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The School Auction: How to Maximize Donations and Success

Updated: May 26, 2023

Auctions are one of the school year's highlights; they are fun and exciting and can also boost your school, PTA, or PTO fundraising. On a recent episode of The Multipurpose Room podcast, we at K-12 Clothing talked to Dabney Lawless, a PR firm owner and master, about getting auction donations. In this blog, we will summarize our conversation for you as we guide you on maximizing donations and success for your school auction.

There’s no avoiding that a lot goes into pulling off the perfect school auction. After all, it is no small event, and some serious work must be done. Luckily for you, we’ve got all the tips and tricks!

Disco Balls glowing green and dark purple.
Disco Balls

Start Early

Auctions run on donations; there’s no other way around it. And the earlier you start collecting donations, the less competition you’ll face. Typically, starting 6-8 months before your auction is a good idea. For a spring auction, start in the fall. Businesses don’t have as many people coming to them in the fall, so you’ll face less competition.

How to Get Donations

At the end of the day, the success of your school auction all comes down to one thing: the items themselves. No matter how smooth the arrangements may be or how fun a party is, you are unlikely to fetch top dollar if your items aren't interesting.

The first step in the item-collecting process is listing the things you want to bid on. It’s a good idea to dig into your own interests as you’re a good representative of your school community and their interests.

Second, go for large corporations. It would surprise you how many established companies are actually willing to donate to school auctions. Some of them, like OtterBox and Kendra Scott Jewelry, even have school programs set aside for donations. Targeting the bigger corporate companies is more about research and connections, as they tend to work through a more formalized process.

Third, make sure to target a large number of local businesses. Both small one-shop stores serving the community and stores part of a larger chain with a local presence are likely to donate. For example, the manager at your local Athleta likely has the autonomy to give donations that support local causes. With local restaurants, salons, or stores, it’s good to go in and ask the manager for donations face-to-face, as these businesses thrive on customer service. Taking your school-going kid along is also a great hack, as people love to see who they’ll donate to. Also, being willing to show your investment in their business by buying an item you may need at home while asking for a donation can go a long way.

Finally, it is also a good idea to ask your school to donate some items, such as parking spaces, premier seating at school functions, or letting students be the teacher for a day. The benefit is that these items are attractive to students and parents alike and do not carry a high cost for the school.

Making the Most of Your Donated Items

So, you’ve put in all the hard work and hours and gotten your hands on some sweet items. That’s great! But that’s not your work done. The price an item auctions for depends on its presentation, so the question comes down to making the most of your items.

A great way to increase the value of your existing items is to combine them to create a package deal. For instance, if you’ve gotten donations from a toy store, a bakery, a burger place, and an event hall, you can put all of these together and auction off a birthday package. Not only is this likely to auction for a higher price than the individual items, but it will also attract much more attention.

What Items Fetch Top Dollar?

It’s important to try and figure out what drives people when they’re bidding. In other words, what characteristics do big-ticket items have? Historically, some winning big-ticket items at school auctions have been:

· A Pixar Studios tour

· A night at an observatory

· A spa day

· Being principal for a day

In short, it’s mostly the experience-based ‘items’ that rake in the big bids instead of actual goods. So when you are packaging up your items, keep this in mind. For example, donated wine, a gift certificate to a grocery store, and a picnic basket can be put together as a “picnic experience,” increasing the price.

Remember that too many restrictions on an experience can lower the price. Vacations, for example, are not typically high bid getters because they are limited in how you can use them.

Person holding money, euros in their hands.

Source (Donations)

Add a “Fund A Need” Donation Option

School auctions can extend beyond the typical bidding for items or experiences on the show, with many institutions also holding a “Fund a Need” segment to their auctions. This is where schools select any one need that their students might have, such as a van for school trips, new computers for the lab, or more art supplies, and ask parents to donate towards them.

These Tips Still Work for Virtual Auctions

As with everything else, the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 did not fail to leave its mark on school auctions. As schools transitioned their teaching activities to an online platform, school auctions followed suit as they adopted a virtual format. There are many free technologies, and although there are paid versions of those technologies, the free version is typically feature-rich enough for your average auction. And don’t forget, there’s always the good old Zoom! Zoom online auctions are like an in-person auction simulation as they bid, and attendees and auctioneers can interact over video chat.

One thing to remember is that the item-collecting process does not differ much regarding online or in-person auctions. It’s one of the only steps with such a high similarity level.

Of course, online auctions are missing the alcohol, so you’ll have to pull out new tricks to keep the mood flowing! A great way to do this is to unveil the items one at a time with frequent updates to keep things fresh and the excitement buzzing.

So, that’s that – a quick guide on maximizing donations and success when arranging your school auction. Remember, start early, and don’t be afraid to ask! You never know just who might be willing to donate. And, of course, remember to have some fun!

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