or you just found yourself “it”.  It happens. You don’t even know how but suddenly you are the point person for your organization’s auction. There is someone in our town who is involved in everything – historical society, neighborhood club, PTO, library, music and art schools – really everything (not me – I run a distant ninth or fiftieth or something) – she is amazing and has a huge amount of energy and dedication. If that is not you, corral your town’s equivalent as a partner, if you can’t do that (even she has to say no sometimes), here are some tips to get you going.

Every event has a base – Know your base (audience). Who attends, what is interesting or important to them and remember that it is important to change things up. Even if you have a successful formula – tweaking it will get you better results over the long run.  Having been involved in our library fundraiser for over ten years, I have a few helpful tips.  Our event hosts six or more authors – guests can buy and have the books signed, there are great (heavy) appetizers, yummy desserts, specialty coffees and a silent auction. Tom Ashbrook and Bill Novak have been speakers for the past few years and we like a silent auction. We also ensure that the baskets vary in price.

Focus. Our silent auction stands out because it is a literary themed and we have baskets (we call them that but they can be buckets or even decorated boards)  but we start with a book and work from there. For example,  if the book is by a great local sportswriter we pair it with Red Sox tickets (always a hot item) and a bobble-head baseball player or cap or such. Fun, visually appealing and great tickets equal popular item.  We are lucky that Newton has wonderful artists who also are community-minded. If the item is a gorgeously made necklace (by local artist Annie Lenox) or child’s chair (upholstered by fellow artist, and her husband) Jim Sersich, we tie them in with a great art book (or a children’s book to read in darling chair) or a favorite book chosen by the artists. More about them in another post.

We have a nice mix of ages at our event, and most are parents (or grand-parents) and items that go quickly appeal to those with  young children. We have had great luck with local gymnastic/fitness centers (for us, Energy Fitness) giving birthday parties – such a generous donation and makes for a great package. We put it together with gift certificate for balloons and a cake. Great item – Party Accomplished!

We also like to give toys or art supplies donated by local children’s shop, The Learning Express. You will quickly learn who will donate and what will work with your theme or goals. DO have a theme if at all possible – it helps prevent the mish-mash of things you sometimes get. Can that donated mani-pedi really go with the Jane Austen book?  Sometimes not.

Don’t be afraid to look outside of your city or town – you’ll be glad you did. Large companies like Sur La Table or Fresh donations go through corporate headquarters – not impossible, just time-consuming and no guarantee you will get anything. Local merchants like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are super supportive of communities and some on-line companies like Ten Marks are even more accessible. Ten Marks has a program that offers one free year subscription to their site (online customizable math tutoring worth $89) for schools to any school or preschool running an auction (and aren’t we all?). Finally, a company that understands how to access your school community and does it in a thoughtful generous way. Here is the link: http://community.tenmarks.com/

Coordinate. Coordinate. Coordinate.

If you are lucky enough to have a large committee, you must give concrete assignments or you will have twenty of the same things – one dog grooming auction item is great – five is a disaster!  Find the spreadsheet person in the group. There is always one (otherwise it is you). The spreadsheet is your friend and will help you figure out (for next year’s auction) what brought in the most money for your event. Be nice and document it. You may not be head of the event next year but why make anyone reinvent the wheel? Wouldn’t you be thrilled to get a nice package of information instead of scribbled notes? Of course you would.

Who is the person who always shows up and is responsible enough to take notes? If you have the brain capacity to retain the whole meeting, great. I do not and rely on notes (preferably not my own if I am running the meeting – keeping order in a big committee is hard enough). Ask for help.

Subcommittees are your next best friend. One for food, one for decorations, one for auction items, one for set-up, one for check-in, one (so important) for check-out. Schedule them to meet on a regular basis and have someone responsible for reporting in at the larger committee meetings. Extra hands are always welcome – round up some day of the event worker bees (get everyone on the committee to bring a friend or two). Many people are willing and able to help in this way but can’t put in the committee time.

Need more information? Here is a great article at VolunteerSpot with more how-to tips. There are also sites that help you pull it all together Bidding For Good is one that I have heard friends rave about – connect to them here.  All in all, if you are organized and able to think outside of the box, you will have a successful event.

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