Auctions and galas are a big deal at private schools. The items up for bid tend to fall into similar categories: vacation getaways, tickets for sporting or entertainment, fun stuff for kids and more. But, within those categories progressive schools offer some very different items than those at traditional schools. Take a look…and glimpse inside the school’s culture as highlighted at school auctions.
Here are 3 auction items from Sequoyah School in Pasadena, a progressive school with parents who’d love the hippest items in town!
Progressive Oakwood School’s dad Steve Carrell hosts a tequila party!
The Center For Early Education is a progressive school, known for parents like Beyonce. So, it’s no surprise that it’s gala features items that might seem more luxe than hipster.
Brentwood School’s pure elegance!
Harvard-Westlake School doesn’t host a gala or auction event, but it’s Party Book is something to celebrate along with celebrity dad Will Farrell.
Viewpoint School invites you to take a luxury vacation in Park City!
Spring is the season for L.A private school auctions and galas! Of course, planning for these swanky events starts long before the actual date, as committees of parents and staff begin securing big ticket items that will fill up school coffers with money raised from both live and silent auctions. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the selection of items to bid on. “Priceless” is the operative word when we’re talking about live auctions. With professional auctioneers encouraging the crowd, after a few drinks and some friendly competition, nothing will stop parents from outbidding their friends for a luxury vacation, a shiny piece of jewelry, a fabulous piece of art signed by a famous painter or a VIP parking space at the front of the school. It happens every year, a time-honored tradition. Eat, drink and bid. Repeat.
Private schools put so much time into making auctions and galas–often held at high-end hotels, country clubs, studio lots or party venues–successful because they help close the budget gap not covered by tuition. Despite the $30,000/year+ you may be about to start paying for your kid to attend a private school, there’s more money to be spent if you can afford it. Of course, not all families choose to attend auctions and they are most certainly optional. These soirees are definitely part of L.A. private school culture, an example of the immense wealth that makes up the world of private schools and a glimpse into how schools are funded and who is writing checks.
I’ve co-chaired an auction at our kids’ former school (The Willows) and attended several at Viewpoint (our current school). Barry and I bid anxiously on a photo of Air Force One landing at LAX with an unseen president aboard (it’s George W. Bush). The photo is signed by the former White House photographer, Brooks Kraft. There’s something eerie and cool about it. Although small, its one of my all-time favorite photographs in our home–and I’m a Democrat! I’ve also bid on a pair of diamond stud earrings that I love as well as tickets for dinner parties and cooking classes. Obviously, we aren’t the big spenders at these events, but we’re fortunate to be able to participate.
The money from auctions and galas goes toward closing the budget gap between tuition and operating expenses such as financial aid, professional development and school art, sports and music programs. These high-end events can bring in anywhere from $100,000 to $1,000,000+ depending on the school. Corporate sponsors can underwrite events by purchasing tables and ads in the program guide. The cost to attend can range from about $50 to $300 per ticket.
Schools put out “wish-lists” of items they are hoping parents can provide– either themselves or through their contacts–for auctions. Schools know from experience which items will generate high-dollar bidding. Here’s what’s on Viewpoint’s “wish-list” for the Denim and Diamonds auction:
At Windward School, the auction committee is looking for:
Luxury Hotel Stays ● Vacation Packages ● Vacation Homes ● Airline Tickets ● Private Jet Use ● In-Home Private Chef Experiences ● Cruises ● Private Yacht Excursions ● Restaurant Gift Certificates ● Spa Treatments● VIP Sporting Tickets for Los Angeles Teams ● Box Seats to Sporting Events ● VIP Concert Tickets ● Signed Athletic Memorabilia ● Rounds of Golf ● Jewelry ● Wine and Champagne ● Hollywood Bowl Box Seats\
Campbell Hall continues the school’s annual Bagpiper Ball tradition:
Buckley School hosts a gala every other year:
In L.A. it’s never to early to start fundraising! Here’s the Early Childhood Center at Wilshire Blvd. Temple’s event:
We’ll have more to come as the gala season is in full swing. There are party books upcoming and all kinds of mind-blowing events that we’ll be sure to report back on.
This post was previously published on September 13, 2013
When my daughter was in 1st grade, I co-chaired the auction at The Willows School. This is the school’s biggest annual fundraiser and I knew it would be a lot of work. So, I was thrilled when I found out who my co-chairs would be. They were a talented group of professionals who had skills beyond my wildest dreams. We worked together for about nine months from start to finish. When the event was over and the totals were tallied we raised more than $200,000. It was like a full-time job for many of us and at times our nerves frayed, we argued and stress took over. Yet in the end, the event was lovely and successful. We took risks by moving the event to a new venue. We solicited items the school had never auctioned previously. We drank, bid, ate and partied the night of the auction. A fun time was had by all.
Here’s what I learned.
School auctions (private and public) range from fancy to low-key and everything in between. The culture of your school will set the tone for the event.
Create a great theme and tagline and use to brand the event by ensuring that all materials related to the event carry the theme throughout.
Use a professional graphic designer for the invitation and collateral materials. If you don’t have one at your school, inquire if there are any parents with expertise or contacts in this area.
Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. Fundraising is about what has worked in the past and fun, new ideas. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be professional and uncomplicated.
Look at the websites of schools similar to yours. What type of auctions/galas have they done? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to fundraising. Best practices are very useful for school auctions.
Create a schedule that takes you from the current date through the date of the event. Stick to it. Schedule regular committee meetings. Keep an online folder and binder of all your materials (this can be given to the next parent who chairs the event).
Make a list of what the school will not accept for donations (used items, etc.). Otherwise, your auctions risks becoming a dumping place for items that have been stored in somebody’s garage for the past decade. This isn’t a garage sale!
Start soliciting auction items by putting together a team of experienced volunteers who have been successful in past years.
Find the best person to ask a family for a donation if it’s not you. Often being asked by a friend means the difference between a ‘yes’ and an unreturned call.Start by asking for donations from the vendors where you shop–and ask well in advance of your event. You’ll be surprised how willing they are to help their customers.
Learn what will/will not sell at your school. Restaurant gift cards are always a hit. Professional services are a harder sell. Include a mix of high end and affordable items so everyone will come and shop!
Don’t accept junk like used shoes, even if they are designer. It lowers the quality of your auction.
Party Books are a fabulous way to raise money. These are parent-hosted events like dinner parties, wine tastings, lunch events, kids events that each attendee pays to attend and the proceeds benefit the school.
Avoid offers of discounted items and used items. You want full donations and new good.
Create a compelling, professional letter with the school’s letterhead and all the information a donor will need.
Review the school’s database of donors (if it exists). If not, create a list of potential businesses, friends of the school that you will solicit by mail, email and in person.
Book your event location as far in advance as possible.
Consider how you will publicize the event to school parents and stakeholders like alumni. What’s the best way to reach them? How many times will you contact them about the event?
Create a website, private Facebook Group or a page on the school’s website for all auction information (donation forms, volunteers needed, event date, location, items needed, etc.).
Make it easy for parents to find information about the event!
There are good software programs specifically for school auctions/fundraisers.
Remember that you’re a volunteer and so is the committee. If you get overwhelmed, ask the school for more volunteers.
Be kind to volunteers who donate and solicit items, even if the donation is not what you hoped for.
Have fun, meet friends, work hard and relax when the event is over.
Check out A Mom’s Guide To School Fundraising. Sarah Barrett, an experienced mom, covers everything from lemonade stands and bake sales to auctions. And, she has an AUCTION SUCCESS KIT! You can read my write-up of the book here.