Saturday, December 11, 2010

Class Auction Baskets: What Works

This morning was a Santa Breakfast at Laura's school.  I took her up there because her chorus was performing and there were a bunch of related holidayish festivities like a craft fair and a book fair.  Also, the auction baskets: Every year each class designs a themed basket of stuff to be auctioned during the morning, silent-auction style. It's a fundraiser; people donate things for the baskets, which tend to have themes like "Family Game Night," "Tennis," or "Go Green" or something.  This morning the baskets were all arrayed in the hallway for everyone to inspect and write down bids if they wanted.

Now, when I was the room mom of Laura's class a couple years ago, the auction basket gave us some little headaches.  Or maybe it was my co room-mom who was giving me a headache.  Yes, it could have been that.  Anyway, based on that experience and what I've seen the last few years, here is what I think works and attracts bids:

1) A fairly homogenous basket, with lots of similar things, or items of a single brand that people like and know the value of.  For example, one basket that I actually bid on this morning was a Vera Bradley basket.  It had several different bags and accessories, all Vera.  People see this and know that they can get a lot of good gifts out of that.  Ditto with a basket there that was all Scholastic books and another that was Lego sets.  Well-loved brands, lots of gift potential, instantly appealing.

It isn't that the stuff has to be expensive, in fact, by planning and strategic shopping, you could come up with the Lego basket or a great toy basket and be able to auction it at a profit.  Scholastic has great online sales where they practically give those books away.  But the basket items need to be things people recognize, like, and would want to regift.

2) A basket that offers some exclusive experience.  One bundle contained three lessons with the tennis pro at someone's club, as the guest of the member who donated it.  This was a draw because it's not something you could really buy, unless you were going to pay to join that country club. Also, a "Blue Ridge Mountains" basket had a free weekend at somebody's cabin in the Smokies.  There were pics of the house, it was gorgeous and would have been bucks if you were going to rent such a place.  Actually, one year I asked Mom and Dad if they would consider donating their mountain house for the class auction basket, and they were like, "Um, would that lead to strangers using our house?"  And I was like, "Yes," and they were all, "We'll pass."  But I think it's still a good idea if feasible, and don't you love how I'm so generous with other people's possessions?  I didn't see any this year, but in years past, parents who were yoga instructors or dog groomers or heck, I don't know, divorce attorneys also bundled their services into the auction baskets.

3) A basket with a single coveted item.  One of the baskets had an iPad in it.  I kid you not.  It was "apple" themed, and it had an iPad, an Apples to Apples Jr. game, and some actual apples.  When I left the school the bidding was up over $600 on that.  Now I'm not sure of the economics here.  I get why someone who was in the market for an iPad already would maybe want to get one in a way that raised money for the school, but how did the donator come by this iPad?  I mean, how is this a profit situation for the fundraiser? Maybe it was one of the few Black Friday iPads?  Maybe the class pooled their $$ and bought it, thinking that the buzz of it would net them more than they paid?

Another class was auctioning a Big Green Egg grill/smoker thing.  I have no knowledge of this, but apparently they cost like $700?  However the donor came by it, it was bringing in the bids.

4) Gift card baskets.  A couple of classes had little Christmas trees with various gift cards hanging on them, in different denominations and to different places.  These are hot because, again, people see them and think, there's a bunch of stocking stuffers right there.  AND, these make smart money sense for the class, because gift cards are easy to acquire this time of year without actually buying them.  If you keep an eye out for deals where you get a gift card for buying something else, this could be a painless way to come up with auction items.

What doesn't work:

1) Baskets with lots of little ticky tacky junk that nobody would really want and that obviously came out of somebody's white elephant stash.  Wrapping it in pretty cellophane doesn't disguise this fact.  I'm looking at you, Santa Snuggie, or weird jellies from the misfit food aisle at TJ Maxx.  People have to be able to look at the basket and know the stuff has real value.

Does your school do this? Let us hear what you think and what works where you are.


Crystal said...

Interesting. My hunch is that Laura goes to a private school? The public schools that I grew up in (or have volunteered in) don't have such cool auction prizes. But I am so with you on the themed, homogeneous baskets...yes, just say no to cleaning out your cupboard and random gift stash.

Becky said...

Oh no, it's a public school, but it's a kind of cushy one. Yes, in the schools I grew up in, there was nothing like this.

Juliet Grossman said...

The baskets are a HUGE deal at my daughter's school (she goes to our local neighborhood public elementary.) She is in 4th grade and this is the first year I'm NOT room mom - whew! What a load off my mind. Everything you have written about room momming is so true.

We do our baskets at the annual fall carnival. Our themes are assigned: "Family Game Night!" "For the Boys!" "Mom's Spa!" e.g.

The look of the baskets is super important. They bring blow dryers to shrink up that special basket-wrapping shrink wrap. I am NOT crafts-capable at all and I have had my baskets redone on more than one occasion.

Kelly said...

You should add a little wreath to your front door.

Jenni said...

Oscar just goes to a little nursery school, so no auctions, but I LOVE this idea!

Jessica Gottlieb said...

I never go to the Mommy Prom (oops I mean Gala) so I wouldn't know.

I just write a humongous check and duck my head when the volunteer moms come close to making eye contact.

Marsha said...

My kids' (regular old public neighborhood elementary) had its second auction just last month. I was only peripherally involved, in that I helped a wee bit with one of the class projects and we donated a family basket. The auction is a ridiculously successful event - what with the wine bar and posh snackies and all - which includes silent auction, one of those raffle-tickets-in-the-basket things, and live auction. By "successful" I mean, "can they lower our taxes now?"

This year I bid on and won a Spode basket full of awesomey awesome papergoods in quantities with which I could easily (but I am not going to) host a Christmas dinner buffet for 100 and a "White House" basket with all kinds of historical loveliness. (Aside: Is anyone from the school reading? Hello! How are you? What did you think of that thing on Friday?)

The basket we donated contained: a bottle of Balvenie Doublewood, Scotch glasses, cigars, a bar guide and game radio. I think it was successful. The feedback ran 50-50 between "oooh, cool!" and "how inappropriate" so it's hard to say.

Elle said...

The baby's trade school does a spring auction for baskets & they are always themed, like, Gourmet! Movie Night! Tea Time! Wine Lover! It's the same, it sounds like, except there are more themes than classes, so that different groups across different levels are contributing to one basket. I always find a way to make something to put in there, which used to make me self-conscious, like who wants yr old homemade thing?, but last year I told the charge gals that I could either help them with the thing they were asking me about or make a thing, not both, and they seemed determined that I make the thing. I never go to the auction, so I have no idea how much $$ is involved. I'm not a joiner or whatever. This year I'm giving them a kitten for each basket.