Auction Tips

The Beginner's Guide to School Auctions [+6 Item Tips]

Learn how to host an auction and get creative with your items
Learn how to host an auction and get creative with your items

Kids are the future. Because of this, our schools need more funding to pay teachers, upgrade facilities, and pay for educational resources and technology after all, if there's anything worth investing significant funds into, it's children's education.

But, as a busy PTA/PTO parent or school administrator, you know that this can be easier said than done. You need to host fundraisers that not only engage participants, but blow your fundraising goals out of the water. That's where auctions enter the picture‚ a popular fundraising method for a wide range of nonprofits, from global NPOs to your local humane society. 

So how do you create an event that's engaging for parents and potentially their children as well? We've assembled this guide with the following sections that contain a number of tips to help your school's next auction shine:

  • 4 School Auction Best Practices
  • 6 Great Low-Cost School Auction Items
  • School Auction Equipment 

As you read, remember that how these best practices and ideas are applied may differ depending on the type of school you're fundraising for while a Disney bundle may be a hot-ticket item at an elementary auction, you might get a luke-warm response or a high school event.

Use your best judgment to adapt each tip to your unique situation. Let's dive in!


Improve your school auction with these top best practices.

4 School Auction Best Practices 

There are a few best practices that schools can use to take their school auction to the next level. Make the most of the resources you have available (and avoid potential pitfalls) with these tips:

Be sure to provide plenty of space around your school auction items for guests.

Provide plenty of display space for your items. 

Setting up an attractive item display is more of an art than an exact science.  Like retail, consider your auction area to be like a store and implement retailing best practices: lighting, layout, display. Ask yourself, do I want my auction area to look like an Apple Store or a Marshalls?

As you design your auction area, consider the layout of items. You might group items together by category. Or, you might mix things up and place high-value items alongside lower-value items to show variety. We'll leave this up to you and the creative twist you choose to put on the event.

What's really important (regardless of how you choose to display items) is that you leave enough space for guests to move around freely and view items. Display tables should have lots of space around them to avoid lines and unfortunate elbow-throwing accidents. On top of that, your area should be well-lit so your guests can see the items. 

Finally, remember who your audience is when setting up your tables. In many cases, the attendees are adults on a Parents Night Out and you can design the area knowing your shoppers can view items on taller tables. However, if your auction involves younger students, you need to reconsider the tables you use. Kids can get excited about items which is great but the last thing you want is a group of elementary students running around and accidentally knocking over displays.

One solution is to give guests a way to bid that doesn't involve hovering around items. Mobile bidding with an online catalog is a great way to reduce crowding! Guests can explore your items and place bids on their phones. And, by eliminating bid sheets, you can maintain better control over the bidding process, remove human error, and prevent those ornery guests from stealing bid sheets (yes, this actually happens).

You can boost your school auctions engagement with gamification tools.

Use gamification techniques. 

Have you ever been motivated to complete a chore by turning it into a competition? Maybe you've raced against a sibling to see who could clean their bedrooms the fastest or you've raced against the clock to see how fast you could wrap up a work task.

The idea here is that games are motivating.

Give your guests an extra incentive to bid by gamifying your auction. Gamification is when you add badges, awards, and other elements to inject some healthy competition into your event and motivate guests to outbid their peers.

Here are a few gamification elements you can use to spark engagement at your school's auction: 

  • Fundraising Thermometers: Help your guests visualize how much you've raised and how close you are to your next fundraising goal. Project your fundraising thermometer on a screen so guests can watch it slowly fill up over the course of your event.


  • Leaderboards: A little bit of public recognition can lead to a lot of friendly competition. Create a public leaderboard showing your top bidders to encourage guests to go the extra mile and see their name rise in the ranks.


  • Immersive Mobile App: Sound effects, winning and losing screens, and instant notifications will pull your guests back into their bidding app. Like a defeat screen in a video game, a bid lost notification can make your guests eager to counter-bid so they can avoid seeing it a second time. 

Invest in an auction software solution that prioritizes user engagement to add gamification elements to your event. While it can be easy to focus on back-end features (after all, that's what you'll be engaging with), keep in mind that a positive user experience is what ultimately makes your auction revenue increase.

