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The School Auction: How to Maximize Donations and Success

Auctions are one of the highlights of the school year, not only are they fun and exciting, but they also can really 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 at getting auction donations. We’re going to sum our conversation up for you in this blog as we guide you on how to maximize donations and success for your school auction.

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

Source (School Auction)


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, if your items aren’t interesting, then you are unlikely to fetch top dollar.

The first step in the item-collecting process is to make a list of the things that you would 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 that are specifically set aside for donations. When targeting the bigger corporate companies, it's 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 that serve the community and stores that are part of a larger chain but have a local presence are likely to donate. For example, the manager at your local Athleta likely has autonomy to give donations that support local causes. With local restaurants, salons, or stores, it’s good to just 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 actually be donating for. 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 a couple of items, such as parking spaces, premier seating at school functions, or letting students be the teacher for a day. The benefit in these is that these items are attractive students and parents alike, and they also 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 majorly depends on how it’s presented, and 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 then 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 a lot more attention.

What Items Fetch Top Dollar?

It’s important to try and figure out what really 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 as opposed to 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 donated picnic basket can be put together as a “picnic experience” thereby driving the price higher.


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

Source (Donations)

Add a “Fund A Need” Donation Option

School auctions can extend beyond the typical bidding for items or experiences on 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 the realm of 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 a bit like an in-person auction simulation as they have bidding, and attendees and auctioneers can interact with one another over video chat.


One thing to keep in mind is that the item-collecting process does not really differ much when it comes to online or in-person auctions. In fact, it’s one of the only steps that has such a high level of similarity.

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 how to maximize 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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