Are Public Schools Going on the Auction Block?

Are Public Schools Going on the Auction Block?
Going once, going twice: sold to the highest public school bidder! Learn about the growing trend to hold auctions at public schools - and the positive and negative consequences.
Public school auctions are not a new idea, but with the economic woes in recent years, these fundraisers have reached an all-time high in many areas across the country.  As the need for successful fundraising increases, so does the intensity of the public auction experience, with more expensive merchandise offered up and even a few tempers to diffuse throughout the evening. This article will take a closer look at the public auction experience, including some of the problems schools across the country have encountered in their efforts to raise necessary funding for their students.

The Benefits of a Public Auction

According to an article at, the public auction has long been a popular fundraising choice in schools because it offers a myriad of benefits, including:

  • The potential to earn plenty of money for the school
  • The ability to build a sense of community among students, staff, and parents
  • The positive reputation fundraising builds within the community
  • The involvement of numerous volunteers in a single purpose and activity
  • The chance to provide a single, large fundraiser as opposed to multiple smaller events
The public auction falls into three distinct categories: the live auction, where individuals publically bid on items; the silent auction, where bids are listed until the deadline; and the online auction, which is similar to the silent auction but conducted through the Internet. In many cases, the auction is conducted simultaneously with another event, such as a dinner or dance, to entice more people and allow them time to socialize while they are waiting for the bidding to begin or end.
This video explains learning how to be an auctioneer.
The Prevalence of Public Auctions
As schools have been forced to tighten their belts more and more in the current economic crunch, the public auction has become much more prevalent as a fundraiser today. According to a recent report at Reuters, the public schools are now outperforming private institutions in using auctions as a means of fundraising.

BiddingForGood, an e-commerce company that helps organize auctions for a variety of groups, announced record activity in public auctions for K-12 public schools today. Already in 2011, the company has completed 481 school fundraising auctions, which have successfully raised more than $8 million in school funding. The average auction this year has raised nearly $17,000, which is 20 percent higher than similar events in 2010.
CEO of BiddingForGood, Jon Carson, told Reuters, "We believe this is the convergence of two large scale trends – online e-commerce and funding pressure. If it's for a public school, it is for essentials, and if it is for a private school it is for enrichment or to support financial aid needs." Currently, public schools are surpassing private schools in their online auction fundraising efforts by about 28 percent, according to the data collected by this company.
This video explains how public auctions work.
The Problem with School Auctions
Despite their success in many areas of the country, not everyone is thrilled about the growing trend toward public auctions by schools today. A report in Gothamist questions the inclusion of high-end items in these events, citing specifically a $10,000 Birkin handbag and a $15,000 tiger-striped mink coat that were recently on the block at a public auction at a Park Slope school in Brooklyn. The items were both donated by the same person and are currently available for bidding throughout the month of May.
Another issue with public school auctions is the intensity some of the bidders bring to the process. A report at Fox Business describes one school auction in California, where a fight erupted and one parent ended up spending a night in the local jail. Nancy Wurtzel, a parent of a student at the school told Fox, "At the gala, several parents overindulged on the alcohol, and a fistfight broke out over one of the auction items. One man even ended up in jail overnight for taking the framed item that was in dispute, and breaking it over another man's head!"
Wurtzel added that many of the parents "were guarding the bidding sheets during the silent auction. They wouldn't even relinquish the pens or move so that other people could make bids. And during the live auction, the crowd was so unruly that the seasoned auctioneer threatened to leave. It was all just over-the-top."
Margaret Nelson, a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and the author of "Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times," explained some of the reasons for crazy behavior at school auctions to Fox by saying, "As much as we say we care about all the children, everybody is eager to be the most impressive parent. They want to show that they care more than anybody else. 'Look at how much money I am willing to spend on my child's education, and recognize all the ways I'm a good parent.'"
This video explains how auctions work.
Tips for a Successful Auction
To avoid some of the problems faced by other schools that have hosted public auctions, Fox has these recommendations for parent participants:
  • Stay sober. While auctioneers count on the Merlot flowing freely, a clear head will help you reap better bargains.
  • Work together. Instead of competing with fellow parents, team up to purchase items you can all enjoy.
  • Avoid credit. By using cash instead of your credit card, you will be less likely to bust your budget when the bidding frenzy begins.
Public auctions are a mainstay in school fundraising today since they can be a highly effective way of raising large amounts of money relatively quickly. With a few easy tips from the experts, these events can reap a good amount of money for the students with minimal headache to the volunteers running the show.
Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @publicschoolreview
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