School Auctions: 2020 Planning Guide & Resources Directory

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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:

  1. Overview of School Auctions
  2. School Auction Software and Tech
  3. How to Plan a School Fundraising Auction
  4. Choosing the Best School Auction Items
  5. Hosting Your School Auction Step-by-Step
  6. Maximizing the Impact of Your School Auction

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.


Let's begin with an overview of school auctions and some common questions about this type of fundraising.

1. Overview of School Auctions

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:

What is a school fundraising auction?

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!

What are the different types of auctions?

There are three main types of charity auctions that organizations host:

  • Live auctions. These are classic fundraising events with auctioneers, a stage or podium, and plenty of entertainment. These engaging auctions tend to be large-scale events that center around major occasions like an annual gala, although the live auction model can be adapted to a variety of contexts and scales as needed.
  • Silent auctions. This type of auction involves procuring an exciting range of items and packages, setting the starting prices, and then inviting guests to explore the offerings and place their bids via paper sheets or mobile tools. The silent auction model is a popular choice for all types of organizations, including schools.
  • Online auctions. These auctions are hosted partly or entirely online. As virtual events become more popular and necessary than ever with our busy schedules, an online auction held over an extended period of time or an online component of a live event for remote guests to join are becoming smart choices for many schools.
  • Virtual events. These are fundraisers that are taken online. Many schools are using virtual fundraisers to continue to fundraise, bringing their live auctions, donation appeals or on-the-ground events into the virtual realm.

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.

Who should be on my school’s auction team?

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:

  • Auction chair and co-chair. These leaders will manage the auction from start to finish by recruiting team members, managing logistics and finances, and making key decisions for the event.
  • Procurement chair and support. These individuals will be in charge of procuring auction items, which is critical for the success of any auction. It’s best if procurement is the only task on the procurement chair’s to-do list.
  • Ticket sales chair. This individual and their helpers will handle the important job of managing your auction’s ticketing process and promoting the event. They should be digitally savvy to help spread the word online.
  • Event team. For an in-person auction, your event team will handle theming, decorations, hosting guests, and the check-in and check-out processes. One leader from your school and a group of volunteers is ideal.
  • Social media and communications chair. This person is your auction’s voice and main promotion strategist. Look for individuals who have marketing or PR experience and/or are active on social media.
  • Emcee or auctioneer. For an in-person auction, you’ll need a ringleader to direct the event and keep energy high. An event emcee for a silent auction and a professional auctioneer for larger live auctions are your best bets.
  • Additional volunteers. You’ll also need a team of dedicated volunteers to help provide support during the planning process and for the event itself.

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.

Should my school auction be a standalone event or part of a larger campaign?

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:

  • For standalone auctions, invest plenty of time in marketing and promoting your event. Without a long lead-up to the big night, you’ll need to make sure guests know about the event and are excited to attend. Standalone events can be planned somewhat faster than “grand finale” auctions, but they still require extensive preparation to succeed. Online auctions tend to be standalone events, as well.
  • For “grand finale” auctions, be sure to have a concrete strategy in place for the entire campaign. We recommend following the ambassador fundraising model or a similar peer-to-peer style, especially for large-scale auctions and galas. Ambassadors are high-powered, well-connected volunteers who heavily promote your event, sell tickets, and raise money towards their individual goals prior to the big night. Reward your top ambassadors with a special trophy during the auction!

Have more questions about the basics of auction fundraisers and school auctions? Explore our complete library of resources – guides, eBooks, webinars, and more.


School auction software is an important part of the equation when planning your own auction event.

2. School Auction Software and Tech

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:

Your school auction software should include mobile bidding options to maximize engagement.

