7 Tips for an Effective Auction Fundraiser


Auction HelpThe journey to adoption is not an easy one. The financial aspect was an especially daunting obstacle we had when we started this process. Before we had even turned in our application to MLJ Adoptions, we had bought and read (three times) the book Adopting without Debt by Julie Gumm. It’s a great quick read and is full of lots of ideas. We highly recommend it.

For us, asking for help always has been a little difficult so the thought of fundraising made us feel extremely awkward at first. We started by writing a letter to our friends and family that announced our adoption and also answered many questions we assumed most people would have. One of the questions we touched on was “What can I do to help?” There we stated that any ideas, time or talents people could donate or help with would be appreciated, but most of all we would welcome prayer. We received an immediate response from people jumping to help. It was a huge relief that the letter was very well-received. We had people offering their commission from Thirty-One & Trades of Hope parties, as well as a mini photo session and a cousin of ours stepped up and said “Would you be willing to let me plan a dinner & silent auction for you?”

“Uh. Yes!”

We had a dinner and a silent auction in a small rural farm town in Northern Indiana. We thought we might raise $3,000, but instead we raised over $10,000! We could not believe it. It’s still overwhelming but the night was flawless.

Not every event will raise over $10,000; however, here are a few reasons why I think ours was such a success.

adoption t-shirts

  1. Select an inexpensive venue and a convenient date. My hometown church graciously allowed us to have the fundraiser there at no charge. We had the event on a Saturday which allowed people from out of town to travel and most people were off of work. It was also a low-key evening so all ages were welcome and the kids all had fun playing together.
  2. Choose an easy and inexpensive menu. Pick something that is delicious, inexpensive and easy to make in bulk. Our menu consisted of Chicken & Noodles, mashed potatoes, green beans and lots of desserts. We had tea, lemonade, coffee and water included, and my little cousins sold pop for an additional fee. The little ones loved helping out and they were the best pop-pushers I’ve ever seen. Many of the menu’s ingredients were either donated or sold to us at an extremely low cost. All you have to do is make the call. If they say they can’t do a donation, just ask if there might be a discount available. Oh, and I can’t forget the cotton candy. My accountant Uncle has a cotton candy and popcorn stand and he does parties and events on the weekends. Of course he brought his machine and the kids (and grownups) absolutely loved it.
  3. Use the tables, chairs and decor you have available. Luckily our church had a lot of tables and chairs. For the decor, we bought inexpensive brown paper coverings and left crayons on the tables for little ones to color on. I had a lot of ball jars on hand and we bought fresh flowers and wrapped the jars with a strip of burlap. All inexpensive touches.
  4. Sell pre-sale tickets at a lower cost than tickets at the door. This helped us guess the number of people in advance, otherwise we would have had no idea what to expect. I’m a graphic designer so I whipped up tickets and signs and printed them in black and white since that is the most cost effective route. We had multiple people selling tickets and we constantly were advertising for the event on Facebook.
  5. Design a cool t-shirt. We designed t-shirts and had people order them online for a pre-sale and then ordered additional ones to sell at the fundraiser. My only mistake was not ordering enough extras to sell at the fundraiser because we quickly ran out. For us, I think the key was to just make a cool shirt that people might want to wear again. One that didn’t scream “I bought this for a fundraiser!” that they would promptly place in the bottom drawer. I also ordered standard mens shirts, and then a slightly more form-fitting one for the ladies. It seemed to go over quite well.
  6. Designate a “go to” person. This is a key ingredient. Our cousin and “go to” person had planned similar events for her son’s school before so she had an idea on how it should be set up. We also went to the internet and Pinterest for ideas on making things run smoothly and look lovely. She didn’t leave a single detail out and it definitely enhanced the overall feel of the night. Plus, having one point-person was far less confusing.
  7. Auction FundraiserHold a silent auction. This is where I think most of the funds came in. We probably had over 60 items donated and they varied greatly between costs. We had things like homemade hair bows, professional photography sessions, candles and homemade gift baskets all the way up to flat screen TV’s, 1 hour plane rides, Vera Bradley bags and Indy and Fort Wayne hotel & zoo packages. The biggest item we had donated was a full weeks stay at someone’s beach home in Florida! We were nervous to make the initial calls, but it turned out that people were so thrilled to help with our adoption that they were the ones calling us asking if they could donate something. Ask everyone you know too. You may not know someone but someone else may know someone who knows someone who happens to have a beach house and has a heart for orphans.Key Auction Tips to remember:
    • Display the items you can on the tables so they know what they’re bidding on.
    • Have a description sheet for each item in a visible area (we used pop-up cardboard adhesive stands)For bid sheets, include the name, phone, email and specify the bid increments for each item (more expensive items should have larger bid increments).
    • We broke the items up into sections/colors. The less expensive items ended first and we saved the larger items till the end of the night.
    • Have bags underneath the tables so at the end of the night you can quickly bag their item(s) won so it’s easy to manage.
    • Use Square (or similar). This allowed people to use their debit/credit cards for purchases which made things quick and easy. The Square reader and app is free, easy to use, plus we plan to use it later for other small fundraisers. I think this was a key component and many people were glad to do this as opposed to running to an ATM if they didn’t have a check.

I feel like businesses and people get asked to sponsor schools, sports and other organizations often, which is a great thing to do; however, adoptions aren’t really the norm and it was amazing to see this small community come together to bring our child(ren) home. It was definitely an emotional evening we will never forget. It couldn’t have gone better.