Make sure your students are a part of your school auction.

Get your students involved.

Your auction supports your students. But did you know that they can also be one of your best resources for making your school auction a success?

Here are a few ways students can help out with your event:

  • Marketing: Most of your guests will come from your local community and have connections to your students. Students can help market your event by spreading the word to their friends and family members. Would you be able to say "no" to a smiling student asking you to participate in an event funding their education? Of course not!


  • Procuring Items: Some of your students might have connections to local businesses and other organizations that can provide auction items. Or, they may be willing to take your solicitation letter and visit local businesses door to door to get items.  Either way, recruit these students to help!


  • Volunteering at your event. High schools and universities can recruit students to help volunteer at your event. They can help create decorations, set up your event space, and even serve food if you're planning to hold a meal service. Note that if students are present, teachers and staff members can't be attendees or drink alcohol if it is served.


  • Providing entertainment. If you'd like to add a little extra entertainment to your auction, consider asking talented students to perform. Clubs (such as the high school band) or individual students can showcase their talents to keep your event lively and fun. You'll either blow guests away with the talent of your students or make a great argument for investing in continued funding for arts education.

Getting your students involved can drum up excitement leading up to your school auction. From there, you'll already have momentum leading into an event filled with items that both your students and their parents will be excited to win. 

Form partnerships with local businesses to help procure items, secure funding, and advertise your school auction.

Work with local businesses.

Many companies develop philanthropy programs as a way to give back to their communities. Chances are, some local businesses would love to work with your school and help you pull off the best fundraising auction.

Encourage them to get involved by requesting contributions like:

  • Goods and Services: Encourage businesses to donate products, services, or gift certificates that can be auctioned off. This is a wonderful way to procure items for your school auction. Not to mention, the companies will recognize the clear value of having their name attached to the items.

  • Sponsorships: Ask businesses to sponsor specific aspects of the event, such as catering or venue rental.

  • Advertising: Request that companies promote your event to their employees. Leadership can encourage workplace giving by asking workers to attend, volunteer, or donate to your school.

If companies have other ideas for getting involved, hear them out! Being open to their creative ideas will go a long way in developing relationships with them. In any case, make sure they get plenty of benefits from supporting your auction. Let them know that you’ll promote their business through various channels, such as event signage, social media mentions, and announcements at the auction.

Engage your guests with these five fun, low-cost items for school auctions.

6 Great Low-Cost School Auction Items

For your school's auction, you'll want to procure items that appeal to both students and their parents, making it a true family affair. However, you also want to keep costs low. After all, the goal is to raise (significantly) more money than you spend.

Procuring the right items usually requires a little insight into what your bidders will be interested in. Then, get creative with how you can package that as an auction item. 

To kick off your brainstorming, here are six fun, low-cost school auction item ideas:

Class baskets are a fun way to get your students involved in your school auction.

1. Class Baskets 

Bring your students together to show a little class spirit with class baskets. This is typical in elementary school auctions, rather than junior high or high-school events.

Essentially, each classroom creates a themed basket that students contribute items for. Even for small schools, class baskets are a quick and easy way to increase the number (and variety) of items up for auction.

There are two main ways you can assemble a class basket:


1. Each teacher chooses a theme for their class. Students are encouraged to bring an item valued between $10-$20 that fits that theme.


2. Each student brings in $10-$20. Then, their teacher chooses a theme and spends the money to assemble the basket themselves. We often hear teachers prefer this option, but always best to ask them!

Regardless of how the basket gets assembled, a cool theme is bound to create something unique that bidders will be excited to win. So make sure you encourage the classes to get creative!

School auctions can find success with prizes related to school experiences.

2. School Experiences 

While the cost may be low, primary school students and their families place a high value on unique experiences at the school.

Experiences give the winning bidder a unique (and sometimes exclusive) opportunity to do something fun (or cool). Here are a few ideas that can end be a hit with the right group of elementary-aged students:

  • Be principal for a day. For younger students, their school's principal can be a cool and mysterious person with a lot of authority‚ even if students don't quite know what their daily responsibilities are. Give one of your students the opportunity to be principal for a day and complete a few basic duties such as reading the morning announcements, hosting an assembly (with some help), and getting to hang out in the principal's office. Bonus points for giving them a personalized lanyard!


