How to Run an Auction


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Planning an Auction




Planning a charity auction is an extensive undertaking. Even a simple silent auction will take weeks if not months of planning. A fundraising auction can turn a profit anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 or more for your fundraising efforts. Before you commit, see what’s involved. If you’re willing, this will help get you started.

An auction as a holiday get-together or a spring event can be a fun and entertaining night out for parents, friends, alumni, and business colleagues. Plan an auction as an evening event from 6:00/7:00pm to 10:00/11:00pm. Guests should be given at least an hour to roam the hall and view the auction items before the bidding begins. This will also give them a chance to participate in any Raffle and Silent Auction you have planned. Use PTOFFICE to help run the auction and other components to increase profits and contributor involvement.




Form a committee of volunteers that can assist you with the planning and execution of the auction. You will need assistance contacting potential sponsors, collecting prizes and donations, and other planning details.




By setting a goal, you will be better able to put together an auction that helps you reach it. Your donated auction items should have a value of at least twice your goal. If you want to raise $10,000, you should have auction items with values totaling at least $20,000.




When you pick a location to host your auction, consider how many people you expect to attend the event and think about your audience. Do you plan to invite just school parents or will you extend invitations to friends, family, alumni, and local business people. Remember your primary goal is fundraising so you want to try to keep costs down. You will need a facility that can accommodate tables & chairs for the attendees and also several tables to showcase the auction items.


You can utilize your school cafeteria for your auction. It’s free and the kitchen, tables, and chairs are already located here. You’ll need to obtain appropriate approvals from your school principal. You’ll also need to ensure access to the school on the day of the event. This may entail hiring a custodian for the day.


Or, you can look into reserving another local function hall. Check with nonprofit organizations in the area (Elks, Rotary, or Lions clubs) and ask to have the hall donated. Unlike a school, most function halls have liquor licenses to offer a cash bar and tables, chairs, and table linens available for use. Wherever you decide to host the auction, make sure you check with the school or hall regarding liability insurance coverage, especially if alcohol is being served. Also consider if a fireman (i.e. for lit candles) or a policeman (i.e. for traffic direction) is needed.




You will need an experienced auctioneer for your event. Ask the auctioneer about their commission, what services they’ll provide and what additional expenses might be involved in the sale. For a school auction where your committee is taking care of the planning of the auction, you can expect to pay an average of $1,500 for an auctioneer for the evening. Always remember to ask the auctioneer to donate his/her services to your cause or at least offer a discounted rate. In rare instances, a school parent may be an auctioneer or know someone who is an auctioneer, so always ask! To locate an auctioneer in your area, search:

National Auctioneer’s Association – This online database can be searched by state and specialty and includes over 6,000 experienced auctioneers.

Yellow Pages under “auctioneer”

Newspaper for auctioneer ads




Gathering auction items is the most time-consuming, tedious, and one of the most critical parts of planning an auction. Without items you have nothing to auction off! Offer quality items and be creative!




Set up tables around the perimeter of the hall to display your auction items. Cover the tables with tablecloths or fabric. Black velvet fabric (hopefully donated by a fabric store) provides an elegant background to showcase the items. By placing boxes under the fabric at varying heights, you create different levels and add interest to the arrangement.


The use of Bid Boards will eliminate the need to showcase every gift certificate at a table space. Use large erasable white boards to list the gift cards and other small auction items, the guest’s bid number, and the bid amount. Have an auction committee volunteer operate the Bid Board. Guests can visit the board and place bids throughout the evening, out-bidding other guests. Announce what time the Bid Board closes and draw attention to it by periodically making announcements regarding it (i.e. “only 15 minutes left until the Bid Board closes”).




Live Auction items are those expected to pull in the highest bids. Personal items (i.e. those made by the students) should also be included as live auction items.


Deciding how many items to place in the live auction is a balancing act. Since the live auction should only run about 1 to 1-1/2 hours to keep the interest of the guests and approximately 25 items can be auctioned off in one hour’s time, consider limiting the live auction to 40 items. Keep in mind that the pressure and excitement of a live auctioneer drawing bids from the guests will likely result in a higher bid than if the item were in a silent auction.




You can also incorporate a silent auction into your auction. Also known as a Blind Auction, this works similar to a standard auction where the person with the highest unique bid (no others with the same bid amount) wins the item up for auction. The number of silent auction items is only limited by the table space you have available. Set out several long tables to accommodate the items.




