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At school auctions, schools fundraise by opening bidding on auction items and selling those items to the highest bidder.
Because they’re so interactive, school auctions are excellent events for both raising a lot of funds and engaging your entire school community. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you step-by-step through planning a school auction, as well as give you some useful tips that will help you make your event even more profitable.
Use the navigation below to explore each section your school needs some help with, or read through the whole guide to get a comprehensive overview of school auctions!
Finally, we’ll cover more about BidPal auction software from OneCause and how it can benefit your next event. Ready to get started? Let’s go:
To begin, study up on the different types of school auction events. Think about your school and community, then consider what type of event might be best suited to your fundraising goals. Each type has its own benefits, but they also require different levels of planning and preparation.
There are 3 types of school auctions you might host: silent auctions, online auctions, and live auctions.
Silent auctions are the most common type of school auction. During silent auctions, schools place items around the room for attendees to browse. Bids are either collected by using mobile bidding software or, more historically, by placing bid sheets next to each item.
Online auctions are essentially digital silent auctions. To run one, schools set up an online auction site where they can list images and descriptions of each item for bidders to browse. Before they start bidding, participants register by submitting their payment information.
Live auctions are not as common among schools, but many schools choose to incorporate them into their silent auctions. During these engaging fundraising events, an auctioneer facilitates bidding by introducing items. Participants place bids by raising paddles.
While your school could host any type of auction (silent, live, or online), most schools choose to host silent auctions.
Silent auctions provide many benefits that address the needs and concerns of schools particularly well. Many schools will pair their silent auctions with live or online auctions (or both!) to raise even more money. However, silent auctions are usually the main attraction because they tend to be more:
Schools tend to be supported by tight-knit communities of parents and local leaders. For this reason, all of the characteristics above can be incredibly important for the success of your fundraising events. If a silent auction sounds like the right choice for your school, bookmark our silent auction planning guide. If you’d prefer to host an online or live auction event, not to worry! The process we’re outlining here is helpful for any type of auction.
Establish a few preliminary guidelines about your event and your goals before you move ahead with planning your school auction. Make sure your team considers these important points:
What is your budget for the event? To make sure your school will have all of your bases covered, the first step to planning your school auction should be setting a realistic and clearly-defined budget. Here are some of the expenses you might need to factor in:
Try to anticipate all possible costs, and leave yourself some wiggle room to account for any unforeseen expenses.
Who will attend your school auction? One of the main challenges that schools face during their initial auction planning is deciding whether or not they’ll open up the event to students as well as parents. There is really no right answer! Whether your event will be family-friendly or parents-only is entirely up to your school.
However, it is important to determine your audience in advance. A no-kids-allowed event will have a much different ambiance than one that’s open to the entire family. If you do choose to open up your silent auction to your students, it’s advisable to pair it with additional attractions or another type of event.
Where will you host your school’s upcoming auction? When it comes to silent auctions, schools have the advantage of having a built-in venue. Gyms, cafeterias, and auditoriums make suitable (and free!) silent auction locations, but just because the venue is free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always the best choice. You’ll want to consider the following factors, as well:
While cutting costs on the venue might seem too irresistible to pass up, hosting your auction in an off-campus venue could possibly bring you a better return. Think long and hard before you commit to hosting an auction at school.
How will your school auction fit into your other fundraising strategies? Silent auctions are often hosted in tandem with other types of auctions or other types of fundraising events. Your school can likely make more money by just holding a silent auction on its own because there will be fewer activities to distract guests from bidding.
The only exception would be if you chose to host an online auction, since online bidding won’t be taking place during the actual in-person event. However, including other events in your silent auction can potentially be more engaging to your audience, depending on whether or not you’ll have kids in attendance.
If you’re hosting a family-friendly auction, you’ll probably want to incorporate your silent auction into another type of event (for example, a field day or school carnival) to keep students entertained while their parents focus on bidding.
