Of all the tasks necessary for a fundraiser, procuring items is the one that can intimidate even the most enthusiastic volunteer. Great auctions are dependent on great items. There might be a hundred enthusiastic guests at your party, but they’ll go home with money in their pockets if they are not motivated to bid on your items.
So what’s the secret to securing a wide variety of high-quality items at every price point? To start with, your auction committee and PTA leadership shouldn’t be the only ones soliciting donations; enlist your entire school community in the effort.
Some PTAs insist that every family be responsible for at least one item or experience offered at the annual auction. Staff members and teachers can be asked to secure a donation as well.
The best auction items may be the special experiences only a certain teacher or family can offer. For example, Mrs. Brown from 2nd grade may also be a Pampered Chef consultant, while the Martin family might have a vacation cottage they’re willing to offer. The proceeds from your auction will benefit the entire school, so don’t be afraid to encourage everyone to secure a donation.
Create a Good Donation Request
Before sending off your fundraising team to start soliciting, develop a well-crafted donation request letter and donation information form. The letter should include a brief description of your PTO or PTA , the purpose of your fundraiser, the auction date, and a PTO/PTA contact person. Donations to your auction are tax deductible if (and only if) your group is designated a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity by the IRS, so include your PTO’s 501(c)(3) status, as well.
Format the letter on PTO/PTA letterhead, and have it signed by the PTO/PTA president and school principal. You will feel empowered with this prop in your hand, especially if you are uncomfortable with the thought of asking for something for free. The letter may be the only introduction a donor has to your group, so make sure it is well-written.
Also create a form to collect the standard data you need to properly document a donation. This includes details such as the donor’s contact information, a complete description of the item, its retail value, and any restrictions. Ideally, you should fill out this form as soon as the donation is secured, whether in person or by mail. These forms are the basis for your official auction catalog and bid sheets, so it’s vital to collect accurate data in a timely manner.
Distribute the letter and donation form in hard copy and electronic formats to everyone who is soliciting donations. Put the documents on your PTO’s or PTA’s website, too, so it’s easy to get additional copies.
Who to ask and How
Donors are all around your Parent Group. Personal contacts, community groups, and big corporations are all good sources of auction items, but the asking strategies vary somewhat. You’ll have the most success with a face-to-face conversation with friends and familiar merchants. For community groups like local sports teams and arts organizations, it’s usually most efficient to contact them by email or postal mail. When requesting donations from large corporations—which you should always do via email—you’ll need to follow their instructions and meet their qualifications.