Decide which donated items you would like to include in your silent auction and wrap them like gifts. In one of the boxes include either a cash prize for a dollar amount that’s high enough to attract interest (i.e. $250, $500, $1,000), several lottery tickets, or all of the remaining gift cards along with a few lottery tickets. Note the minimum dollar value of the contents on the outside of the box (i.e. Minimum value of this box is $300).


Another variation on the wrapped boxes would be to use balloons as centerpieces and fill the balloons with the cash, gift certificates, or lottery tickets.


Provide a form so guests can write down their bid number and bid amount and place them into a closed box so bidders don’t see each other’s bids. The challenge is to purchase the item for the least possible amount of dollars while still bidding enough to assure you win the bid. The fun part of this type of auction is opening the wrapped boxes in front of everyone to determine the winners. Finally, the winning bidder pays their bid amount to claim the prize.




Run an online auction in conjunction with a live auction to give additional exposure to both events. Live auction items can be previewed online prior to the live event, which may assist in selling an increased number of tickets. Use the online bids to elevate your starting bids at the live event. Your catalog can consist of a section of live-auction items and a section of online-auction items. Also, promote the online auction at the live event. If you have two similar items place one online and one in your live auction. If you find there to be a bidding war during the live auction, then after bidding is complete, announce that a similar item can be bid for online. Also, sell leftover items online.


Get more info from on the online auction software.




Your goal is to have everything donated so you can ultimately keep the ticket prices as low as possible. However, there may be things you need to purchase to make your auction an impressive event and make people want to return year after year.


Ticket prices can range from $10 to $100 per person. The price of the ticket should cover the cost of any purchased items – food, beverages, paper goods, table linens, function hall, auctioneer, and printing costs. You may choose to charge a bit more to add to your fundraising profits.




Executing an auction will require some printed marketing material. Negotiate with a local printer for either a discounted rate or perhaps the printer would be willing to donate to your fundraising event.

Sponsorship Request: A request for sponsorships can either be made in letter or brochure form.

Invitation: An invitation to the auction can be printed on medium to heavy weight card stock paper with a coordinating stationary envelope or can be printed in brochure form. The invitation will provide instructions for purchasing tickets. It should also include an RSVP card or form for the guest to complete and mail in with their check. The RSVP card should request name, address, phone, food allergy information, and vegetarian requests.

Bid Sheets: An 8 1/2 x 11 bid sheet is placed at each Silent Auction item. The bid sheet page states the title, description, value, minimum bid amount, bid number, bidder name, bid amount, silent auction section, and package number. Beneath each bid sheet is a second 8 1/2 x 11 sheet identifying the winning bidder (title, winning bid number, winning bid amount). See samples of both sheets below.

Auction Catalog: This packet will be several pages and list every auction item, sponsors, auctioneer, schedule of the evening’s events, and perhaps a letter from the principal detailing the purpose of the fundraiser. You can also sell advertisements to local businesses to offset auction costs such as printing. The catalog can also include a set of set of Auction Rules. See below for a more detailed outline of Auction Catalog Contents and Sample Auction Rules.

If you plan to open your auction to the general public, you may opt to combine the Sponsorship Request with the Invitation in a tri-fold brochure.




Your auction will last several hours, so you’ll want to provide food and beverages. Work with a caterer and take advantage of their expertise when planning the menu.


A cocktail hour, lasting 1 to 1.5 hours, combined with a sit-down dinner works best. While the cocktail hour allows guests to roam the room, view silent auction items, and place bids, a sit-down dinner allows guests to focus their full attention on the speakers and the auctioneer.


If you have a large number of Silent Auction items, divide the items into different sections and close each section at staggering time intervals (at least 10 minutes apart). Separation of the sections is as easy as color-coding the tables with different color tablecloths or balloons. By doing so, if a guest did not win an item in the section closed first, they will likely bid higher to ensure they win their item in the next silent auction section. Close all silent auction areas by the time dinner begins.


If you choose to offer a buffet, have enough tables and chairs to accommodate all guests during the live auction. The buffet may consist of full dinner menu or just appetizers, cheese & crackers and fruit & vegetable trays; dessert, coffee, tea, soda, water, and cash bar (if applicable).




Have the head of the school come up with an idea of something they want to purchase for the school. This may be new desks or chairs, whiteboards, stage curtains, flags, playground equipment, soccer equipment, picnic tables, or benches for the playground. In the last quarter of the auction, make an announcement that this is something the school would like to purchase and ask everyone to bid a certain amount to donate toward the purchase. Ask if anyone is willing to buy a chair or a desk or perhaps donate $100 toward the total purchase.


