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School Auctions: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you're thinking about hosting a school auction fundraiser, check out our guide.

Insanely Useful Tips for Planning Your First Charity Auction and Maximizing Your Bids

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 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 to the left to jump down to the section your school is most interested in, or read through our guide to get a comprehensive overview of school auctions!

Learning About School Auctions

Types of School Auction Fundraisers

Learn how to host a silent school auction fundraiser.


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.

Learn how to host an online school auction with OneCause.


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. To start bidding, participants register by submitting their payment information.

Try hosting a live school auction fundraiser to raise funds for your school.


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.

Which Type of Auction Should Our School Host?

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.

In this section, we’ll briefly delve into each of the benefits of silent auctions for schools to help you determine whether or not they’re the right type of auction for you.

More Anonymous

Silent auction bidding is more anonymous, which works well for community-based organizations like schools. Since your attendees likely know each other, they might be more comfortable bidding when they’re not openly competing against friends and peers.

More Engaging

An in-person event is more engaging to guests than an online auction would be. Silent auctions allow your guests to both bid and interact with you.

More Social

Because silent auctions aren’t as structured as live auctions, your staff and guests will have plenty of time to mingle. You’ll have ample opportunity to strengthen your school community!

More Lucrative

There are a range of software solutions that can help your school more effectively plan your fundraising event and manage your silent auction flawlessly. With the right tools, your school can raise more than you ever could from live auctions, which aren’t as technologically advanced.

More Inclusive

Since bidding is anonymous and there’s no open display of wealth, silent auctions are also more inclusive of families from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

More Casual

Their less-structured format also means that silent auctions are more casual than live auctions. As such, they’re more suitable for families and can be incorporated into many different types of events.

Popular School Auction Themes


See how you can host an event with a Vegas theme.

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!


Check out Kentucky Country Day School's fundraiser.

Kentucky Country Day School is a JK-12 co-educational school located in Louisville, Kentucky. Their KCDate fundraiser, a gala and auction all in one, is hosted regularly to raise support for the KCD One Fund, which ensures that the school’s students and faculty have the tools they need to thrive and compete in the world today.

A gala like theirs would be the perfect place to host an Oscars-themed event. There’s no better place for a glamorous theme.

March Madness

Try a March Madness theme for your next school auction event.

Tampa Catholic High School is a Catholic high school in St. Petersburg, Florida that prides itself on providing students with “Veritas et Caritas,” or truth and charity. Its annual Cross & Shield Gala aims to raise the necessary money to support this goal.

Their most recent gala event was hosted on March 11, 2017, which would have been in the heat of March Madness. This theme could easily work to generate some excitement and interest their students.

Questions to Ask Before Hosting a School Auction Fundraiser

What’s our budget?

Because auction planning involves many logistics, expenses can quickly add up.

To make sure your school will have all of your bases covered, the first step to planning should be setting a realistic and clearly-defined budget.

Here are some of the expenses you might need to factor in:

  • Auction, event planning, and/or mobile bidding software.
  • A venue (if you aren’t hosting your event on school grounds).
  • Staff hours.
  • Auction items.
  • Catering and entertainment.
  • Tables, decorations, and other supplies.

Try to anticipate all possible costs, and leave yourself some wiggle room to account for any unforeseen expenses.

Is this a family-friendly or parents-only event?

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 ambience 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.

Since your students won’t have the financial capability to bid, kids can quickly lose interest at a solo silent auction.

Will we host the auction at the school?

When it comes to silent auctions, schools have the advantage of having a built-in venue. After all, you likely have large, open spaces—like gyms, cafeterias, and auditoriums—that would make suitable (and free!) silent auction locations.

But just because the venue is free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most suited to your event.

You’ll want to consider the following factors to determine if hosting your auction on campus is the right choice:

  • Size. Can your school accommodate all the attendees you plan to invite? Can it accommodate all the tables, chairs, and other supplies you need for setup?
  • Parking. Will there be ample space for guests to park?
  • Accessibility. Chances are, you’ll be transporting large, heavy items to and from the venue. If you’ll have to carry your supplies up stairs or across campus to set up, you might be better off somewhere else.
  • Internet access. If you’re using mobile bidding or software of any kind, you’ll need a venue with strong and secure wifi access.
  • Sound and lighting. Sound and lighting are key to creating the best ambience and making your items appear as attractive as possible. If you don’t have excellent lighting and a great sound system, your school might not be the best fit.

