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Organising A Silent Auction

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For several years now, our school has run a silent auction at both our Christmas and Summer fetes. Whilst we still do a ‘Grand Draw’ raffle, this is limited to just 3 items - a Fortnums hamper donated by a local estate agent, a drinks hamper (put together with the best offerings from our tombola), and a beauty hamper which a mother of 4 daughters puts together for us.

Everything else that we get donated gets put into the auction, which makes on average around £1200 each time. Sometimes more, depending on what items we get given. It’s 100% profit for our PTA - we don’t buy anything ourselves as every item is donated.

If I say so myself, we have some great items to bid for, and parents always look forward to perusing the list and getting a bargain!

We have a team of ‘blaggers’ and between us we ask both local and national businesses. We create a PTA signed letter with our charity details and information about what we’re fund raising for. Everything is kept in a shared Dropbox folder. We keep an Excel spreadsheet and mark down whether the companies can be contacted summer only, Christmas only or year round. With the exception of a few large and very generous local businesses who give us a big prize twice a year, we try not to contact the same companies more than once a year as there’s a limited pool of local businesses, all of whom get tapped by local schools.

Our starting point is always our regular donors, and I try and think outside the box by contacting new companies and national ones a little further afield.

We also ask school parents via Parentmail if they could donate a service or goods. One parent works for a local building firm, so very generously donates twice a year. Another parent works for a local architect. Another is a beautician.

After the Excel file is populated, we then create a Word document with a summary of items and face value, before populating our silent auction website (we use Wix), which we start plugging about a week or so before the date of the fete. We publicise this via Parentmail but also widely via social media - also a great way to tag and thank the companies donating, as well as garner more publicity for our fete.

People can bid online beforehand and also at the fete, where we have a stall on the day with auction slips that people fill in and we try to display as many of the lots as possible. After the event, one of us goes through the bids to determine winners. If there’s a matching bid, we contact those people to explain and invite them to up their bid - highest bidder wins.

On average, expect to get around between 40-60% of the face value. Unless it’s a ‘cash value’ voucher like a £50 Ocado voucher for example, it’s rare that people will bid the full amount. We do have some lovely parents who do bid face value (or even a few pennies more) for items. For very expensive lots we set a minimum bid.

A lot of people pay cash or cheque, especially if they’re school parents, but for people not connected to school or for larger amounts then we email invoices using our Square contactless app, which is very handy as the cash goes straight into our bank account.

If there are any lots unbid for, what we do is reopen the website after that weekend and send out a parentmail plugging the last items and giving them until the Saturday evening - people are usually keen to bid knowing they can get a bargain.

My top tips:

Assign people to different tasks and make sure everyone knows who they’re contacting. It’s annoying for companies if they’re asked multiple times by different people. Keep a ‘Do Not Contact’ list too for those companies that won’t or can’t donate. Mark down on the Excel sheet the date contacted, by whom, response etc. Note when the item or voucher has arrived.

Allocate one person to hold the tangible items. E vouchers should be put into the shared Dropbox. Some smaller businesses don’t have vouchers - I always offer to create one for them using Canva.

Some donors want to be acknowledged via social media. If your PTA has a Facebook or Twitter page, stress that in your initial approach. Once items start rolling in, you can start to feature a few each day on social media to whet the appetite. It’s also a great and quick way to thank the companies, as well as getting them to help publicise your fete!

Assign one person to thinking ‘outside the box’ and searching for new businesses to approach. Local Facebook community pages are a great source of potential new businesses. I often ping a quick message using FB Messenger and get great results that way. Look out for new gyms or restaurants opening - a great way for them to promote their business. I also check out other PTA social media accounts to see what national companies are donating to them that might want to donate to us!

Almost any service has a value that someone will want to bid on. Carpenter, plumber or electrician? Not very exciting, perhaps, but an hour or two of their time is something people will want! We group items in our website into ‘Services’, ‘Things to do’, ‘Food & Drink’ and ‘Home, Beauty & Gifts’.

Consider national companies. Some, like The Entertainer, will give a gift card once a year. Eurostar do a monthly lottery for free tickets (no, I’ve never won - yet). Museums are a great source - even the free ones have summer exhibitions and will often give family tickets. Don't forget Stamptastic give a FREE £22 fundraising voucher to every PTA that signs up to their PTA Rewards Scheme and they donate £30 fundraising vouchers in return for guest blog posts like this one.

Run external stalls at your fete? We ask stall holders if they can donate something. It’s not essential, but we get a couple of items that way.

Be respectful and aware of other local schools and try not to encroach upon their patches. Our area has its own Facebook page for local PTAs. We check our fete dates don’t clash, share ideas, and have a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ whereby we try not to stray into their areas and vice versa. One lovely PTA had too many items for their raffle, and donated them to our silent auction.

Our PTA produces a programme for our summer fete - and we dedicate a whole page to our ‘Thank Yous’, listing all the companies who have donated. People like to be acknowledged, particularly smaller local businesses.

After the event, do a Facebook post thanking and tagging as many of the local business as you can. Do the same on Twitter for the larger nationals. On Instagram? Even if it’s your personal page, a post tagging some of the smaller ‘makers’ who might not use FB or Twitter goes down well.

Nicola Jarratt Wanstead Church School PTA

(Wanstead Church School PTA is a member of The Stamptastic PTA Rewards Scheme) and received a £30 fundraising voucher for writing this blog post. If you would like to write a blog post for us please join our Stamptastic PTA and Schools Facebook Group to find out more!)


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