By Mia Wenjen
I was the co-chair for my elementary school Fundraising Committee last year and also served on my preschool's fundraising committee a few years ago. For both schools, the auction is the single biggest fundraising event and must bring in a princely sum in order for the PTO budgets to function.
This is what I learned to make a school auction successful:
- You can never start too early. No matter who you solicit -- parents or businesses -- the early bird gets the worm. I started soliciting for auction items nearly 10 months before the event. Why? It's easier to get commitments when the actual date of delivery seems far away.
- You can never confirm too early either! Once you get a commitment for an item, it's best to immediately create the blurb that you will use either for online auction or for the display at the auction itself. You will need the donor to sign off on the blurb. This is the critical ste p that weeds out donors you think are committed but you don't actually have. I'd say expect 20% fall out.
- Be careful of duplications! It might seem like the more Red Sox tickets you get, the better because popular items such as sports tickets are always popular. HA!! This is what I learned: you don't want duplication because it dilutes the price at auction and donors will not be happy if their seats sell far below market value. Your schools will have auctions for years to come and you don't want to burn out your donor base! Don't be afraid to turn down donors or ask for a substitute item: "We are concerned that your generous offer to host an Italian Dinner for 10 will compete with a similar item (i.e. Italian Dinner for 8) and it won't get the attention it deserves. Is there another type of cuisine that you could consider?"
- Build a spreadsheet and track by category. You will want to solicit specific items once you hit the halfway point to fill in gaps and avoid duplication. I can't stress the importance of not duplicating items. We tracked by category, compared items to previous years' items, and tried to specifically fill in gaps. For example, rounds of golf for 4 are popular at our school. We made sure that there wasn't duplication of courses or clubs and actively solicited members of popular golf clubs in our area.
- Priceless versus Buy It Yourself. Like the Mastercard commercials, there are experiences that are priceless and these fetch a lot of money. Items include: a parent with a special skill (think athletes, cooks, or professional skill for private or group lessons), a ride in a police car (talk to the Safety Officer), a visit to a firehouse, and items made by children. Items that you can buy yourself will ALWAYS go for less than the market value. That's ok, but PRICELESS items tend to go through the roof.
- Silent & Anonymous Auction versus Live Auction versus Online Auction? I have experience with all three types of auctions. They all have pros and cons. The trick with the online auction is to get traffic to the site but items tend to sell better than at auction events because not everyone can make the event. For our online auction (which was the first time ever at our school), we researched extensively and came up with BiddingForGood.com as our online auction platform. While they were the most expensive option out there, they were well worth it! We had a great experience and would highly, highly recommend them! Live Auctions raise more money than Silent & Anonymous Auctions but can turn off mere mortals when pitted against the wealthiest echelon at their school. This can create ill will particularly for schools that have wide disparity in families' socio-economic backgrounds.
- Don't Be Afraid to Solicit Beyond the Businesses in Your Area. TenMarks, an online math program, is offering a one year subscription to online customizable math tutoring worth $89 to any school or preschool's auction! There are other companies who want access to your school community and would welcome an entry to introduce themselves. Check online for companies that might want to target parents like you and email blast away! *For more information on TenMarks, here is a previous post of mine. I am finding that their online math program is both effective and fun for kids in grades 3-12.
- Get Help and Meet Often. Your auction committee is only as good as the number of times that it meets. Parents have the best of intentions when they offer to help but unless they show up for meetings, they are not likely putting in the work. Meet often -- weekly at a set time and day is best as the auction nears -- and make the roles and responsibilities of each person as clear as possible. We set up committees by type of solicitation and then assigned specific items and companies for people to solicit.
- Track the blurbs and estimate how much each item will fetch. Remember that spreadsheet? Use it to track each item: solicited, confirmed, approved blurb, estimated value, actual value, and your best guess of what it will fetch. You will need estimated value of item FROM THE DONOR versus ACTUAL AMOUNT SOLD FOR for tax purposes if the donor wants to write off their donation. The tax rules apply to high priced items but you will still need to track this info. As for the amount that you think each item will fetch, you will want to run numbers several months before your event to see if you will hit your target. This will give you ample time to get the word out that you need more items and actually go out and get them.
- Take a deep breath. The auction is more of a marathon than a sprint. There will be politics involved. You will get unsolicited advice and criticism. You will work your butt off. Maintain good relations with those around you. Remember that you will be seeing these people for years to come and that it will all come together and work out in the end. Thankfully, it always does!
Mia Wenjen is Pragmatic Mom. When she is not volunteering at her school, she can be found blogging on parenting, education and children's literature at Pragmatic Mom, Type A Parenting for the Modern World. She is happy to report that her school auction went off without a hitch (well ... there are always hitches but the princely sum required to fund her school's PTO was successfully raised).
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