Auction Tips

How to Plan A Standout School Auction + 6 Fun Item Ideas

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

Schools need funding to pay teachers, upgrade facilities, and buy educational resources and technology. After all, if there's anything worth investing in, it's children's education. But, as a busy PTA/PTO member or school administrator, you know exceeding your fundraising goals is easier said than done. Enter school auctions.

Fundraising auctions are popular fundraising events for a wide range of schools and nonprofits, from global NPOs to local humane societies. So, how can you create an event that parents and students will both enjoy? This guide will cover the following to help your school's next auction shine:

As you explore this guide, remember to adapt your school auction to your audience. For example, while a Disney bundle may be a hot-ticket item at an elementary school auction, you might get a lukewarm response at a high school event. Now, let's dive in!

A child in a classroom smiling, excited about a school auction.

What Is A School Fundraising Auction?

A school auction is a fundraising event organized by a school’s administrators or PTA to raise funds for educational or extracurricular activities and equipment not covered by the school's standard budget.

During the event, items or services are awarded to the highest bidder. Items may include local experiences like amusement park tickets and unique school-related opportunities like Principal for a Day.

Many schools use auction software to register participants, track bids, and process payments. This software can also be used to run online and hybrid auctions and expand the reach of fundraisers.

A stack of books in a classroom, representing the types of school fundraising auctions.

Types of School Auctions

Common types of school fundraising auctions include:

  • Silent Auctions: Bidders place bids on items using their phones or tablets (or write their bids on a sheet of paper placed near the item—though this system is outdated and less effective than mobile bidding), and the highest listed bid at the end of the auction wins.
  • Live Auctions: An auctioneer presents items one at a time, and participants bid openly against one another. The highest bid before the auctioneer closes the bidding wins the item.
  • Online Auctions: Items are listed on an internet platform or auction website where people can place bids over a designated period. The highest bidder at the end wins.
  • Sealed Bid Auctions: Participants submit their highest bid in a sealed envelope or through auction software. The highest bid submitted wins, and no bidder knows what others have bid.

Each type of school auction comes with its own advantages and drawbacks. Choose the best option for you based on your school’s preferences, the nature of your items, and your event’s goals.

Improve your school auction with these top best practices.

School Auction Best Practices 

Take your school auction to the next level, make the most of your resources, and avoid potential pitfalls with these tips:

A group of students raising their hands in a classroom, representing how you should create a team to organize your school fundraising auction.

Create A School Auction Team.

Planning an auction involves a lot of logistics, so organizers typically divide responsibilities among a few people. Creating a school auction team will help your fundraiser run smoothly.

Your school auction’s team might include these positions:

  • Auction Chair: Oversees all aspects of the auction, manages logistics and finances, keeps the team on track, and acts as the point of contact with school administration
  • Procurement Coordinator: Reaches out to potential donors to solicit auction items and manages the inventory of donated items
  • Marketing Coordinator: Acts as the auction’s promotion strategist by advertising the event through various channels and creating marketing materials
  • Volunteer Coordinator: Recruits and organizes volunteers for the event, assigns roles, and ensures all volunteers are properly trained
  • Logistics Coordinator: Manages the physical and technical setup for the event, including the venue, catering, and any necessary equipment such as your online auction platform
  • Auctioneer or Emcee: Acts as the ring-leader at your event and maintains momentum by encouraging bids and energizing the audience

Your team should work together to reinforce the auction rules and ensure a fair and fun bidding process. By filling these roles, your school can assemble a comprehensive team ready to take on all the critical elements of a successful fundraising auction.

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

As you design your auction area, keep these tips in mind:

  • Consider the layout of items. You might group items by category or place high-value items alongside lower-value items to show variety. 
  • Leave enough space for guests to move around. Display tables should have lots of space around them to avoid lines and unfortunate elbow-throwing accidents. Your area should also be well-lit so your guests can see the items.
  • Remember your audience. In many cases, attendees are adults on a Parents'  Night Out, so 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 schoolers 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.

Mobile bidding shown on two phone screens, which will make it easy for attendees to bid on your school auction items.

Eliminating bid sheets can also help you maintain better control over the bidding process, eliminate human error, and prevent any 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 clean your bedroom faster, 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.

Incentivize guests to bid by gamifying your auction. Gamification involves adding badges, awards, and other elements to inject healthy competition into your event and motivate guests to outbid their peers.

Spark engagement at your school's auction with these gamification features:

  • 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 during your event.


  • Leaderboards: 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 names 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), a positive user experience is what ultimately increases your auction revenue.

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

Get Your Students Involved.

Your auction supports your students, and 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 be local community members with 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 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: Recruit your high school or university students to volunteer at your event. They can help create decorations, set up your event space, and even serve food. Note that if students are present, teachers and staff members can't be attendees or drink alcohol if it is served.