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.

Are we hosting a silent auction by itself or as part of another event?

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.

Should we charge for tickets?

Schools often supplement the funds they raise from bidding by charging an admission price for their auctions.

To decide if you should charge for tickets, you’ll want to think about the following:

  • The ambience of your event. If your event is adults-only and the ambience is on the formal side, you’ll probably want to charge for tickets.
  • The costs. If you’re offering food, drink, and entertainment (which you should be!) selling tickets can ensure that you make enough of a return to at least cover the costs of hosting the event.
  • Whether or not you’ve hosted an auction before. If this is your school’s first go-round when it comes to hosting a silent auction, you’ll probably want to keep admission low or even free to see the best turnout. If your auctions have become a community tradition, they’ve probably gained enough notoriety for you to charge admission.
  • The financial capability of your guests. Consider your families’ general socioeconomic status as you’re deciding where to price tickets. You want your event to be as inclusive as possible.

Also keep in mind that how you price tickets sends a message to your participants. Offering free admittance could potentially make your event seem less important or lower in quality.

It all depends on what makes the most sense for your community!

Staffing Your School Auction Fundraiser


Auction Chair

Job Description: The auction chair should be an organized and motivational individual who’s a true leader. They’ll have to manage your whole auction team, so they should be able to effectively wrangle lots of moving parts and get along with many different types of people.

Main Duties: The auction chair is head honcho. They’ll be in charge of recruiting and managing the team and keeping up morale throughout the planning process. The auction chair will also maintain all important documents related to the event, contact and court key supporters, and have final say over any event decision-making.


Job Description: The co-chair will be the auction chair’s right hand man. That being the case, they should be a positive and supportive individual who loves to learn and isn’t afraid to take on new (and possibly unfamiliar) tasks.

Main Duties: The co-chair will be taking over next year, so their main duty is to shadow the auction chair and learn the ropes of the job. They should be keeping thorough notes on which aspects of the event worked well and which didn’t to improve for next year. They’ll also provide the auction chair an extra hand by taking on any tasks the auction chair might not be able to cover themselves.

Procurement Chair and Team

Job Description: The procurement chair and their team should be outgoing and charismatic individuals who aren’t intimidated by asking for donations. Ideally, they’ll be community-minded and have strong personal networks to draw from.

Main Duties: The procurement chair and team will have one of the most important jobs of all: soliciting auction items! Not only will they be requesting these items, but they’ll also be responsible for tracking and grouping them, organizing pickup and delivery, figuring out where to store them, and arranging them on the night of the event.

Signup Party Chair

Job Description: The signup party chair should be the party animal of your school’s community! Not only should they be great at hosting and mingling, but they should also be an excellent planner with plenty of creative ideas up their sleeve.

Main Duties: You’ll only need a signup party chair if you’re offering signup parties as an auction item at your event. Their main job will be coordinating these auction items. They’ll find people who are willing to host; help each host determine the theme, date, time, and scope of their party; and write up information about each signup party to list on your event site.

Ticket Sales Chair

Job Description: The ticket sales chair should be a natural salesman who isn’t afraid to put their heart and soul into promoting your event. They’ll have to have plenty of enthusiasm, excellent social skills, and a small competitive streak that drives them to meet their goals.

Main Duties: This person’s main goal will be to sell as many tickets to your auction as possible. They’ll be in charge of both selling tickets in person and managing ticket sales on your event site. Their job will likely include some advertising and promotion work.


Theme and Decorations Chair

Job Description: The theme and decorations chair should be the pro-party planner of the group. They should be an outgoing and charismatic team player who can work with anyone. While organized, they’re also creative and innovative.

Main Duties: The theme and decorations chair will play a big role in both the planning and execution of your event. They’ll decide on your theme and coordinate every aspect of your event to match that theme, as well as be in charge of setting up the venue on the night of the event. The event/decorations chair will also act as host, greeting guests when they arrive and making sure everyone is enjoying themselves.

Check-In and Check-Out Team

Job Description: The check-in/check-out team should be a group of detail-oriented individuals who can multitask, organize many logistics, and utilize your event planning software effectively. They should be efficient but also friendly and personable.

