Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How to Snipe a Silent Auction

This past weekend Epu and I showed up to the fundraiser "gala" for the preschool Nutmeg will attend next year. Yeah, it was $65 a pop, but there was an open bar, a buffet, and we figured we'd meet parents and teachers from the new school.

Only when we arrived did we realize that the $65 tickets were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of fundraising. Yep, this "gala" was an auction in disguise.* Those of you with kids older than mine, especially if they attend private schools, are laughing at me right now for my naivete.

Still, it was fun to go around looking at and reading about the many items up for the "silent auction." The way it worked: Each item had a piece of paper with a starting bid, and each attendee had a personal number. We write down our number with a bid, we might win that item.

Epu and I checked the whole place out, then wrote our number on a few items that seemed like decent deals. In the end we ended up with two of them, and we weren't sure if we were happy about that or not. After all, we attended an evening we thought we'd already paid for, and ended up charging $255 to our credit card on our way out the door.

The items we "won": a package of Suzuki violin lessons with a gift certificate to a music store, and a "green" cleaning package including a dry cleaning gift cert and a 2-hour housecleaning.

Today I actually got the gift certs for the Suzuki package, and I was impressed: the music store gift card was for $50, and the one for the lessons was worth $250. While I was pleased that I got all this for my $125 bid, I was also a bit chagrined to think that Nutmeg's continuing violin lessons would cost so much. I forget how many lessons are included, but it wasn't that many.

At any rate, Epu and I failed to meet many of the other parents at the gala, since they all knew each other and were quite engaged chatting amongst themselves. However, we did refine our silent auction techniques for next year:

1) Decide in advance your budget for the evening. This is important because then you won't feel guilty for being cheap when it comes to charity, especially a charity that directly benefits your own family. When you arrive with a budget, you know that the school will get this much from you, no matter what. Then it's only a matter of getting as much donated loot as you can, at no cost to the school.

2) Scope out all the items, of course. Don't write your name on anything right away, unless you are desperate for it. Take note of items with no bids that appear to be a good value at the starting price.

3) Narrow down your choices to a few favorites. How conservative you want to be at this point depends on you -- you can choose exactly enough items to spend your limit, or you can assume that you'll be outbid on SOMETHING and bid beyond your limit.

4) Remember exactly where your favorites are.

5) Wait until the last five or ten minutes of the auction.

6) At the very end, split from your spouse and return to your favorite auctions. If your auction is like ours, any items with no bids will have been marked down to half price! If there are still no bidders, lay claim at the minimum bid.

7) Rake in the loot. Ignore disapproving looks from other parents -- after all, they might not have bought a thing themselves.

* Another thing I realized when attending this function is just how expensive my daughter's school is to run. It is known in the area as a very high-quality program, and I was impressed that the parents go through so much trouble to keep the tuition low by paying for so many of the expenses through fundraising. Thank you!