This (somewhat) lighthearted post was written in 2009 for readers of my e-zine, Benefit Auction Ideas. Subscribe here.
Every two years, I am under contract to conduct an auction in a tiny rural Kansas town.
It’s terribly unorganized – by far, the worst I conduct.
The items have values ranging from $3 to ~$55, no items are marketed in advance, and the displays are plain. Most guests bring their donations directly to the event, throwing them on a table for others to see. Frankly, many of the items would be relegated to a silent auction at any other gala.
Although the meal is good and the guests jovial, they are a motley group of characters.
Many of them are incredibly loud, on occasion interrupting me while I’m selling to either make an unsolicited comment about a donated item, or tell a potentially embarrassing story about the individual who donated it.
The children distract bidders as they roam freely through the venue.
And if I were to be brutally honest, some guests are notoriously cheap. Items which might sell for well over $100 at any of my other events sell for $20 here.
I’ve conducted this auction three times, starting in 2005. After each event, I ask the auction organizer when I will be paid. She laughs.
Welcome to my family reunion auction.
To be fair, this is written a tad tongue-in-cheek. Certainly I love all of my family, but my mom’s side is particularly fun. Many of my mom’s six brothers and sisters have passed, but their progeny – still very Bohemian – carry on the tradition of being loud, enjoying cards and board games, and telling great stories.
Most of you reading this article are involved with planning events for schools or non-profits, but I am sure that everyone reading this is part of a family. Whether it’s a family you created for yourself through partnership, or a family into which you were born, I suspect that you have reunions.
With summer get-togethers like reunions in full-swing, I want to write about why you might want to start – and how to conduct – a family reunion auction.
Like most reunion auctions, ours was launched to cover the costs of holding the event.
The money collected from the auction is used to cover shared expenses. It covers costs like renting the facility and purchasing utensils, coffee, and related supplies. My cousin Mark buys the meat (for which he’s reimbursed) and graciously smokes it to a melt-in-your-mouth tender on his farm. We also buy fun prizes to award for “oldest attendee” or “traveled the furthest.” Winners of various other games also receive small gifts like Bath & Body Works hand lotions and sanitizers.
Our first auction in 2005 raised $600+!
Because the reunion expenses were only ~$200, an account was opened at the credit union to hold the extra cash. Reimbursements are now made from that account. Since that first auction was so successful and easily covered our costs, we’ve since put less emphasis on encouraging everyone to bring an item.
Mom advertised the first auction by sending out a blast email to the family, asking them to bring something for our inaugural family auction. As the concept was new, she fielded many questions about what was an appropriate item. She gave examples of items she’d heard about from other families who also conduct auctions.
Now when guests arrive at our reunion, we put their donated item on a separate table with a sign that states “Auction Items.” Guests walk by the table to browse.
After lunch, I begin the sale. Although I mentally sell the items in what I know to be the best-selling order, we don’t number the items, write descriptions, or use bid numbers. The clerking is managed by one of my cousins, and everyone pays him in cash or check after the event. It’s a low-tech, low-effort auction, yet it still makes money.
Items sold are generally handmade by the donor or have some personal significance to the family. Here are some items I’ve sold:
* Canned tomatoes
* A dozen kolaches
* Crocheted items
* A basket filled with all Kansas products (wine, snacks)
* Wahoo game board with marbles and dice
* Bird house
* A collection of freshly picked garden vegetables
* Reprinted photos of Grandma and Grandpa
* A scrapbook of Grandma’s saved sayings, recipes and other clippings, including some in Czech
* Basket of cookies
* Old postcards kept by Grandma and Grandpa
* Painted Christmas ornament
In short, our family auction has served its purpose and become a tradition. My guess is that with your growing experience in benefit auctions, incorporating an auction into your reunion would be easy.
For your auctioneer, I encourage you to find the most outgoing member of your brood.
Or perhaps you have a relative who IS an auctioneer? If so, you’re set.