Main Duties: As their name suggests, the check-in/check-out team will handle all duties related to these two tasks. They’ll lay out the venue, register and get your guests set up with mobile bidding at check-in, match up auction items with winners, take winners’ payments, and retrieve and distribute items to guests. They should also be keeping an eye on the event schedule to ensure that everything stays on track.


Job Description: The emcee is a born showman who loves to entertain people. They should be engaging, energetic, and able to get guests hyped up about the event. The emcee should also have excellent time management skills, since they’ll be in charge of hosting the silent auction program.

Main Duties: The emcee will run the show! They’ll start the silent auction by giving a brief program about the event, open the bidding, make announcements and talk up items throughout the silent auction, and give guests a heads up when the bidding is about to close.

Auction Monitors

Job Description: Auction monitors should be sociable and helpful individuals who can provide plenty of guidance. They should also be firm and levelheaded; they’ll be the ones enforcing the rules!

Main Duties: This role will differ slightly depending on whether you’re hosting a silent auction with mobile bidding or with paper. Either way, monitors will wander around the room to encourage bidding, to make sure everyone is playing by the rules, and to answer any questions bidders might have about items or the event format. If you’re using paper, they’ll help facilitate item closing by collecting bid sheets.

Vendor Team

Job Description: The vendor team should be the professional salespeople of your school community. They should have plenty of school spirit and be able to impart that enthusiasm to others. The team should be friendly, outgoing, efficient, and able to utilize any fundraising tools you incorporate (like text-to-give features).

Main Duties: You’ll only need a vendor team if your school is planning on selling merchandise, raffle tickets, or other products at your auction. This team will man the merch and raffle ticket booths so that attendees can buy anything their heart desires.

Procuring School Auction Items

Procuring auction items is one of the most important parts of planning, and unfortunately, it’s also one of the most involved.

Not only do you have to get the items donated, but you’ll also need to make sure that these items:

  • Appeal to your guests’ interests.
  • Provide attendees with something rare or unique.
  • Are at a range of different price points to account for various socioeconomic statuses among your community.

Here, we’ll give you some tips to help you snag some amazing items that are sure win big bids!

Start with People You Know

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 use their personal connections to their advantage and 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.

Bring Procurement to the Classroom

Because school auctions are so community-oriented, auction items with sentimental value tend to do well.

One of the best ways to procure sentimental items is by having your staff and students create them!

Have classes create an original art project. Or, give each class a theme and have each student bring in one item related to that theme to create a basket.

Not only will it be a fun project for your students and teachers, but the proud parents in your audience will be fighting to place their bids!

Consider Consignment Items

Another easy way to procure items for your event is by looking into consignment items.

Consignment items 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. Just make sure to read the fine print!

Weed Out the True Donors

It’s a common scenario for item donors to give a verbal commitment but not follow through on item delivery.

One easy way to weed out 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.

This strategy is an excellent way for your team to get a better idea of which items you’ll actually have at your auction before you start advertising them.

Hit the Right Ratio

Part of ensuring your procurement process is successful is knowing when to stop soliciting items.

While it might be tempting to feature as many items as possible, your school will want to hit the right ratio to make the most from your auction.

You should be creating a seller’s market (i.e. one that has fewer items than bidders). Although it’s hard to determine the ideal ratio, aim to keep the number of items to around 50% of expected bidders (students don’t count!).

A seller’s market will create more competition among your guests, and thus, result in more bids!

Track Your Items

Your team will have dozens (if not hundreds) of items to keep track of throughout the school auction planning process.

The only way to stay on top of all new items is to track them the moment they come in!

The easiest way to track items is by using auction software, which was made to help schools manage procurement. It will also give your team insights into how your items perform after the event.

Tracking your items will reduce your room for error and make it much easier for your team to organize, market, display, and distribute items.

Putting Together a School Auction Catalog

Your auction items are a built-in incentive. Think about it: parents and staff will be especially motivated to donate money to your school when there’s the promise of an immediate reward involved.

That being the case, you should definitely advertise your items before the event.

The most effective way to do so is by setting 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:

  1. Enlist the help of excellent auction or event planning software.
  2. Track your items and event information in the platform.
  3. Generate your site.
  4. Share the link with guests in communications about your event.

It’s that easy! Check out our example below to see how one school created an amazing event site using OneCause.

Benton Academy set up this beautiful event site to advertise their items and their upcoming auction. This site 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.