  • School auction software. Auction software is designed to streamline the bidding process and provide your team with real-time performance insights.  Top-of-the-line software will include additional event management features, let you build a custom item catalog, and offer guests mobile bidding options to make the process even easier.
  • Marketing software. You’ll need to promote your auction on your website, via email, and on social media. Digital marketing and online ticketing features will ideally be built into your event management and school auction software.
  • Data management software. An underlying database is essential for collecting and storing data from your event. Again, top auction management software should give you full access to the data your event generates, especially if it integrates with your CRM or database.
  • Payment processing. You’ll need a way to collect and process payments made both online and in-person at your auction. Auction software should give you plenty of options. This is one blind spot that definitely can’t be missed!

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.

Auction Software Resources to Learn More:

FREE ONLINE TOUR: Find the best tools for your next fundraising auction! Test drive OneCause to see how we can take your auction to the next level!


Let's cover how to plan a school auction fundraiser step-by-step.

3. How to Plan a School Fundraising Auction

How do you plan a school auction? Here are the core steps you’ll want to follow:

  1. Build a team. Form a team of school staff members and parent volunteers to handle specific tasks.
  2. Determine the basics of your plan. Decide on logistics like your budget, venue, date, and timeline.
  3. Plan your revenue strategy. How will you raise money in addition to the auction items themselves? Tickets, raffles, donation appeals, and sign-up parties are typical examples.
  4. Build your auction tech stack or toolkit. Review the main types of software to look for and what’s currently missing in your school’s toolkit. Invest in additional software as needed.
  5. Look into corporate sponsorships. Local businesses may be eager to sponsor your event or donate items in exchange for recognition. Get started on your outreach early.
  6. Begin procuring items. Your procurement team should now start soliciting items, packages, and experiences from local companies and individuals. Give yourself plenty of time for this task!
  7. Finalize the logistics of your event. Will you provide food and entertainment? Do you need to rent supplies and hire an emcee or auctioneer? Begin finalizing those details.
  8. Create your digital materials. Create your item catalog and marketing materials. If you haven’t yet started, begin heavily promoting your auction in the months leading up to it.
  9. Set up and host your auction! We’ll walk through some day-of essentials in a section below.

Example School Auction Timeline

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:

Here's an example timeline for planning a school auction that's scheduled for April.

We’ll break the timeline down into stages:

  • Stage 1: Getting started early is always a smart move! Begin planning your auction in May through the early summer. Build your team, set a timeline, determine the goals for your event, and set some core logistics, like date and venue. Invest in new software and begin reaching out to corporate sponsors if needed.
  • Stage 2: Use the slower summer months for item procurement. This process can take a while, so give your team plenty of guidance and time.
  • Stage 3: Around the beginning of the school year, host a kickoff party or meeting to regroup with your team. Review the items you’ve acquired so far and the items you’d still like to procure. Delegate any remaining tasks and orient any new volunteers who’ve joined the team.
  • Stage 4: Use the fall through the end of the calendar year to wrap up key logistics for the event. This is a busy time of year for schools, which is why it’s so important to start procurement far in advance. Think about additional preparations you’ll need for the event, and begin promoting the auction to the community.
  • Stage 5: Host your auction! Have a clear day-of plan in place. After the event, be sure to review your data and follow up with guests and volunteers to thank them for their support.

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.

School Auction Planning Resources to Learn More:


Here are a few pro tips for choosing and procuring the best items for your school auction.

4. Choosing the Best School Auction Items

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:

Procurement Tip 1: Review your past school auctions.

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:

  • How much do you raise on average at events similar in size to your next auction?
  • What’s the average donation amount you receive? What’s the largest donation your school has received?
  • How old are the average parents at your school?

Target your auction item catalog to what you know your audience will be interested in and can easily afford.

Procurement Tip 2: Brainstorm ideas with your team.

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.

  • Are there local restaurants, sports venues, or theaters that are especially popular?
  • If most of your guests have very young children, what items might most interest those families?
  • What are popular items or experiences in mainstream culture right now?

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:

Create a wish list of school auction items early in the planning process.

Procurement Tip 3: Keep your offerings focused.

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.

Consignment services can help your school auction offer top of the line packages.

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.

Procurement Tip 4: Use donation request letters.

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:

School Auction Donation Request Template

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].