Many people arrive at an auction anticipating they will spend a set amount. If they are outbid on their items of choice or end up spending less than originally anticipated, many of them may still be willing to donate that set amount toward your cause. This will only be successful when announced toward the end of the auction when people realize they have cash left over.




Selling raffle tickets is another way to make extra money toward your fundraising goal. There are several different types of raffles. See Raffles. Prizes can be sponsored purchases and donated items (gift certificates, products, and services). At an auction, however, since the focus is your auction we suggest having one of the auction items being the prize. Raffle sale winners should be pulled at the auction. Be sure to make sure you are able to run a raffle in your state. Special permits may be required.




Ask parents, teachers, and even high school students to volunteer. If you’re creating an art project and need the assistance of an artist, call your local high school and ask a few art students to volunteer. Ask a carpenter to put together some furniture pieces for the kids to decorate. Ask a parents familiar with tiling or quilting to donate their knowledge and expertise. Setup your volunteer signup sheets online with PTOFFICE to make volunteering easier.




Each guest is assigned a Bid Number as they arrive. These are the numbers that the guests will hold up for the auctioneer to call out during bidding, use to bid on the Silent Auction, and bid at the Bid Board. Bid numbers can either be printed on the back side of the Auction Brochure in large, black, easy-to-read numbers or make bid paddles out of white card stock paper.




Registering guests as they arrive and recording their purchases before they leave are critical parts of the auction process. Set up a clearly defined table for each and have a few committee volunteers working each station.


At the Check-in table confirm ticket purchases as guests arrive. If you’re selling tickets at the door, have a cash box on hand to make change. Hand out Auction brochures and pens. Assign each guest a Bid Number and keep an accurate log of these numbers. Remind guests that in additional to the Live Auction, they will have a chance to bid on the Silent Auction and purchase Raffle tickets.


At the Check-out table record all purchases prior to the guests leaving. Accurately log each item, it’s value, and it’s sale price. Confirm the name and address of the buyer so that Thank You’s and Tax Notices can be mailed. Or, you may opt to hand out the tax notices at the Check-out table.




Plan to have a cash donation box at the checkout table. Again, since many people come to an auction with a fixed spending amount in mind, if they have cash left over they will likely be willing to drop some in this cash box as they leave. Identify the box with a printed card.




Tax notices will need to be sent to sponsors and buyers so they have a written record of their donation. Send notices to:

Sponsors: Specify the value of their donation and that they did not receive anything in return for their contribution. This information can be combined in your Thank You letter. See sample below.

Buyers: If a guest purchased an item for $1,000 but this item had a value of $200 (i.e. a piece of unfinished furniture decorated by a class), then the $800 difference is considered a charitable contribution to your school.




Take advantage of the auctioneer’s expertise and work with him/her to ensure all is ready on the day of the event:

Set up a registration table to welcome guests as they arrive.

Set up a coat-check area.

Auction Brochures and pens should be placed at the registration table and handed out to guests upon arrival. Upon registration, remind guests of special contests during the auction (i.e. silent auction, raffles, etc.).

Set up the Bid Board(s) and the tables to display the auction items, leaving ample space between each item. Set out all auction items along with a display card that identifies the auction item, number, and sponsor.

Set up enough tables and chairs to ensure every guest has a seat during the auction.

Set up the food, beverages, and paper goods (cups, utensils, and napkins).

Set up a Checkout table for guests to cash out their auction items. Since many people will pay in cash, have a cash box with ample change.

Set the Cash Donation Box at the Checkout table.

It’s a good idea to have all of your staff wear similar clothing or name tags to make them easily identifiable on the day of the event.

As the auction organizer, you should designate all jobs to your volunteers ahead of time so that you are available to roam the hall throughout the event, monitor supplies, and attend to any major issues that arise.









Company Name


City, State, Zip


Dear Company Name:


We would like to express our sincere thanks for your generous support of the (School Name) School’s Fundraising Auction that took place on (date). This event was a huge success. We were able to raise over $12,000 toward our overall goal of $45,000 to purchase a new playground for our children.


The commitment and generosity of our community continue to amaze me. We hope you will join us again next year on Saturday, March 11, 2006.


Please let this letter serve as a receipt for your donation for which you did not receive anything in return:


__________________(state donation here)___________________


Thank you again for your generous support. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (phone) or (email).




Your Name

Auction Coordinator










City, State, Zip


Dear Name:


We would like to express our sincere thanks for your generous support of the (School Name) School’s Fundraising Auction that took place on (date). This event was a huge success. We were able to raise over $12,000 toward our overall goal of $45,000 to purchase a new playground for our children.