  • Providing entertainment: Add extra entertainment to your school auction by 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 students’ talent 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, 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 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.

  • Matching Gifts: Encourage them to participate in a matching gifts challenge by matching any donations made before or during your school auction. Be sure to let your community know, especially since 84% of surveyed donors say they’ll donate if a match is offered. One in three donors will actually donate more than they originally planned.

  • 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 help kickstart 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.

A smiling group of older students, emphasizing how you should show appreciation for your school auction’s attendees and sponsors.

Thank Your School Auction’s Supporters.

Your attendees, volunteers, and sponsors will be the reason for your event’s success. Expressing gratitude is more than just a courteous gesture. It’s a strategic action that reinforces people’s decisions to give, enhances their connections to your school, and inspires future support. The simple act of appreciation not only makes them feel valued but also encourages positive word-of-mouth promotion throughout your community.

You might reserve a one-on-one phone call for your largest contributors. For every guest, show authentic appreciation with a personal thank-you email. Better yet, pair your letter with a thoughtful eCard.

Send thank-you eCards like this one to your school auction’s sponsors, volunteers, and attendees.

Digital greeting cards transform a traditional thank-you letter into a memorable keepsake. Compared to traditional greeting cards, thank-you eCards are much more cost-effective and timely. Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose an online eCard creation platform. Your eCard software should have plenty of templates, fun graphics, customizable colors, and an intuitive drag-and-drop editor.
  2. Design a few thank-you eCards with your school’s logo. You can include pictures of students and fun animations, too. Be sure to design different eCards for volunteers, guests, and sponsors.
  3. Send your eCards. You’ll want to add a custom note for each recipient. Creating templates for different supporters can help streamline this process. Then, either schedule your cards to send immediately after your school auction or wait to add personal details regarding each individual’s impact.

Putting thought into your appreciation ensures that all guests and sponsors will feel valued and be more likely to participate in your next school fundraiser.

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

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 requires 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 fun, low-cost school auction item ideas:

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

Class Baskets 

Have students show some 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 with items contributed by students. 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 for your school auction:

  1. Each teacher chooses a theme for their class. Examples might include family game night, a baking kit, or a gardening basket. 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. We often hear teachers prefer this option, but it’s always best to ask!

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

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

School Experiences 

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

Experiences give the winning bidder a unique (and sometimes exclusive) opportunity to do something fun. Here are a few ideas that can end up being 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, 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 hanging out in the principal's office. Bonus points for giving them a personalized lanyard!


  • Pull the fire alarm. 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 scarce at most schools. For no cost to the school, think about creating a few reserved spots for your next school auction! 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 graduations are a thing! And those seats fill up fast. Parents will want to secure a good spot, so set aside a few front-row seats for 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 estimate 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 other nearby schools’ online auctions to see what items like these have gone for in the past.

Get your teachers to contribute to your school auction.

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 school 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 winners can 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 lives 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, and cooking. 


  • Activities 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 engage in 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.

Community Activities 

We've mentioned that most of your school auction's guests will be members of your community looking to support a 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 community members to secure 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, or paint. 


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

Think about your community's resources as you consider what activities to turn into auction prizes. For example, schools located in cities will likely have access to several 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.

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 people will get excited at seeing jerseys with their old numbers branded to your school. That makes it a great way to inspire alumni donations! 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 its 25th-anniversary celebration.


  • 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, and frisbees. 

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, call in a favor to make a few of your school auction items a little more special. If you do get a signature, we always recommend you obtain a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). Some reputable providers will authenticate signatures from well-known athletes or celebrities. For those who are lesser-known, try to get a video of the person signing it.

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


If you have any talented artists in your school or community, auction off 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 willing to donate their works for the auction.

  • Personalized artwork: Suggest students 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 draw guests to your event, but you'll need school auction equipment to manage in-person, hybrid, or 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 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 to focus on other important preparation items!


  • Mobile bidding tools. Mobile bidding tools make your auction more convenient, engaging, and competitive. 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.

Invest in the right school auction software to power your event.

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 online auction catalog
  • Streamlined guest check-in and checkout
  • State-of-the-art mobile bidding tools with push notifications to encourage bids
  • iPad kiosks for ticketing, bidding, and sales
  • Livestreaming via the Handbid app and event website
  • A live thermometer, leaderboard, and ticker to drive participation
  • An unbeatable knowledge base and support team

If your school wants to host an even higher-end event, fully customize your school’s auction with Handbid+. With this solution, you can create custom auction experiences that look like part of your website. Here’s a rundown of the solution:

Our all-in-one software can simplify your event planning, so you can focus on marketing your school auction and procuring the best items. Our software even helped The Voila Foundation raise seven times more than its previous fundraising auction! To learn more about how we empower organizations, 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 and 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. In the meantime, learn more about auctions and find the right software with these additional resources: 

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