say yes by removing the pressure to come up with their own ideas. Here are a few common categories and examples of auction items that might be on your own wish list:
Many school auctions make the mistake of offering too many items to guests. An excessive number of options can actually decrease bids by overwhelming guests and ultimately dissipating competition.
Instead, focus your auction around one or two anchor items, the big prizes of the evening. These will vary based on your particular audience, but this strategy is effective for boosting competition and the total revenue of the event. Consider working with an auction item consignment service for a risk-free way to provide highly competitive prizes like vacations and unique experiences. Just make sure that any travel packages you offer are flexible in their scheduling options.
For the rest of your items, think about ways to package them together around shared themes. Creating baskets of bundled items is a smart strategy for boosting the overall value and competition of the items.
Using donation request letters when soliciting items for your school auctions is a smart way to save your team time, give them a solid framework to expand on, and simplify the donation process. We’ve written a complete guide to silent auction request letters that can be easily adapted for school auctions. Try a template like this one:
Dear [Donor’s Name],
My name is [name], and I’m a [position] at [your school’s name]. Every year we’re excited to offer our students new learning experiences and opportunities like [a recent example]. However, funding is a perennial issue for any school, and ours is no exception. We have big plans for the upcoming school year, but we need your help.
To help us reach our goals of [provide a specific goal], we’re excited to announce that we’ll be hosting an auction and celebration on [date]!
As a valued member of our community, we wanted to reach out to you directly. As a [business leader/community leader], you know that major projects and events can be extremely resource-intensive. With your deep ties to the community, I know that together we can make a huge difference.
Would you be willing to donate [specific item, service, or experience donation] to showcase in our auction? To show how much we appreciate your support, we’d be happy to provide [incentive].
Also, the whole team here at [your school’s name] would love to have you attend! Registration can be found here [link to register], or you can reach out to me directly. Attached is a school auction donation form for your convenience.
If you have any questions about our auction, our school, or our goals, please don’t hesitate to contact me at [phone number/email].
Be sure to create a basic donation form to simplify the process as much as possible for donors. Ask for contact information, delivery preferences, and a description of the donation, plus room for the date and the donor’s signature.
Finally, be sure to get creative with the types of items and packages that you offer at your school auction! Your offerings need to be unique and interesting to draw as much attention (and competition) as possible.
This is especially true if your school regularly hosts auctions. Parents can quickly become accustomed to your standard auction offerings, leading to a loss of engagement that drives down the ultimate ROI of your event. Get started with procurement early in order to put as much thought into it as possible.
Be sure to explore the web for plenty of ideas. We’ve compiled our own picks for the most effective and engaging auction item ideas for schools to get you started.
So you’ve planned your school auction, built a powerful software toolkit, and procured a winning combination of auction items. What’s next? Hosting the event!
On the day of your school auction, there will be a lot of moving pieces to keep track of, so it’s helpful to have a plan in advance. Here’s the general breakdown of steps that we recommend:
If you’re hosting an online school auction, the process you follow will naturally be different from the one described above. Head over to our complete guide to online charity auctions for a comprehensive breakdown of the steps for planning and hosting that type of event.
Once you’ve finalized a strategy for your school auction and feel secure in all the essentials covered in this guide, it’s time to think of ways to take your event even further. By following a few additional best practices, you can maximize both the short-term and long-term benefits of your event. Consider these tips:
The additional fundraising and engagement techniques you use for your own school auction will vary depending on your exact goals. However, the examples listed above are tried-and-true methods for nonprofit and school events of all sizes. Get creative to adapt them to your own needs and community, and you’re sure to see success.
Planning a school fundraising auction is one of the most exciting and rewarding fundraising projects you can undertake. By wrangling all the important moving parts and tying them together with a complete strategy and timeline, you can raise more for your school than ever before. Plus, you’ll be offering parents and neighbors an engaging, unique experience they’ll be sure to remember – and likely request for next year, too!
Take your time planning and preparing, and be sure to study up with all of the resources linked in this guide. This is particularly important if you’re planning your first auction. Best of luck, and happy fundraising!