In the process of pulling together content for my new Auction Item Guide, I was reminded of the many themes my clients used over the past year.
Here are the auction themes I thought most creative.
The Eye Ball: See and Be Seen – The event raises money for eye research and corneal transplant, so the theme is directly tied to the mission of the nonprofit. I wrote about this event first in 2018 when the organization used a different, but equally clever, sub-theme.
An Evening in CASAblanca – Like “The Eye Ball” mentioned above, this name used clever wordplay that tied to its mission. Court Appointed Special Advocate organizations use the acronym CASA, making this a theme any CASA organization could use. In my case, Rick’s Cafe from the movie was an airplane hanger, complete with vintage planes.
Black & White Gala – Party of the Century – If you like the idea of a masked ball but are weary of The Carnival of Venice or Mardi Gras themes, take a look at American pop history for inspiration. The Party of the Century was Truman Capote’s legendary party from 1966. He used striking black and white decor and guests wore elaborate masks. At this fundraiser, the nonprofit (an art museum) hosted a pre-gala party that included crafting — guests made the mask they’d wear to the gala.
The Fellowship of the School Name: One Auction To Rule Them All – An all-boys school went all-out with its theme based on the epic fantasy book series. There are many Lord of the Rings fans, and some were inspired to wear costumes reminiscent of Middle-Earth and their favorite characters.
Seas the Day – If you’re OK using a more casual theme (some guests might wear shorts or “ugly tourist” outfits), this theme conveys the beach without using the word “beach.” Beach, ocean, sand and surf themes seem particularly alluring to those auction committees living in cold northern states. Snow might be falling outside, but inside the venue, guests are reminded that warmer weather is just a few weeks away. Selling a beach vacation is a nice tie-in to this auction theme, too.
Chinese New Year – Only twice I’ve seen an auction based on the Chinese New Year — once in Oregon and this past year in Virginia. The independent private school that embraced the theme in 2019 did so as a thoughtful way to acknowledge their growing population of students from China. Smart!
Mardi Gras Mambo – Every year I work at least one Mardi Gras-themed event. But until 2019, I’d never worked a Mardi Gras Mambo auction. One Dad at the school hails from New Orleans and is part of a krewe. He built a mini-float and recruited others to drive it straight into the ballroom down a too-small aisle (gala tables were rapidly dragged aside). Other parents dusted off their high school instruments and marched behind, playing “When the Saints Come Marching In.” The crowd cheered and to my knowledge, no one had to bare their chest to be rewarded with beads and candy. Once the commotion was back outside the room, we started the live auction.
Moving Mountains – Given the low test scores and dismal high school graduation rates of students in some inner cities, urban education can be seen as an uphill battle. But if you’re changing the landscape by reversing that trend and altering the futures for the children and families in those zip codes, you are … well … moving mountains. “Highs and lows,” “peaks and valleys,” and similar language was used all night long while being paired against a backdrop of student success stories and statistics.
Making Spirits Bright – For no good reason, something about this theme transports me to the 1950s. I feel like I should be wearing a black cocktail dress, fur stole, and holding a red martini in someone’s downtown apartment while Dave Brubeck’s holiday album plays in the background.
Anyway, one of the last events I worked in 2019 was held the first Saturday of December. The school always opts for a holiday-themed auction and plays upon the time of year, when guests are in the midst of buying Christmas gifts for their family. It’s a short and snappy theme that screams “holiday.”
Several other benefit auctions I worked had outstanding decor, but these were fundraising events of 2019 which I thought had particularly relevant, clever, thoughtful, or snazzy themes.
What’s the best auction theme you’ve seen? Care to share?
If so, post it below.