The commitment and generosity of our community continue to amaze me. We hope you will join us again next year on Saturday, March 11, 2006.


Please let this letter serve as a receipt for your purchase and generous donation. Your purchase included:


Item / Value / Purchase Amount








Thank you again for your generous support. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (phone) or (email).




Your Name

Auction Coordinator








Company Name


City, State, Zip


Dear Company Name:


The (school name) of (city, state) will be hosting a benefit Auction on (date). We are working toward raising funds for a new, state-of-the-art playground that will consist of swings, slides, monkey bars and other amenities for our children.


The state of the current playground area is in disrepair, as it is now 26 years old. Our fundraising goal to purchase new equipment is $45,000. This includes equipment, installation, and playground mulch, a requirement for a safe play environment. This auction will bring us one step closer to providing a safe environment for our children. We are asking for the assistance of our community to make this happen. We are asking for your help by becoming a sponsor. Your generosity would be greatly appreciated and acknowledged at our event.


Platinum Sponsorship – $1,000: Platinum sponsors will be highlighted with a promotional display at the auction hall and in printed promotional material. They will also receive two tickets to attend the auction.

Gold Sponsorship – $500: Gold sponsors will be acknowledged in printed promotional material.

Silver Sponsorship – $250: Silver sponsors will be acknowledged in printed promotional material.

We are also asking for donations in the form of gift certificates, products, and services. Anything that your company can contribute would be greatly appreciated. At this time we hope to have over 150 attendees, both men and women. We would love to make this a fun, successful event but we need your help to make this happen and ultimately raise the funds for our school.


Please return your tax-deductible contribution to the School Name, Street, City, State, Zip, Attn: Auction Coordinator Name, Auction Coordinator. If you have any questions, I can be reached by phone at (phone) or by email at (email). Thank you, in advance, for your support.


Very Truly Yours,


Your Name

Auction Coordinator







Dear School Parents & Faculty:


The Auction Committee would like to include as auction items, one (new) large item from each grade that the kids themselves have worked on. But we are asking for your help to make this happen. We are seeking donation items such as:

Small unfinished tables, chairs, benches, or bookcases the kids can paint or tile

Large area rugs on which the kids can paint a border

Quilts to be assembled by the kids

Toybox the kids can paint

Large shadow boxes to be mosaic tiled

Mirrors with wide flat boarders we can paint or tile

Very large frames matted with with several pictures the kids draw

Picnic tables or Adirondak chairs

Or, perhaps you have some extra tile left over from a project you could donate.

We are also asking that if you have a particular skill could you please assist us in putting the project together. If you are an artist, quilter, are familiar with applying tile, or are a carpenter willing to assemble some small furniture pieces, we could use your knowledge and guidance to make these pieces truly special this year!


Please contact (name) at (email). Thanks you!






COVER PAGE – feature auction theme, logo/image, title, school name, and date.


LETTER FROM THE HEAD OF SCHOOL – Print on school letterhead.





6:00pm Registration & Silent Auction Begins

7:15pm First Silent Auction Table Closes

8:00pm Live Auction

9:15pm Final Silent Auction Table Closes

9:30pm Check-out Available

CHECKOUT INSTRUCTIONS – Specify acceptable forms of payment (i.e. cash, check, Visa, or Mastercard). All items must be picked up at the end of the evening.



Gift Bags – Purchase a gift bag for $20. The contents of each bag have a value of $15 to $40. Special bonuses to be found in some bags.

Classroom Basket Raffle – Purchase raffle tickets for $5 or 6 for $20. Place tickets into the bag next to the gift basket you’d like to win. Raffle winners will be pulled during the Live Auction.

Single Item Raffle – Purchase raffle tickets for a single large prize (specify item) for $5 each or 6 for $20. Raffle winners will be pulled during the Live Auction.

CENTERPIECES – Written announcement that the table centerpieces were made by the students (one per classroom). To be auctioned off during the live auction.


AUCTION COMMITTEE CHAIR MEMBERS – List the name and specific responsibility of each person who participated in the planning and execution of the auction (i.e. Auction Chairperson – Jane Smith):

Auction Chairperson

School Liaison

Silient Auction

Live Auction

Classroom Projects


Live Aucton Display

Data Entry

Hall & Menu





Thank You’s

New Family Calls

THANK YOU’S – Write a general thank you to all who participated in the auction planning and execution. Also write a detailed thank you naming specific people who went above and beyond and contributed to the event.