Any school auction software you choose should accomplish a few essential tasks. Most importantly, it must include event management features and mobile bidding capabilities. Let’s examine specific tools to look for:
School auction software should simplify any auction event’s planning efforts, which in turn helps schools to manage various tasks and give them a 360-degree view of their fundraising efforts. Essential components include:
The ability to create event micro-websites is also extremely important. Not only does it give your guests a single place to find more information, register for the event, and browse your catalog, but it also streamlines event management overall. RSVPs and guest requests or options are automatically reported and organized.
Mobile bidding is a helpful addition to school auction events that allows supporters to place bids and browse your item catalog directly from their phones. Using mobile bidding software at your school auction allows all supporters of all tax brackets to participate comfortably and removes the pressure of bidding more than they can afford, providing a better overall donor experience.
Look for these features in your school auction software to ensure guests can make the most of your mobile bidding tools:
Don’t forget to look for scoreboard features, too! School auction scoreboards can give your bidders real-time updates throughout your event to keep up the excitement and competition. These scoreboards can display the status on popular item packages, live streams, fundraising thermometers, and more.
If your team is unsure of the value of using dedicated school auction software to help plan and manage your event, consider these major benefits:
School auction software can help your donors place bid and because it’s so easy to use, it can encourage a competitive bidding environment that drives bid amounts through the roof.
Once you understand your own goals, needs, and the potential benefits of using dedicated software to manage your school auction, it’s time to research providers. There are a few essential characteristics to look for:
These traits generally indicate a partner that offers flexible options and strong tools. A focus on training and support should also be a priority of whichever school auction software provider you choose to partner with.
Auctions make excellent fundraising events for schools and other organization because they naturally lend themselves to strong theming. A school auction is a fun night out for your guests, so take the opportunity to make it a night to remember! Here are 3 of the most popular school auction themes that reliably get donors excited and keep them engaged all night:
The Pine School is a preparatory all-faith day school that teaches roughly 500 students from age three through 12th grade. The school has two locations in Stuart and Hobe Sound, Florida.
Their most recent auction event boasted a Vegas theme featuring casino tables, terrific food, music, and dancing to support the school’s signature academic, arts, athletic, and outreach programs. An auction event is great opportunity to carry out a Vegas theme!
What better way to turn your school’s night out into a showstopping Hollywood event? Take a vintage approach and be inspired by old Hollywood — name your drinks after movie stars, offer movie memorabilia auction, etc.
This theme is great for adults-only auctions, but an Oscars night can be adapted for more kid-friendly school events, too. Close out the night with a mini awards ceremony of your own! The biggest bidders deserve a little recognition.
Hosting your school auction in late winter or the early spring? It’s the perfect opportunity to tap into all that March Madness energy! Plan a basketball-themed auction event for your school and set up plenty of activities.
This theme lends itself well to family-friendly school auctions. Activities, courtside snacks, and plenty of awesome auction items will make it a smash hit, especially if it’s hosted in a gym.
There are a few essential figures your school auction event will rely on! These roles fall into two categories, your planning team and your event management team.
Procuring auction items is one of the most important parts of planning, but it’s also one of the most involved. Let’s start with some tips for auction item procurement.
When it comes to conducting any type of business, you know what they say: it’s all about who you know. Luckily, your procurement team likely already knows many people around your school and in your greater community. They should start the procurement process by soliciting items from people they know! People are more likely to donate items when a trusted friend or peer is asking.
Another easy way to procure items for your event is by looking into consignment items. These are big-ticket sellers (think: vacation packages) that you can feature at your auction and only have to pay for if they sell. They’re an excellent solution for schools who hope to auction off upscale items but might not be able to procure them otherwise. There are many companies that provide consignment items.
It’s a common scenario for item donors to give a verbal commitment but not follow through on item delivery. One easy way to identify the true donors is by having your team write a blurb about each item once the donor has told you what they’re going to give. The blurb should give a brief description of the item. Send it to the donor and have them sign off on it to cement their pledge.
Part of ensuring your procurement process is successful is knowing when to stop. Your school will want to hit the right ratio to make the most of the night. Create a seller’s market (i.e. one that has fewer items than bidders). Aim to keep the number of items to around 50% of expected bidders (students don’t count!). A seller’s market creates more competition among your guests, resulting in more bids!