Thank you!
[Name]

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.

Procurement Tip 5: Get creative!

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.

School Auction Item Procurement Resources:

 


Follow the steps in this section to host your school auction when the big day arrives.

5. Hosting Your School Auction Step-by-Step

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:

Follow the steps listed below to host your school auction from beginning to end.

  1. Set up the space. Handle the chairs, tables, stage, item displays, and any other physical elements of your auction first.
  2. Display your items. For any non-tangible items, like vacations or experiences, make sure to create a physical display to represent them appealingly. For a silent auction, you’ll want to pay extra close attention to the physical layout of the display space. Provide paper bid sheets for each item if needed. Check out some tips here for creating an effective silent auction layout.
  3. Handle other event logistics. These are elements like seating charts, the bar, and food. If you’ve hired a caterer, make sure to leave space for any equipment they bring along.
  4. Welcome your guests! When the event begins, have an orderly check-in process ready to go. Consider creating two lines, one for guests who’ve pre-registered and another for those who need to buy a ticket or register their payment method at the door.
  5. Run the auction. Kickoff your event with an announcement and entertainment. Be sure to provide guests with clearly-explained and printed instructions on the mobile bidding process, a timeline of the bidding periods, and any other logistics they’ll need to know. Then, hand it over to the emcee or auctioneer!
  6. Manage in-event communication. Use your communication tools, like messaging within your mobile bidding software, to keep guests up-to-date and engaged. Text messages, scrolling leaderboards, and verbal announcements all work well.
  7. Keep up the energy. As the auction continues, actively maintain the energy and competition whenever you can. Large fundraising progress displays, bidding wars, and approaching deadlines to bid are all effective ideas. Make live donation appeals and offer smaller, surprise rewards to boost revenue further.
  8. Wrap it up. Once the auction ends, thank all of your attendees and announce your grand fundraising totals.
  9. Handle check-out. Create a streamlined check-out process by actively moving won items to a pickup area. Designate a stand for payment processing (if not already handled in your mobile bidding software) and another for confirmation and item pickup.
  10. Follow up with guests. Over the next week following your auction, be sure to follow up with your attendees and volunteers to thank them for being part of your event. Make an extra effort to personalize your thank-yous to donors and item winners.

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.

School Auction Management and Hosting Resources to Learn More


Maximize the impact of your school auction on your bottom line by following the tips in this section.

6. Maximizing the Impact of Your School Auction

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:

  • Gamification. Turning your fundraising into a game is a surefire to boost engagement and competition. This is especially important for an auction, where your final revenue is often tied directly to how competitive your bidders are feeling. Explore our guide to fundraising gamification to learn how to implement this technique in your auction.
  • Additional revenue streams. Identify extra ways to raise money during the auction itself. This should ideally be a part of your planning process. Sign-up parties, raffles, food and drink sales, fixed-price items, and merchandise are all popular strategies. Just make sure to not distract from the main focus, your auction items.
  • Pre-bidding revenue strategies. If possible, try to start raising money even before the event starts. Having a dedicated event website, Giving Center, and online item catalog in place will be essential for this strategy. Our complete guide to pre-bidding strategies walks through more best practices in greater detail.
  • Ambassador fundraising. Recruiting volunteer ambassadors in your community to promote your upcoming event and raise additional funds can significantly boost engagement. Or, you might host a more general online peer-to-peer fundraising campaign in the lead-up to the auction. Just be sure to recognize your top fundraisers!
  • Data-driven planning. We’ve already touched on the importance of having an underlying method for collecting and analyzing the data that your auction generates. Data from your previous auctions and other fundraising events is invaluable for the planning process because it directly shows you strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.
  • Plenty of follow-up. After your auction, following up with guests and offering new ways to stay engaged with your school goes a very long way to help boost your fundraising across the board. Send them thank-you messages and promote any new ways to give like DIY peer-to-peer fundraising options for parents to set up on their own.

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.

School Auction Bonus Resources to Learn More:

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!

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