My Kid’s School Auction - Success in Action
The school our kids go to recently finished their auction and I had a number of observations. The online component raised just over $32,000. They are still tallying up the totals but I would guess that the in-room silent, live auction, ticket sales, and various raffles/paddle up activities added well over another $100k.
Here are my key takeaways:
• A Well Organized Auction Committee is Priceless: The auction committee was exceedingly well organized and worked really collaboratively as a team. There were four co-chairs with one of these being the head. Each had a different responsibility (getting items, online event, planning and organizing the gala, and event marketing). From there volunteers were heavily recruited and then organized by town to get items. Each town team had a captain. The planning for the auction began in earnest six months before the event giving lots of lead time.
• Markets Send Signals through Price: Within several days of going live the attractive items in the online auction were all rapidly approaching retail value. However, many items were not getting any activity. I got an email from a member of the auction committee concerned that half the items did not have any bids. Scrolling through these items it wasn’t hard to see why- they just did not have that much broad appeal. The reality is that 60 minutes with a life coach you have never heard of is not going to fly off the shelf. Online is a great platform and it assuredly expands the bidders pool but it is not a miracle worker. In essence the market was sending a signal that these items did not have broad appeal. I advised them to cut opening bids on all these items and send out an email saying such. Almost immediately after the email went out dozens of these items received a first bid and the auction was up several thousand dollars.
• Live Auctions Can Go Too Long: The live auction had 22 items and went on for a good long time. I could feel the energy at our table dissipating as the evening wore on. Our recommendation is to have no more than 12 of your very best items. But practically speaking sometimes it is hard to avoid- in this case class projects took half the time.
• Silent Auctions Limit Bidding: Once again I saw first hand how the social distractions and fighting the crowd impede bidding and lower “auction fever” and “competitive arousal”. The room was crowded and because our school community doesn’t meet as a group more than once or twice a year there is a fair amount of socializing. By the time my wife and I had gotten a drink at the bar, had a number of discussions with fellow parents we were well into the pre-dinner hour. I scanned a few items but they weren’t stuff I was keen on and I wasn’t keen on fighting the crowd. And then ding, ding, ding- the dinner bell started and the silent auction was over. As I’ve said many times, if Sotheby’s was holding the auction its likely they wouldn’t do it in the middle of a party.
• Paddle-Up is a Great Way to Tap Incremental Charitable Dollars: Auctions tap a unique “profit pool”, namely household discretionary spending. This is NOT the same budget that charitable giving taps which is why auctions are so ubiquitous. Many folks dine out on auction items or plan vacations based on a wining bid. But there is also the charitable giving pot which activities like “paddle up” tap into. Paddle-up for those that don’t know is when the organization announces they need to raise funds and will anyone in the room willing to donate a given high amount raise their paddle. Usually a few hands go up. Then the pledge number comes down and the ask is made again. And again, and again, and again. It goes pretty fast and in less than 15 minutes thousands of dollars are generally raised.
Overall I think it is fair to say this was pretty close to near-perfect execution. Since this was their first time integrating the online into their event I suspect they will make some modifications next time. But overall the results speak for themselves.
Tx for listening,