Your team will have plenty of items to keep track of throughout the school auction planning process. Track them the moment they come in using auction software designed to help schools manage procurement. It will also give your team insights into how your items performed after the event. Tracking items reduces room for error and makes it much easier to organize, market, and distribute items.
We’ve compiled an exhaustive list of charity auction item ideas, but here are a few of our favorite ideas that reliably perform well at auctions hosted by schools:
Remember, many guests would rather bid on a memorable experience than a product.
Plus, we bet there’s at least one parent in your audience who’s scoping out an excellent tutor for their child.
The most effective way to promote your auction items is to set up an online event site and using it as your auction catalog. While your school could potentially compile a physical catalog, it’s more expedient, cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly to create one online. To set up a site, all you’ll need to do is:
It’s that easy! Check out our example below to see how one school created an amazing event site using OneCause:
This beautiful event site advertises their items and their upcoming auction. It serves as an excellent example not only because it’s visually appealing, but also because it includes all of the components and registration tools it needs to be successful.
The homepage features:
And they listed their items correctly by including all of the important information that their guests need to know:
When it’s time to set up your school’s silent auction, give extra attention to how you’ll display the auction items themselves. Increase the appeal of your items and create a more enjoyable experience for your guests by following a few best practices:
Considering that you have dozens or hundreds of auction items to lay out, your space can quickly become crowded by display tables alone.
Arrange them in a way that promotes good traffic flow so that attendees can easily wander and browse your items.
Leave plenty of space between tables and avoid U-shaped setups that can easily get jammed up when people are surrounded on three sides.
Creating signs and labels is another part of making your auction display navigable and intuitive.
Plus, branding them to your school or themed event can amp up the ambiance at your auction! Your signs should clearly direct bidders to where they can find different categories of items.
Use large font and make sure they’re descriptive enough that bidders will be able to recognize what they’re looking for.
It’s much easier to keep track of all of your items and arrange your set up when you group your items into different categories.
Additionally, it will make browsing your items much easier for bidders, since they’ll be able to locate the items that interest them more quickly.
Group your items based on theme, color, or item number; it just needs to make sense to your school and auction team.
You may be tempted to cram multiple rows of items onto one table if you’re short on venue space, but a word to the wise: don’t do it!
Placing multiple rows on the same table can clutter your display, distract bidders, block the visibility of your items, and make them appear less valuable.
Think of some creative ways you can package items together or fit more tables into your space.
Your items likely need a little context for them to appear as valuable as possible to guests, so create table tents to place next to each item.
These should detail the lot number, item description (including any restrictions), retail value, starting bid, and minimum raise amount.
When guests are able to more clearly visualize the value of each item, your school will see higher (and more!) bids.
While making your display clear and intuitive is the most important part of set-up, it never hurts to make it look as appealing as possible, too!
Your theme and decorations chair should plan out how to coordinate your item display with your theme.
The more beautiful your display looks and the more engrossing your theme, the more valuable your items will appear to guests!
Guest check-in, check-out, and payment collection are among the most logistically-complicated points in any auction event. Take a few precautions for your school auction with these tips for both the check-in and check-out processes:
Live, online, and silent auctions are reliable money-makers for schools of all sizes. Take a few extra steps to ensure your school raises as much support as possible! Consider these strategies:
When procuring and advertising your auction items, focus on priceless items — those with emotional or nostalgic value. A good example is handmade artwork by students.
These types of items tend to do well with schools, which are highly community-oriented. Parents would love to buy something special that their child has created themselves. Fill your tables with priceless items, and you’re sure to see bids soar!
To see those priceless items perform as well as possible, talk them up! Encouraging bid wars works particularly well for items that are unique and emotionally-driven.
For example, say one of your auction items is a quilt signed by all of the students in one class. Have your auction monitors emphasize the competition to the parents of students in that class. Trust us: the parents won’t want to miss out on the chance to win something so special, especially when they see how much everyone else wants it!
What if you could host two events for the price and effort of one? Well, that’s essentially what you can do by pairing your silent auction with an online auction. If you’re already using a site as an auction catalog, simply open up the bidding!