Benton Academy used OneCause's software to set up a beautiful website advertising their school auction event.

The homepage features:

  • Basic details about the event (date, location, etc.).
  • The school’s name and custom branding.
  • Quick access to important links, such as where to purchase tickets, browse auction items, pre-register credit cards, and make a standard donation.
  • A place where participants can learn about mobile bidding.
Benton Academy used OneCause's software to set up a beautiful website advertising their school auction event.

And they listed their items correctly by including all of the important information that their guests need to know:

  • The name and number of the item.
  • The starting bid and minimum raise amounts.
  • A brief description of the item.
  • A relevant image.
  • Social sharing buttons so attendees can share the items they’re watching with friends!

Creating an Effective School Silent Auction Display

Make It Easy to Navigate

The first thing that your school will need to do when setting up your silent auction display is to set out enough tables to place your auction items on.

Considering that you have dozens or hundreds of items to lay out, your space can quickly become crowded by tables alone.

You should arrange your tables in a way that promotes good traffic flow so that attendees can easily wander from table to table to browse your items.

Try to leave plenty of space between tables and avoid U-shaped setups that can easily get jammed up when people are surrounded on three sides.

Group Items by Category

It can be difficult to figure out a logical way to arrange a bunch of seemingly unrelated items.

It will be 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 your bidders, since they’ll be able to locate the items that interest them more quickly.

You can group your items based on theme, color, or item number; all that matters is that it makes sense to your school and everyone on your team is aware of how the system works.

Create Signs

Another part of making your auction display easily navigable and intuitive to your bidders is to create signs.

Plus, branding your signs to your school or 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.

Once you’ve created the signs, place them throughout the venue. Make sure to put them in prominent places.

Keep Items to One Row Per Table

Often, schools don’t have enough space in the venue to fit all of the tables they need to display their items.

If this scenario happens, you may be tempted to cram multiple rows of items onto one table. But a word to the wise: don’t do it!

Placing multiple rows on the same table can clutter your display and distract bidders. It can also 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.

Place Table Tents Next to Each Item

Your items likely need a little context for them to appear as valuable as possible to your guests.

To give guests a little more detail about each item, your auction team should create table tents to place next to each item.

Your table tents 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 can never hurt to make it look as appealing as possible, too!

To add some spice to your display, decorate it to your theme.

Your theme and decorations chair should plan out how to coordinate your item display with your theme. They’ll be in charge of collecting the necessary materials and decorating the night of.

The more beautiful your display looks, the more valuable your items will appear!

Keeping Your School Auction Organized

During Check-In

  • Find Excellent Auction Software

    Both check-in and check-out will run much more smoothly if your school uses auction software. All attendee and ticket data will be tracked in the platform, so checking guests in at the door should be as easy as kindergarten!

  • Have Volunteers Ready

    Your theme and decorations chair should be waiting at the door to greet guests as they arrive. The check-in and check-out team should be in place (with the necessary software and tools all set up) to check guests in as efficiently as possible.

  • Register Guests' Credit Cards

    If your guests haven't pre-registered their credit cards on the event site prior to the auction, your volunteers should register them now. Registering credit cards streamlines check-out and ensures that winners make good on their bids.

  • Set Guests Up With Mobile Bidding

    Have your volunteers get guests set up with mobile bidding by showing them how to access the app and explaining the interface. If you're hosting a paper auction, you'll need to assign each guest a bidder number at this stage.

During Check-Out

  • Let Mobile Bidding Take Care of Check-Out

    Because guests have already registered their credit cards with mobile bidding, the winning bidders will automatically be charged. They'll even instantly receive a receipt in their email inboxes. No waiting for them and no extra work for your school!

  • Set Up a Physical Check-Out

    You should set up a physical check-out area before the event starts, so you can also accommodate guests who wish to pay by cash or check. Make sure to have your volunteers in place and that you equip them with the right payment processing tools.

  • Have a Separate Space for Item Pickup

    To get guests out as efficiently as possible, you'll want to have a separate place designated to item pickup. Since all item and payment data is recorded in your auction software, it should be simple to verify payments and match items with winners.

  • Record Winner Data

    Once the auction is over, your school should record the winner's name and winning bid amount for each item. It will help you improve next time around. If you're using auction software, this data should automatically be tracked. All that's left is to celebrate a successful event!

