Raising money for your school, church or non-profit group

Organize a Service Auction Fundraising Event

by Debra Karplus


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It seems that most organizations around the country are searching for interesting and fun ways to raise money to support their activities. Possibly your group has held a bake sale. Cupcakes or candy bars that sell for a dollar each will not significantly put your organization in the black. Add in the factor that local public health agencies are becoming much more particular on where food for sale can be sold; your kitchen may not be viewed as an acceptable kitchen, despite your very high standards for cleanliness. A car wash is a fun event for kids to get involved with, but weather is often a factor, and again, the potential for raising a substantial amount of money is minimal. Many clubs regularly do raffles, and depending on how much a ticket cost and the number of raffle tickets sold, some money can be raised, but maybe not a lot. Many churches collect recipes from parishioners and put together a cookbook as a fundraising idea. Members will likely purchase the finished volume, but possibly no one else. But, has your organization considered doing a service auction?

How much money can be made from a service auction?

The impetus for writing this article was the discovery that a local church in a medium-sized Midwestern college town took in over $21,000 at their recent service auction, with very minimal costs to put on this very fun annual event. How did they do it?

Where does service auction revenue come from?

Admission can be charged to each person that attends the auction. This can include some donated foods. Additionally, donated food and beverages can be available for purchase. But expect the vast majority of the money earned from the sale of items and services donated by your organization or club members.

You likely have something you're good at that could be the type of item that could bring in big bucks at your organization's service auction. Maybe you cook extraordinary Mexican cuisine and could offer a meal for eight people at your home for $25 per person. The fellowship alone may be worth the price, not to mention all that delicious food and drink.

Possibly you have made several beautiful quilts and are happy to donate them to the auction. Or maybe you can teach someone to knit in a one-hour lesson including materials for $10 per person. Other donations that you might see at a service auction include an hour of assistance with your family genealogy for $35. Or you might be able to donate or bid on a wine tour, including transportation, a meal, and, of course, wine for $200. Help with child care, yard work, housecleaning are just a few of the many things that one could offer at a service auction.

Silent auctions are easy to include in a service auction.

Silent auctions are becoming more popular as a part of service auctions. Items are donated, such as handmade earrings, and auction guests write their bid on the list positioned by the silent auction item. Like an auction, the highest bidder gets the item.

What do you do with any leftover auction items?

The auction may have ended at 11pm on the night of the auction, but there's no reason why unsold leftover items can't be bid on via the group's website or by phone. By doing this, people who were unable to attend the service auction can still be in on the fun and goodies.

How do you organize your first service auction?

Like many events, the first one requires the most work. Select a date several months in advance. Be sure it does not conflict with any already scheduled events of the organization or in the community. Then put the word out that people can donate goods or services. Give some suggestions. Someone might be great at bicycle repair and may not have considered it as a service they could donate to help with fundraising. For subsequent service auctions, solicit some of the same offerings from the same people.

Get the word out that donated food and beverages are needed. You can specify exactly what you have in mind, such as appetizers, finer foods, desserts, and so on.

You'll need to find someone who knows how to lead an auction. Possibly one of the church members is a professional auctioneer or knows one. If not, your organization might have to hire someone to lead the auction for the evening, but the little bit of money spent on this will bring in great rewards if the auctioneer excites with guests enough to buy items.

A service auction can be quite a bit of work for your club or organization, but the potential to bring in money is great. Have your group give some serious thought to having a service auction.


Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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