  • Pull the fire alarm. Admit it while you've hopefully never pulled your school's fire alarm, you've certainly imagined what it would be like. Everyone has! Put up a school auction prize that will let one lucky student fulfill this dream and pull the fire alarm for your next planned fire drill practice. 


  • Reserve a parking spot. This is a great option for both the volunteering parent or the newly-licensed high school driver.  In either case, parking spaces are often a rarity at most schools.  For no cost to the school, think about creating a few reserved spots for your next auction item!  Decide how long the reservation's duration will last, whether it's a week, a month, or even the rest of the school year. Choose a spot that's in high demand, such as one right near the school's entrance.


  • Reserve front-row graduation seats. Yes, kindergarten and elementary school graduation is a thing! And, those seats fill up fast.  Parents will want to secure a good spot for themselves and any nearby relatives.  So, set aside a few front-row seats for one of your bidders to win at your school's auction, ensuring their family will get some of that memorable evening's best photos.

Pricing items like these can be a bit tricky. Since they don't have a market value, you'll need to make an estimate of how much your students and their families will be willing to spend, while also keeping bidding increments low enough to encourage bidding. One thing you can do is browse any other nearby school's online auction to see what items like this have gone for in the past.

Get your teachers to contribute to your school auction.

3. Teacher Experiences

While your first impulse is likely to focus on your students, don't forget to get your teachers involved, too! Hold a staff meeting to discuss your auction with teachers and encourage them to bring their hobbies, interests, and expertise to the table. Then, you can auction off one-on-one teacher experiences in which the winners get to learn from your school's best and brightest!

Teacher experiences will vary based on what your teachers have to offer, as well as your students' age group and interests. Here are a few teacher experiences to inspire you about what you can offer:

  • Skill lessons. While it may shock your students, teachers do have a life and interests outside of the classroom. Empower those teachers to host a masterclass showing off their multi-dimensional personalities! Set aside time either after school or during the day for teachers to hold workshops to teach skills such as painting, knitting, gardening, cooking, and more. 


  • Activities that are outside of the classroom. If you have a teacher willing to donate their weekend, consider putting an outside-the-classroom trip up for bidding. This can be an educational experience, such as visiting a museum, or just pure fun, like bowling or playing mini golf. 

With teacher experiences, you'll also have a slight boost to your marketing as teachers promote their own opportunities. Some might treat it more casually, while others may get into a bit of lighthearted competition with other teachers to see whose activity will go for the highest bid. 

See what your community has to offer your school auction.

4. Community Activities 

We've mentioned that most of your school auction's guests will be members of your community looking to help support their local school. Leverage these community connections to partner with local businesses and gain a variety of auction prizes, such as:

  • Event tickets. Stay up-to-date on what's happening in your local community. If there's a professional or collegiate sports team, local festival, parade, or other event coming up, partner with members of the community to get tickets, exclusive access to events, and other popular items you can use at your school auction.


  • Classes. K-12 schools can partner with local professionals and their community centers to get guests free lessons for classes. There's something out there for everyone, whether they want to learn how to play an instrument, cook, paint, or something else. 


  • Experiences. Memorable experiences such as day trips and family activities can make for valuable  school auction items. Wine tastings, petting zoos, horseback riding, massages, nature tours, and more can all be highly sought-after prizes.

Think about your community's natural resources as you consider what activities to turn into auction prizes. For example, schools located in cities will likely have access to a lot more restaurants, classes, and day trip experiences, while schools in the countryside can make the most of nature-focused experiences. 

School memorabilia can be popular items at school auctions.

5. School Memorabilia 

Nostalgia is a powerful motivator, and high schools and universities can make the most of memorabilia auction prizes that remind alumni of their school days. Branded merchandise and memorabilia can consist of both rare items and items from your merch store, such as:

  • Jerseys. While the original jerseys that your alumni wore probably aren't around, many of them will get excited at seeing jerseys with their old numbers branded to your school. Auction off customizable jerseys and don't be surprised if you spark a bidding war.