EVENT SPONSORS – List the names of your sponsors by level, for example:

Platinum Sponsors: list each sponsor name

Gold Sponsors: list each sponsor name

Silver Sponsors: list each sponsor name



LIVE AUCTION ITEMS LIST – Provide the name of the item, description, value, and donated by designation.


SILENT AUCTION A ITEMS LIST – Provide the name of the item, description, value, and donated by designation.


SILENT AUCTION B ITEMS LIST – Provide the name of the item, description, value, and donated by designation.


SILENT AUCTION BID BOARD ITEMS LIST- Provide the name of the item, description, value, and donated by designation.


THANK YOU TO GIFT BAG DONORS – List the names of those who donated items to the gift bags.


ADVERTISEMENTS – Advertising space can be sold and advertisements can be listed at the beginning, end, and scattered throughout the catalog.







General Auction Rules

All items are donated to the (School Name) School’s Auction. The Auction “Committee” has endeavored to catalog and describe accurately the items being sold.

The term “item” used herein shall mean any item, service, experience, or property put up for auction.

(School Name) reserves the right to withdraw any item before the actual sale.

Payment must be made prior to leaving the premises. Cash, check, Mastercard, or Visa are accepted. Checks must be made to: (School Name PTO).

All items must be removed at the end of the evening and will be released only from the check-out tables and only upon presentation of a “Paid” receipt.

All sales are final and there are no exchanges on items, unless specified. All auction items and services must be used within one year of auction unless otherwise stated.

Should the Aucton Committee not be able to notify the raffle winner(s) within a reasonable amount of time, another winner will be chosen.

Silent Aucton Rules

Bidding will commence at 6:00pm and will continue until the auction committee closes the tables. There will be three sections closing at approximately 7:15pm, 7:30pm, and 9:30pm.

All silent auction items have bid sheets nearby. To bid, write your name, bid number, and the amount of your bid on the sheet. Each new bid must be placed on the next available bid line. The bidder with the highest valid bid is the purchases.

No bid entered after the close of the auction shall be considered valid. The Auction Committee reserves the right to negate bids made after the silent auction is closed.

Live Auction Rules

The live auction will commence at approximately 8:00pm and continue until all items are sold.

To bid, acknowledge the auctioneer’s current bid request by raising your paddle. The Auctioneer will accept the first bid of which he is aware. The highest bid acknowledge by the auctioneer shall be the purchaser. Where a bid is made while the auctioneer is accepting a final bid, the auctioneer may in his discretion, reopen the bidding or declare the item sold under the new bid.

Check Out Procedure

Check-out will be available from 9:30pm to 11:30pm.

Pay your invoice at the cashier’s table. Payment must be made in full, using cash, check, Visa, or Mastercard. The invoice will be stamped “Paid”.

Proceed to the Silent Auction area to pick-up gift certificates and items.

Before leaving the event, PLEASE be sure to have received an item or certificate for every one of your purchases.






Dear (School Name) School Room Parents,


In an effort to make the 2008 (School Name) School Auction extra special, we are hoping that each class would be willing to prepare either a themed gift basket or a project made by the students. We will definitely need volunteers and donations from each classroom to make this happen. We suggest that you decide on either a theme basket or a creative project that the class will create together. Donations of either money or items can then be collected from those families who are able to contribute. The Auction Committee does not expect this donation to come solely from the Room Parents. Please coordinate with the other families in your classroom to collect the required money/items.


If your class chooses to prepare a gift basket, please choose a unique theme. We would also ask that you contact (contact name) at (phone) or (email address) with your classroom’s donation ideas so we can try to eliminate duplication of basket themes. We have attached a list of basket themes and project suggestions to give you some ideas.


Please include a tag with the basket or project that shows which classroom is making the donation. On a separate tag, please give an approximate retail value of the basket items or project. Of course, the retail value of the projects will be for supplies only, but the true value will be “priceless”. We would like to collect the baskets before February vacation and ask that you either bring the items into the school office or contact us so we can make arrangements for drop off/pick up by (date). This will allow the Auction Committee enough time to include a description of the class donations in the Auction catalog.


The goal for this year’s auction will be to purchase Smart Board Technology for the school. With your help, the (School Name) School 2008 Auction will be a successful one! Please feel free to contact (contact name) with questions about the themed baskets or (contact name) for questions related to the project ideas presented in the attached list.


Thank you,


(Contact Names)

(School Name)PTO Auction Committee



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