school auctions

Must Have Live Auction Item #2: Meal/Dinner Party

These are one of my favorite things to sell ever and every auction should have one. What I like about this item is that you don't have to be well connected to have this item. You don't even need to know a chef, you just need to have someone who is willing to host a dinner party for 6-10 people and cook food and provide wine. This could be hosted at a popular restaurant or even in someone's home.

Criteria For a Successful Meal/Dinner Party Item:

Hosted by a likable person. Not necessarily a famous person. Just someone that people enjoy being around.  If you have a willing participant, but their personality is just a little choppy or hard to be around, no one will bid. 

Multiple Courses. Hors d'oeuvres, salad, dinner and dessert would be enough, but if your chef can do other courses (soup, cheese, whatever else all those extra forks are for type courses) , that makes the meal stand out more.

Wine. Must I say more? Wine or beer pairings included are a must!

6-10 people. I have found that this is the sweet spot for number of people included in successfully selling an item of this type. 4 people is too few and 12 can be too difficult to coordinate with guests.  

An Expiration Date. This is important so people actually claim their meal with the donor. Usually one year from the date of the event is a good expiration. This is also out of respect for the donor and their time. 


  • Chef's dinner at a highly anticipated new restaurant prior to the restaurant opening. 
  • Meal prepared by a chef featured on the Food Network (seriously, there is probably someone in your area featured on the food network) 
  • Meal prepared in YOUR home by the principal of the school. 
  • Meal in the home of a CEO of a fortune 100 company in your area with the CEO and spouse. Meal prepared by catering company. 
  • Authentic Italian dinner prepared by someone closely associated by the organization who grew up in Italy - secret family recipes. 
  • Dinner prepared by a well known local chef. 

Again, these are all just examples, but the possibilities are endless here. Just start brain storming with your auction committee and pick whatever sounds most fun to you. Contact me if you want to my professional feedback. I will be honest, because I want your even to be as successful as possible.

Picking the Right Venue for Your Fundraising Auction - Acoustics

Picking the right venue for your fundraising auction | Sarah Knox Benefit Auctions

The venue you select will make a huge difference in giving at your event. I will address lay out and such in future posts, but today I want to address acoustics. Now, don’t get me wrong, you don’t need the Guthrie stage or the St. Paul Cathedral to get maximum bidding, but you do need to pick a room that does not echo. If there is an echo or the sound does not carry, people loose focus or can’t hear altogether. This is so Important because if people can’t hear, they won’t bid. Period. As a general rule venues that work are: Theaters, Concert Venues, Golf Courses and Hotel Ballrooms.

– All of these facilities are designed for events like this or weddings or seminars or musical shows. I’ve done a lot of work with the Yellow Tree Theatre in Anoka – great venue for audiences of up to 250 and organizations in the northwest suburbs. For more central locations, any golf club or hotel ballroom works great because they are usually carpeted and have the capacity for a good sound system.

Venues that don’t work: Gyms (or anything covered in tile) and outside

. Many people pick a gym because they are free/inexpensive at their school, local church or community center. A good venue is worth your money. I guarantee you will loose more money using a gym than it would have cost you to rent a hotel ballroom for the night of your event.

If you have concerns or questions about your venue, feel free to contact me and I can help make suggestions for your event.

How many live auction items should I have at my fundraising auction?

 Good Question. I’ve done auctions with as few as 2 items and others with as many as 80, but the best range is somewhere between 6-12.

 Don’t get so stuck on the number though, I’m more concerned about quality of items over the quantity. If you have 15 super unique items that all have a broad appeal, by all means I’m open to having 15. However, if you have 15 items and 2 of them are vacations in Mexico and 4 are tickets to local sports teams, that’s where I would step in and help you bring it down under 12 items.

 The reason it’s important not to have too many items is that the crowd gets bored. Honestly! I’d love to think that people are captivated by me for 3 hours straight, but after about 30 minutes, it all starts to sound the same no matter how funny my jokes are. Once we’ve lost their attention, we have lost their money. 12 awesome items is pretty much an audience’s limit. Let’s be honest, they’re all waiting for the bar to open back up and the band to start playing anyway.

 On the other hand, if you only have 4 stellar items, don’t stress! I’d rather have 4 great items alone than start adding in lots that won’t go for much. It’s important not to kill the momentum during the live auction by selling a dud item. It will affect the bidder’s willingness to bid on future items. If you only have 4 awesome items, I will also sit down with you and go over item suggestions and help you brainstorm where to solicit those items.

Fund-a-Need – Picking your need

fund-a-need selection | Sarah Knox Benefit Auctions

Selecting a specific and measurable "need" for your fund-a-need will motivate and inspire donors to step up to the challenge you set before them. While some fund-a-needs can be successful if funds are going to the organization in general, people want to know they are making a difference and giving them some thing specific to work towards gives them meaning and fulfillment.

Examples of a few "needs" I’ve done in the past:

  • Scholarship Fund (this is a popular one)
  • Medical Equipment
  • School Bus
  • Handicap Accessible Vans
  • A school in Haiti (we built it room by room)
  • New Technology Equipment
  • Mission Trips
  • Fresh Water in Africa

There are more and more examples, and your "need" will be specific to your organization. If it’s something you are struggling with, reach out to me because I help with this as a part of my benefit auction consulting process.