This post is the eighth in a series of posts based on the “Best Practices for School Auctions” whitepaper from the Greater Giving Fundraising Excellence Series. Each new post covers the unique challenges school auction planners face, and how to overcome those challenges. Read additional articles: School Auctions Series.
A school auction is a big endeavor with lots of moving parts.
Most nonprofits take an entire year to plan their gala event, but the school year is only nine months. How do you get it all done without going crazy? In this post, well show you how to create a timeline that will reduce the pressure on you and your entire team. And yes, you actually can leverage those summer months to your advantage.
Spring is for Planning
Most school auctions take place in the spring. While it’s tempting to take a break once the event is over, now is the time to get started on next year’s auction. You’ll thank yourself later.
As soon as this year’s auction is done, select next year’s auction chair and committee heads. Then head into the planning phase.
- Make a wish list: Look at the data for this year’s auction and make a list of the items that sold well. Drop the items that didn’t perform well. Brainstorm more ideas, get your team together and get creative. What do you think your audience would go wild for?
- Set goals: What are your revenue goals for next year’s auction? How many items do you need to procure? What types of items? How many items in each category do you need? The more specific you can be, the easier it will be on your procurement team.
- Set a timeline: When do you need to have all your items procured so they can be packaged up and prepared for the auction? Set clear deadlines for your team so they know what’s expected of them.
- Create a Procurement Information Packet: Make it easy on your procurement team and provide them the tools they need to succeed. Create a donation request letter they can just fill out and mail or email to their contacts. Provide tips and tricks that will make their life easier (e.g. identify which retailers can make donation decisions at the store level and which ones need approval from the corporate office). Upload all these documents to your event website for easy downloading and keep them up-to-date.
- Recruit volunteers: Recruit as many people as possible. Consider dividing your volunteers into two teams, Procurement, and Preparation, each with their own timeline. The Procurement Team works through the summer to solicit donations for the auction. The Preparation Team then takes over in the fall to maintain the inventory, package items and prepare them for the auction.
- Assign tasks: Avoid confusion and duplication of effort by strategically assigning procurement items to your volunteers. For instance, you could divide the list by type: personal services, restaurant gift certificates, entertainment, etc. Or you could divide the list by geography and assign a neighborhood or zip code to the parents of each class.
Summer is for Procurement
Keep in touch with your volunteers over the summer as they procure items for your auction. Create an email or a Facebook group so people can connect with one another, ask questions, get support or find the right contacts for a particular organization. You could even have mini-contests each week. Summer is a busy time for most families, so having support and encouragement from a team can help people stay on top of the work to be done. And it makes it more fun too!
Fall is Time to Celebrate and Organize
No doubt there will still be some procurement to do in the fall. So re-energize your volunteers with a kick-off meeting when school begins. Make it fun! Serve food and drinks. Have people tell their stories about their experiences contacting donors. Reward volunteers who worked hard over the summer to deliver their quota. See who needs support and maybe team people up to finish up the last of the list.
This is also the time to activate your Preparation Team. They’ll learn which items are already in place and what to expect to arrive in the coming weeks. They can start planning how they’ll package up the items and prepare them for the auction.
What’s Your Experience?
How do you manage your auction timeline? Have you found a schedule that works best for you? Do you have any tips for keeping things moving through the summer months? What works best to keep things on track? Share your insights in the comments below.