Your school needs a strong fundraising strategy to bring in extra revenue, engage your community members, and power your school’s mission. This is where a lively auction can help. Whether you’re hosting an auction in-person, virtually, or as a hybrid, you can rally supporters around your fundraising goals and engage students, parents, teachers, and community members alike.

First, you need an auction fundraising plan. Taking the time to develop a blueprint for your auction ensures you have everything you need to pull off an unforgettable event.

Use these top tips to plan a successful school fundraising auction:

  1. Determine your event format.
  2. Form a team and identify roles.
  3. Begin procuring items.
  4. Market your event.
  5. Finalize event logistics and launch your auction.

Auction fundraising doesn’t have to be difficult! With the right strategies and fundraising tools in place, you can boost revenue for your school and connect with supporters. Let’s begin.

Why School Fundraising Auctions?

Fundraising auctions are popular for schools of all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re an experienced auction planner who hosts an annual event or looking to run a school auction for the first time this year, auctions are an amazing fundraising channel.

According to the OneCause guide to school auctions, these high-energy events are perfect for schools because they are:

  • Highly engaging and flexible for all audiences. If you’re looking for an engaging event where participants take an active role in the fundraising, an auction is an excellent choice. Auctions fit just about any audience. Just make sure your auction items appeal to your different attendees.
  • Built into a wide variety of other events. While auctions can certainly function as standalone events, they also work extremely well alongside other fundraisers like fundraising galas, banquets, and parties. This way, you diversify your revenue streams and have multiple activities to engage attendees.
  • Adaptable to the virtual world. With virtual fundraising, participants are no longer bound by geographic restrictions and can support your school from anywhere—and for a longer timeframe as well!
  • Easily made into hybrid events. You can turn any auction into a hybrid event. Host a silent auction that runs both onsite at the venue and online simultaneously.

Not only can school auctions provide an engaging experience for attendees and generate revenue for schools, but they create fun, too. The friendly competition generated for an in-demand item or package is a powerful motivator for fundraising.

How to Plan a Successful School Auction

With the help of your team and a strong fundraising plan, you can confidently lead any auction. Use these top tips to streamline your auction planning and keep your fundraiser on track to hit your goals.

1. Determine your event format.

In-person and virtual auctions each have unique benefits and can bring in a ton of revenue for your cause. If your organization wants to create an intimate and exciting bidding atmosphere, you might want to host an in-person event experience. On the other hand, if you want to engage as many community members as possible and reduce your overhead costs, a virtual experience might be better.

If you’re having trouble deciding between in-person and virtual fundraising, why not combine the two for a powerful hybrid event? Hybrid fundraising allows you to engage two separate audiences, in two different locations, at the exact same time. Plus, its inherent flexibility makes it easy to adapt an auction to your exact needs.

For example, you might invite your loyal community members (like your top school donors) to a small in-person event, while the rest of your audience participates remotely in the fundraising process.

Whether you choose an in-person, virtual, or hybrid auction experience, you need powerful fundraising software to support your auction fundraiser. Look for an all-in-one fundraising platform with the following features:

  1. Mobile bidding. Lose the paper bids and digitize bidding! With mobile bidding, your nonprofit can easily keep track of incoming bids and your attendees can join in on the auction fundraising process right from their phones. The OneCause 2023 Giving Experience Research Study found that 63% of donors are more likely to attend an event when the donation process is easy, so advertising your mobile bidding option in advance can solidify added support.
  2. Live-streaming tools. If your auction will have a virtual element, live-streaming tools are a must. Look for a fundraising platform where you can easily stream your event to remote attendees and keep them engaged with live-chat.
  3. Gamification. Add some healthy gameplay to your auction with built-in gamification tools like scoreboards, fundraising thermometers, and countdown clocks.
  4. Streamlined check-in and checkout process. With the right fundraising platform, you’ll never have to worry about long lines at your auction. Offer contactless express check-in options to your guests with QR codes and seamless self check-out processes.
  5. Post-event analytics. Once your event wraps up, you need to reflect on your performance and determine if you met your goals. Look for a fundraising platform that will automatically generate post-event analytics so you can hone your auction approach for the future.

The right fundraising platform will provide value to your school even as you host other fundraising event types. Do your research to find the best solution for your specific needs and audience.

2. Form a team and identify roles.

Before you can begin planning the logistics of your upcoming auction, it’s critical to select a dedicated auction team or committee to help. This might include parents, teachers, volunteers, staff, and other passionate individuals who want to see your school’s auction succeed.

