This past weekend I shared some work stories with a friend who knows nothing about school auctions.
She thought they were interesting. Maybe you will, too.
The underlying theme is perspective, and how and where you live influences your school auction.
The influx of wealth from China is shaping school auctions
At one of my big-city school auctions two years ago, a one-week stay in Greece sold for $25k. The buyer was a student’s grandparent.
The woman didn’t even speak English, but she learned how to raise her bid card!
She and other family members had flown directly from China to attend the auction fundraiser after the school made a point of inviting the families of the exchange students who are attending the school.
The families were seated at a couple of tables and became active bidders. I learned later that the woman didn’t even take the trip.
Chinese exchange students are not just making an impact in the private schools of tier 1 and 2 cities.
Last month, I wrote about a private school in a mid-sized city which had decided to use a Chinese New Year’s theme at its school auction to acknowledge and welcome their growing community of Chinese exchange students.
(Incidentally, this year the schools are not pushing to invite the families of exchange students because of the coronavirus. There’s no sense in trying to attend your child’s school auction if you’ll also endure a two-week quarantine in California.)
Rural private school auction: Common items; uncommon success
A few months ago, I visited with an auction chair from the Midwest. She lived in that region often referred to as a “fly over state.” The population of the school’s town was fewer than 1000; the entire county had fewer than 19,000 people.
I was surprised that the local population could support a fairly large private school.
“I hate to say it,” she said, “but the public school here is so bad that if you can afford to send your children to private school, you do.”
Even more fascinating to me is that the auction fundraiser was run more as a commercial auction.
Community businesses donated hundreds of goods and services from their companies. Guests — who weren’t necessarily parents — came to buy items they used every day. This auction wasn’t about selling a fancy vacation, an over-the-top dinner, or a class excursion; it was about selling ~400 items of work and everyday life.
In recent years, the Auction Chair had noticed that not all of the items were selling for full or over-value. She was exploring other options for her auction to see what could be done to improve the numbers.
Even still, that event raised an impressive $200k; significantly more than many auctions I work in the D.C. area!
Know your international audience
I have several clients who host a trivia night as one of the school’s annual parent activities. Trivia night typically has a lower-priced ticket than the auction, and the evening is meant to be more about community-building than fundraising.
In particular, one client has had great success with their trivia night — it’s more anticipated than the auction! Teams are strategically formed and tables sell out. Rules are tightly enforced; anyone caught with a cell phone is expelled.
Despite the success of trivia night at several of my clients, one school found it just didn’t work for them.
For a change of pace, this school had decided to replace the annual auction with trivia night.
The school knew that many of the parents had advanced degrees (E.G. doctors, attorneys) or ran businesses, so it seemed like trivia night might make for some fun competition.
Turns out, the parents didn’t like the new activity.
This school had a diverse, international student body. Many of the children were first generation Americans.
When it came time to answer American trivia, the parents — though bright — didn’t know the answers. They lacked shared cultural touchpoints that make a trivia game work.
The parents had no shared pop culture and their exposure to music and television varied. Even historical “facts” can be fluid, depending on who is leading the education.
In short, the parents didn’t find trivia night fun. But an auction was something they all understood.
I could share other international and regional stories, but this seems like a good place to stop.
Perspective makes a difference in your beliefs.
- It might be normal or outrageous to sell 150 live auction items in your auction.
- It might be normal or outrageous to learn that your best bidders aren’t even fluent in your language.
- It might be normal or outrageous to have such a diverse parent population that they aren’t familiar with Friends TV show.
Keeping an open mind is always a good idea.