Following Up After the School Auction Event

Send out thank-you notes to acknowledge everyone who attended your school auction.

Step 1: Send Out Thank-Yous

Your school auction could never have been so successful without the help of your item donors, volunteers, and guests.

Make sure that you acknowledge their hard work by sending out thank-yous within 48 hours of the event.

While you can probably get away with email thank-yous for some attendees, pivotal contributors like volunteers, donors, and big bidders deserve a more personalized thanks. Give them a phone call or put a handwritten letter in the mail.

Also, remember to provide your item winners with receipts (if you didn’t automate them through mobile bidding software already). Receipts are important for guests who wish to claim charitable tax exemptions and are often required by law.

Track the results of your school auction using your fundraising software.

Step 2: Track Results with Software

Following up shouldn’t just be about thanking your guests; it should also be a time for your school to reflect internally on your auction.

You’ll want to measure how well you did at reaching your fundraising goals by tracking your results in your auction or event planning software.

Robust platforms should allow you to run a multitude of reports, such as:

  • Item and package summaries.
  • Proceeds by item category.
  • Bid history.
  • Items with no bids.
  • And much, much more.

This step is especially important if your school plans on hosting another auction next year. The only way to improve is to evaluate how successful this year’s event was.

A good way to assess the success of your school auction is to get feedback from the community.

Step 3: Get Feedback from the Community

Another way to measure the success of your auction is by asking participants and volunteers for their feedback.

You can do so either by holding a debriefing session after the event or by disseminating a survey online. 

Here’s a list of potential questions you could ask:

  • Which aspects of the event did you enjoy most? Least?
  • Is there anything you’d like to see done differently next year?
  • Would you be interested in volunteering next year? If so, what types of roles would interest you most?
  • Would you encourage your friends to come next year?

You can’t get much better insights into your event than by hearing the opinions of those who were there.

Plus, your school community will likely love the opportunity to have their voices heard!

School Auction Fundraiser Tips and Best Practices

School Auction Item Ideas

Special Experiences with Teachers or Staff

  • What is it? Have some of your beloved teachers or staff members donate special experiences for students to enjoy. These experiences can be anything, from bowling with the gym teacher to an off-campus lunch with the principal. All that matters is that it’s a little out of the ordinary.
  • Why is it perfect for schools? Winning a unique experience with a teacher they admire will make the students in your audience feel special. Plus, this item offers something one-of-a-kind, so it’s sure to spark some bid competition!

Sign-Up Parties

  • What is it? Sign-up parties are fun social experiences that bring a group of guests together to enjoy a unique activity. They usually include dinner and drinks, revolve around a theme, and accommodate 10-20 people. You’ll definitely want to enlist the help of a sign-up party chair to coordinate these events.
  • Why is it perfect for schools? Sign-up parties are all about bringing people together, which is perfect for community-oriented organizations like schools. Plus, many guests would rather bid on a memorable experience than a product.

Classes or Tutoring Services

  • What is it? Give the parents and/or students in your audience the gift of knowledge by featuring classes or tutoring services at your auction. While the classes you offer should probably differ from your curriculum, tutoring services should line up with the classes your school offers to provide the most value.
  • Why is it perfect for schools? Classes or tutoring services are practical and educational. Since your school is in the business of education, there’s really no auction item more fitting! Plus, we bet there’s at least one parent in your audience who’s scoping out an excellent tutor for their child.

Student-Made Artwork

  • What is it? Student-made artwork can come in many forms: paintings, pottery, jewelry, you name it! Your school can task each classroom with making a collective art project, or you can take submissions and feature pieces from the most talented student artists. They’ll love the fun challenge!
  • Why is it perfect for schools? Artwork always offers bidders something unique, which means it can really ignite competition. Throw in the sentimental value of these pieces having been made by students, and the bidding will go from a competition to a full-out war!


  • What is it? Baskets include a hodgepodge of items brought together by a common theme. Your baskets can be centered around anything, from reading to candy to the beach. The possibilities are practically endless! All that matters is that there’s a cohesive theme and the items are packaged together.
  • Why is is perfect for schools? Baskets are appealing auction items that are fairly easy to procure and assemble. They’re also the perfect smaller-ticket sellers for schools that wish to provide a wide range of items to accommodate various income levels.

Community Services or Experiences

  • What is it? Take advantage of your school’s vibrant community by offering services or experiences unique to your area. See if you can get some talented members of your school to donate their skills, or see if local business and venues will provide access to one-of-a-kind experiences or events.
  • Why is it perfect for schools? Your bidders will love the opportunity to experience their hometown in new ways. Because your procurement team probably already knows many people around your community, getting local experiences or events donated should be relatively easy.

School Auction Fundraiser Best Practices

Number the items in your school auction to make keeping track of everything easier.

Best Practice #1: Number Your Items

Throughout your auction planning, your school will have a lot of items to keep up with.

In order to keep track of everything, your school should number each item.

For this strategy to be most effective, you should both physically number items and number them in your auction software platform.

Once you have your items ordered in your software, place small stickers on each item with the number the corresponds to that item’s number in your software.

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.

Your team will be able to more quickly match up items with winners and ensure that they’re giving each winner the right item, not one that looks similar.

Create gift certificates to represent less tangible items in your school auction.

Best Practice #2: Create Gift Certificates

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.

Additionally, if there’s no physical proof of purchase, it can be more difficult for winners to claim their prizes down the line.

Your school can address this problem by creating physical gift certificates for those items that are more intangible in nature.

Have one of your design-savvy team members or parents design some professional-looking gift certificates.

Make sure to include all important information (including restrictions) and to print them out on high-quality paper, so guests will feel like they’ve really won something.

Actively engage your guests for the duration of your school auction.

Best Practice #3: Don’t Make Your Silent Auction Silent

Because silent auctions aren’t as structured as live auctions, it can be easy for guests to become distracted from bidding as they’re eating, mingling, and otherwise enjoying your event.

But the bidding should always be the center of attention! Your silent auction shouldn’t really be silent.

To clarify, you should be actively engaging your guests throughout the event.

For example, you can:

  • Have your emcee make announcements, give updates, and encourage bidding.
  • Have monitors strike up conversations with guests and talk up items.
  • Send text notifications through your mobile bidding software.
  • Use an auction scoreboard that gives real-time updates about bidding.

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!

Assign a volunteer to take home any unclaimed items after your school auction ends.

Best Practice #4: Assign a Volunteer to Take Home Any Unclaimed Items

There are bound to be guests at your school auction who leave before picking up their items.

After a long night of bidding and socializing, it’s understandable that they might not want to wait in the pickup line, especially if they have kids in tow.

Make sure you leave no item orphaned at the venue by assigning a volunteer to bring home any unclaimed items.

Ideally, the volunteer responsible for this task will have a house with plenty of storage space and a big car for loading and transporting items.

You should 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.

With auction software, it should be easy to see which items are still unclaimed and which bidder they belong to.

Consider hosting a pickup party for the winners of your school auction items.

Best Practice #5: Consider Hosting a Pickup Party

To avoid the aforementioned scenario of being left with a bunch of unclaimed items at the end of the night, many schools choose to host a pickup party.

By hosting a pickup party, your school will 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! Not to mention, your guests will appreciate not having to wait in line after the auction ends.

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 frequently anyways.

Just make sure to plan out all the logistics in advance. You should designate few dates on which guests can pick up their items and assign a few staff or volunteers to head this effort.

Use school auction software to manage your event.

Best Practice #6: Use Software

While it is possible for your school to run a silent auction without software, auction software can really bring your event to the next level.

Using software will help your school both simplify your auction planning and streamline your event execution.

The right platform can also help you raise more from your auction and provide your guests with a better experience. Software will make it much more convenient for them to participate, too!

In other words, using auction software will make your silent auction much simpler, much more profitable, and much more engaging! 

Jump down to the last section in our guide for more detailed information on how software can help make your auction best in class!

Additional Fundraising Strategies for School Auctions

Focus on Priceless Items

When procuring and advertising your auction items, your team should definitely focus on priceless items.

Priceless items are those that can’t be valued because they have some kind of emotional or nostalgic value. A good example would be handmade artwork by students.

These types of items tend to do well with schools, which are highly community-oriented.

Chances are, your audience is chock-full of parents who 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!

Host an Online Auction

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.

To host an online auction, all you need to do is set up an event site. 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 to give participants more time to bid or host one after the event to sell any leftover items.

Either way, this is an excellent strategy for increasing the funds you raise through bidding.

Hold a Raffle

Your auction attendees are likely looking to walk home with an amazing prize, so give them another chance to win by hosting a raffle!

You can 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.

Encourage Bid Wars

To see those priceless items perform as well as possible, you have to talk them up!

Encouraging bid wars works particularly well for items that hold sentimental value, since they’re both unique and emotionally-driven.

For example, say one of your auction items was a quilt signed by all of the students in one class. You could 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!

Make a Live Appeal

The best way to win more donations is simply to ask for them!

A live appeal is an in-person request for donations during a fundraising event. 

Have one of your school’s staff members get up and ask for donations from the audience.

Your guests can submit their donations using the donation portal included in mobile bidding software.

A live appeal will be an additional donation opportunity, perfect for guests who don’t want to participate in the bidding or those who just want to contribute a little more to your school!

Sell School Spirit Merchandise

Your students, parents, and staff are brimming with pride for their amazing 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 would appeal most to your guests!

Chances are, your guests want something to remember what a great time they had at your auction. Merch is the perfect memento.

Plus, selling merchandise is a particularly effective tactic for silent auctions, where guests are looking to walk home with items.

How Software Can Improve Your School Auction Fundraiser

Item and Package Management

Track all item data, from the donor’s name to the winning bid amount. Group related items into packages, and automatically assign numbers to each item. All important information is tracked in the same platform, so it’s easy to stay organized.

Event Sites & Online Auctions

Generate event sites to create a digital hub for your silent auction. List items to create an auction catalog, open up online bidding, pre-register guests’ credit cards, and sell tickets and school spirit wear. You’ll have everything you need for a successful auction!

Mobile Bidding

No more filling out bid sheets! Instead, guests conveniently bid straight from their phones, resulting in about 3x as many bids. Mobile bidding allows guests to browse items from their phones and automates check-out, simplifying your event execution.

Online Ticketing

With your auction site, guests can purchase their auction tickets from the comfort of their own homes. Advanced ticketing allows you to set multiple ticket packages (individual, couple, family, sponsorships, etc.), so guests can customize their experience.

RSVP Management

With software, managing RSVPs has never been easier. Since your event site is generated from your software, all attendee and ticket data is tracked right in the platform. If you’re hosting dinner at your auction, you can also assign guests to seats and tables.

Secure Payment Processing

Securely process winning bids with mobile bidding, and take payments for admission, merch, raffle tickets, and other event-related expenses on your auction site. Receipts are instantly sent to attendees’ inboxes. No more stressing about check-out!

Scoreboards & Thermometers

Heighten the competition at your auction by giving guests real-time updates about your event. Spark bidding by featuring popular items on your scoreboard, and motivate guests to meet the goal during your live appeal with thermometers.

Reporting & Analytics

Auction software enables you to run a wide variety of detailed reports on your guests, items, and the overall health of your event. With robust event analytics, you can gain deep insights into your silent auction so that they’ll only keep getting better and better!

Learn More About BidPal Auction Software from OneCause

Plan More Events

OneCause isn’t just great for silent auctions! Our software supports an unlimited number of events annually, providing your organization with one convenient place for managing all of your event fundraising needs.

Integrate Easier

OneCause supports integrations with a wide range of nonprofit CRMs. With seamless integrations, collecting auction data in your donor profiles has never been easier!

Work with a Pioneer

OneCause pioneered mobile bidding. That means we have unparalleled experience in supporting nonprofits with their software and developing this solution into a powerful tool that can maximize silent auction bids.

Partner Up

OneCause has partnerships with many other auction services. We can help you procure amazing items, find an auctioneer, staff your event, and more to bring your silent auction to the next level!

Additional School Auction Resources

Charity Auctions: 12+ Insanely Useful Tips

Now that you know which silent auction software to use, check out these tips for planning your charity auction. Will it be a silent, online, or live auction? Plus, learn how to maximize your bids and more!

115 Creative Charity Auction Item Ideas

Need help thinking of auction item ideas? We’ve got a list of 115 ideas that are sure to please your guests and encourage competitive bidding. Plus, with the help of your software, managing them all will be a slice of cake.

Silent Auction Planning Guide

Now that you’ve chosen the right software, learn all about the planning that goes into setting up a successful auction. Get some tips your software might not even know! Take a look at our silent auction guide.

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