Once you have your team, assign specific roles to each person. Key auction roles include:

  • Auction chair and co-chair
  • Ticket sales chair
  • Event committee
  • Tech chair and support
  • Item procurement team
  • Sponsorships team
  • Social media and communications chair
  • Emcee/auctioneer

Now that you have a team of eager fundraisers, work together to determine your fundraising goals, budget, timeframe and schedule, revenue streams, and more.

3. Begin procuring items.

The items up for bid at your auction are the stars of the show. To get the most from your auction, it’s important to invest time and effort into procuring high demand items that will inspire a bidding frenzy. Begin procuring items several months in advance to ensure you have the time you need to secure, pick-up, and curate your catalog.

Some popular items for school auctions include:

  • Gift baskets, including high-quality back-to-school supplies for students or wine and cheese for parents
  • Artwork created by students
  • Travel packages for families
  • Exclusive experiences, like principal for a day
  • Technology essentials, such as laptops or tablets

Offer a variety of items that will appeal to your different audiences. For example, while parents might be excited to bid over daycare packages, community members without children might be more interested in an annual movie pass.

To keep procurement costs low and drive auction revenue, Double the Donation’s guide to corporate sponsorships recommends working with local businesses to help supply your auction items. For example, a local tech retailer might be willing to offer donated or discounted laptops, cell phones, or video game consoles that you can auction off for much more than you spent to procure them.

Develop a compelling corporate sponsorship letter that highlights your fundraising needs, how the prospective partner’s help will support your school, and the different opportunities you can present to your partner to make your relationship mutually beneficial. For example, you might include your corporate partner’s logo in all of your marketing materials and shout them out during the auction.

4. Promote your event.

Begin promoting your event early to ensure your entire school community knows it’s happening and they have plenty of time to register. The best way to get the word out about your auction is with a multichannel marketing plan. Share a mix of announcements, catalog teasers, and links to your event site or fundraising platform on the following channels:

  • Website. Create an event landing page on your website that overviews your auction details, including how to register, the date and location, instructions on how to join if you’re hosting your auction virtually, and other key details.
  • Social media. Share high-impact visuals, like photos of your students, videos of your schools’ leaders discussing your event, or pictures from your last auction or fundraising event to give prospective attendees an idea of what it’ll be like to attend. Couple your posts with engaging hashtags to expand your reach.
  • Email. Send an email out to all of your students (if middle or high school-aged) as well as your parents so they can learn more about your auction. Provide mobile-friendly links to your event landing or registration page so community members can easily take next actions.

Be sure to track metrics associated with each platform to see how your marketing materials are performing. For instance, you should track page views, bounce rate, and time spent on page for your event landing page.

Track key performance indicators as you market your auction.

Remember to also highlight the perks of attendance in your communications! For example, beyond providing sneak peeks into your item catalog, you might highlight any catering or entertainment that will be at your in-person event. Plus, clearly explain the purpose behind your auction in your digital marketing so community members will feel more inclined to register and attend.

5. Finalize event logistics and launch your auction.

As you begin to finalize the details of your auction, this stage can look significantly different based on the type of event you are hosting. We’ve divided this step into best practices for in-person elements as well as for virtual engagement.

For In-Person Bidding

During this final stage, confirm your event schedule, food and entertainment, venue details, and seating charts. Think through the different gamification tactics you’ll use to draw bidders into the auction process. Will you display a scoreboard that shows the top leaders? Will you remind community members about your auction deadline with text message alerts?

Make sure all of your event details are solidified so that when the big day comes, everything can go off without a hitch.

For Virtual and Hybrid Bidding

In both virtual and hybrid auctions, bids will come in online, meaning you’ll need to finalize any logistics surrounding your technology.

It’s a good idea to thoroughly test your technical components prior to the big event. This way, you can ensure you and your team are familiar with your virtual and hybrid event software so that things run as smoothly as possible.

You’ll also want to have plans in place for keeping up the energy throughout the event. For example, gamification, live-streamed appeals, a mix of engaging programming, and staggered item close times can ensure guests are hooked from the minute they get involved to the conclusion of your event.

Wrapping Up

During your auction, leverage your fundraising platform to track your metrics and donor engagement levels. This way, you can assess whether you’re on target to hit your fundraising goal and make changes in your strategies as needed. By keeping your audience engrossed in the bidding process throughout your event, you’ll be able to deepen your community relationships and supercharge your fundraising results!

About Author

Kelly Velasquez-Hague

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.

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