Your school can either host the online auction before the silent auction or after the event to sell any leftover items. Either way, this is an excellent strategy for increasing the funds you raise through bidding.
Your auction attendees are likely looking to walk home with an amazing prize, so give them another chance to win by hosting a raffle! Sell sheets of raffle tickets as a fixed-price item on your event site, and set up a physical booth where you can sell them during the event.
Host the drawing at the end of the night to give guests the maximum amount of time to purchase their tickets. Just remember to check with your local authorities to see if there are any rules or regulations around hosting a raffle in your jurisdiction.
Your students, parents, and staff are brimming with pride for their school! Capitalize on that school spirit by selling school-branded merchandise at your silent auction. Set up a booth and sell t-shirts, hats, school supplies—whatever appeals most to your guests!
Merch is the perfect souvenir for the night. Plus, selling merchandise is a particularly effective tactic for silent auctions, where guests are looking to walk home with items.
Remember, every fundraising event is an opportunity to do two things: deepen your relationship with the community, and learn more for next time. Here’s a basic process for following up after your school auction:
Make sure to acknowledge your team’s hard work by sending out thank-yous within 48 hours of the event. Email thank-yous are perfect for most attendees, but pivotal contributors like volunteers and big bidders deserve more personalized thanks with a phone call or letter.
Remember to provide winners with receipts (if you didn’t automate them through mobile bidding software already). Receipts are often required to claim charitable tax exemptions.
This is also a time for your school to reflect on your auction. Measure how well you did at reaching your fundraising goals using your auction software.
Robust platforms should allow you to run a multitude of reports, such as:
This step is crucial if your school plans on hosting another auction next year.
Lastly, ask participants and volunteers for their feedback. Hold a debriefing session after the event or post a survey online. Ask questions like these:
These sorts of direct insights are invaluable for improving your events.
Finally, let’s cover a few general best practices that can help your school auction run more smoothly for everyone involved:
Throughout your auction planning, your school will have a lot of items to keep up with. Number each item within your auction software platform and physically using stickers or labels.
If you’re grouping items together, make sure to number each individual item in the package. That way, if anything gets separated, you’ll know what it’s supposed to go with. Labeling your items will make it much easier for your team to stay organized on the night of the auction and greatly reduces your room for error.
Chances are, some of your items are skills or services donated by your school community. And while these items are probably some of the most unique and appealing of the bunch, they can appear less valuable to bidders since there’s nothing tangible for them to inspect or take home.
Create physical gift certificates for those intangible items. Ask your design-savvy team members to design professional-looking gift certificates that include all important information (including restrictions). Print them on high-quality paper, so guests will feel like they’ve really won something.
Because silent auctions aren’t as structured as live auctions, it’s easy for guests to become distracted as they’re eating, mingling, and otherwise enjoying your event. But the bidding should always be the center of attention! Actively engage your guests all throughout the event. For example, you can:
By consistently drawing your guests’ attention back to the auction, bidding will always be at the front of their minds. That means you should see more bid activity!
After a long night of bidding and socializing, it’s understandable that some guests might not want to wait in the pickup line, especially if they have kids in tow. Have a plan in place by assigning a volunteer to bring home any unclaimed items.
The volunteer responsible for this task will have a house with plenty of storage space and a big car for loading and transporting items. Include the name and contact information of this volunteer in your follow-ups to guests who didn’t claim their items, so they can coordinate separate pickup.
To avoid being left with a bunch of unclaimed items at the end of the night, many schools choose to host a pickup party. Save item pickup for another day. While there’s no party involved, your volunteers will surely celebrate not having to deal with pickup after a long day of preparations and hosting!
This tactic works particularly well if you’re hosting the auction at the school, since you can store items at the venue and your guests will likely be visiting the location anyways. You should designate few dates on which guests can pick up their items and assign a few staff or volunteers to head this effort.
If your school wants to host an auction of its own, you need a partner that can support your efforts every step of the way! Explore why BidPal auction software from OneCause is the most trusted choice in the charity auction space:
Now that you’re an expert in organizing and managing your own school auction, keep the research going! Have your team explore a few additional resources before diving into planning the specifics of your auction: