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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 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!
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. To 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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!
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:
Here, we’ll give you some tips to help you snag some amazing items that are sure win big bids!
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:
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.
The homepage features:
And they listed their items correctly by including all of the important information that their guests need to know:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.