  • Class banners. Give alumni a blast from the past with banners and similar merchandise with their graduation year. This works best on anniversaries such as the graduation banner from a particularly legendary graduating class, auctioned during the 25th-anniversary celebration for that class.


  • Branded merchandise packages. Gift baskets can attract guests excited by the extra value of winning multiple items in one. Consider creating a themed basket filled with merchandise including hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, frisbees, and more. 

One way you can make your memorabilia even more meaningful is to get it signed. If your school has any famous alumni or star athletes, consider if you can call in a favor to make a few of your school auction items just a little more special. If you do get a signature, we always recommend you obtain a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). There are reputable providers who will authenticate signatures from well-known athletes or celebrities.  For those who are lesser-known, try to get a video of the person signing.

Sell artwork from students or local artists at your school auction.

6. Artwork

If you have any talented artists in your school or community, auction off some of their finest work! Of course, you’ll need to get their permission first. Not only will this raise funds, but it’ll also showcase your community’s creative talents.

There are a few approaches you can take with this school auction item:

  • Student artwork: Collaborate with art teachers to curate an exhibition of student artwork. Include pieces from various grade levels, showcasing the diverse talents of your school’s young artists.

  • Local artist contributions: Reach out to local professional artists who may be willing to donate their works for the auction.

  • Personalized artwork: Offer the option for students to create personalized artwork for bidders. They might offer custom portraits, pet portraits, or name art based on the winning bidder's request. Plus, your art students will have tons of fun flexing their creative muscles!

This school auction item idea provides an opportunity for artists, both budding and established, to come together in support of education. Not to mention, this will also add a unique and artistic dimension to your school fundraiser.

Power your school auction with the right software.

School Auction Equipment 

Auction items will do the heavy lifting to draw guests to your event. But, you'll need equipment to manage your school auction's logistics for hosting in-person, hybrid, and online auctions. Auction technology has become the new norm, and the right school auction software can help you earn more revenue by engaging your guests whether they're attending in-person or from home! 

When putting your event together, consider whether you'll need:

  • Bidding paddles. You'll need to assign guests paddle numbers to help track their bids. While bidding paddles may seem like a traditional tool, robust silent auction software can assign these numbers automatically. You'll free up your team's time, so they can focus on other important preparation items!


  • Mobile bidding tools. Mobile bidding tools make your auction more convenient, engaging, and competitive for guests. Instead of circling back to paper bid sheets (something we ardently suggest getting rid of) to update their bids, guests will receive instant updates on their phones. This allows them to make their next bid immediately. Plus, if they ever need to physically step away from your school's auction, they'll be able to keep bidding, driving bidding wars and your auction's potential revenue. 


  • Data management software. The more you know about your guests, the better the auction experience you'll be able to create. Make sure your school auction software has data management and reporting tools so you can keep track of every aspect of your event. 

If you're nervous about whether your audience will be able to adapt to your tools, don't be! User-friendly platforms are made with guests like yours in mind to create the best experience possible. 

When assessing school auction software, look for a solution that prioritizes your guests' engagement.

Handbid's School Auction Software

Handbid's silent auction software and mobile bidding tools are focused on creating an intuitive and engaging user experience. Guests are drawn into your auction, earning you more bids and creating a more fun and memorable event overall.

Hundreds of schools, both big and small, have used our school auction software to run successful events. With Handbid, schools have access to a professional-looking online auction catalog, streamlined guest check-in and checkout, state-of-the-art mobile bidding tools, and an unbeatable knowledge base and support team. To learn more, reach out to the Handbid team today.

Wrap Up

School auctions are popular, dynamic fundraisers that empower your school to connect with students and earn much-needed funds. Use these events as an opportunity to not only raise money, but to get creative to improve your students' learning experiences. 

Planning a school auction requires you to commit your time and resources. Ensure you have the right resources and information to drive your team's planning decisions. 

To help you learn more about auctions and find the right software solutions for your school, check out these additional resources: 



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