Friday, March 16, 2012

My Very First Auction

The other night my husband and I attended our very first auction.

It wasn't for our childrens' school; it was to benefit the private school where they attend after-school arts enrichment classes. It's a wonderful program and we wanted to support it. But to be honest, I also saw it as a reconnaissance mission. I envisioned coming home with my head filled with great ideas about how to get an auction started for our school's PTA.

The auction for the arts program was very business-like. Sure, it was a party, and the wine was flowing, but it was very clear that we were there to spend money to raise money for the scholarship program. We went, had a few drinks and some interesting nibbles, chatted with a few nice people, and left. We watched others bid on items that we are not interested in and can't afford. Not that much to report, really.

Our PTA has never held an auction. When I brought it up at PTA meetings a few years ago, I was told that an auction wouldn't be right for our demographic: working and middle-class families from a wide variety of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. I thought "oh, come on, we can throw a party with the best of 'em"--but of course I got busy with other things and never pushed the issue. 

Funnily enough, my experience at the arts-program auction made me agree with the former PTA brass at my sons' school. I don't think an auction, at least as an adults-only party, would work for our school, for the following reasons.

1) Babysitting. An adults-only party assumes that parents have access to childcare. The going rate for a babysitter in our area is $15 or more. So, many parents would not attend for that reason.

2) The alcohol issue. Our school has a significant Muslim population, as well as evangelicals and some Mormons and people who, for a variety of reasons, do not partake in alcohol. Again, that would cut out a large number of parents.

3) Money. We paid $80 to get in to the auction. We're on a pretty tight budget and that amount alone was a stretch. But at an auction, of course, you're expected to whip out your checkbook. We bid on a few modest items (like a gift certificate to a pizza joint). Even still, I'm happy that we were outbid! The big-ticket items in the live auction were bid upon by a select group of people--most folks sat on their hands. Our school has a significant number of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch. 

4) Work. Like many PTAs or PTOs, a select group of parents step up to do most of the work. The auction we attended was clearly 
A LOT of work. On top of planning a snazzy, exciting party at a bargain-basement price, you have to solicit donations, entice parents in to attending, and make sure everyone gets what they won in the auction. And you have to make sure everyone is appropriately thanked.

I know that at some point we can craft an alcohol-free, family-friendly auction where items that people of all income brackets would be interested in. But I'm also happy to back-burner it for now. It's such a relief, sometimes, to just say no.

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