Youth Auction 101

One of the coolest things that I inherited at the church I work at is a fundraiser called the “Youth Auction”.  Over the next few days on this site, I’ll try to give youth workers everything they need to know about how to pull off a quality auction.

First – a disclaimer.  I HATE FUNDRAISERS! They are a nuisance.  If there was one thing that could drive me away from youth ministry it would be fundraisers.  Philosophically, I think they have no place in churches.  If the church thinks it’s a good idea for youth to go on a mission trip, it should be covered in the budget…just like all the other expenses of the church.  If youth have to wash cars, bake pizzas, mow lawns, etc. so they can go on a church trip then the Altar Guild should have to do a bunch of bake sales and rummage sales so they can buy candles and communion wine.

All that said, the reality is that fundraising remains a necessary evil in 21st century youth ministry.  If you have to generate funds for your ministry, the best way to do it is by having events that bring the congregation together.  Any organization (secular or sacred) can sell you stuff you don’t need…but not every organization allows an opportunity for Christian fellowship and an actualization of the individual gifts within your congregation, all while raising a ridiculous amount of money for your youth ministry.


Let’s start with your purpose for the event.  The primary goal of this event is to create community – NOT to raise money.  If you stray from this purpose, you won’t end up raising money or creating community.  At that point, you’re back to looking at bake sales, car washes, and other lame projects that generate significantly fewer funds for your ministry.


You start by asking some of the core active members of your congregation to consider their spiritual gifts.  “What are you good at and what do you like to do?”  Once they have figured this out, ask them to think of one way they could use those gifts for the Auction.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Jean loves to cook and has a beautiful formal dining room in her house.  She offers a “Fancy Dinner for 4 people” at her house for people to bid on at the Auction
  • John’s wood carvings win 1st prize at the State Fair every year.  He offers a handmade bird carving.
  • Lisa offers to bake 2 dozen cookies each month for a year.
  • Larry offers 4 hours of yard work
  • Jim & Tina are empty nesters.  They offer “overnight babysitting”.

Once you have 6-8 quality items lined up, put those on a sign-up sheet and post several dozen blanks below it for others to write their donated item(s).  Do this at least 1 month before the event.  Put announcements on your website, bulletin, newsletter, email lists, etc. for people to donate their items.  One thing I’ve learned, especially when starting something new – don’t post a blank sign-up sheet.  Few people (especially Midwest protestants) want to go out on a limb and be the first to sign up for something they don’t know much about.  However, if people see some of the more active members of the congregation are supporting the Auction, they’re more likely to jump on board.


Once the word is spreading about your upcoming Auction event, you can sit back and watch your sign-up sheet fill with lots of different donated items.  It’s good to continue planting seeds among your church members – especially your youth – to think creatively about things they can donate.  Here are some of the items that tend to bring in the large donations:

  • Home-cooked meals for 6+ people
  • Babysitting (especially overnight)
  • Yard Work / Snow Removal
  • Made-to-Order t-shirt quilts
  • Cookie / Cake / Pie of the Month
  • Round of Golf at local private courses
  • Tickets to sporting events (unused by season-ticket holders)

There are LOTS of other ideas for things that can be used.  It really depends on (A) what is popular in your local context, (B) the spiritual gifts of the congregation members, and (C) how generous people are willing to be.  Typically, I “require” youth to donate two items – one tangible and one non-tangible.  I will also seek out specific people for some out-of-the-ordinary donations that might draw people to the event.  For example, we have a gentleman who likes to fly 2-person airplanes.  He donated a 2 hour plane flight for one person.  Over 10 people showed up just to bid on that one item.  This, of course, jacked up the bidding AND increased the numbers of people who came ready to part with a large amount of money…so they ended up bidding on other items instead.

You’ll want to keep getting a list of the donated items in front of your congregation members.  Let them know that there will be quality items worth bidding on…and, at the same time, keep encouraging people to think creatively about items they can donate.  (Typically, events that bring people together will generate larger donations than tangible items.)  Post donations lists on bulletin boards, newsletters, worship bulletins, and websites.  You will want to not only have a large group of people gather, but you’ll want a diverse cross-section of your worshipping community to attend.

The day before the Auction, you’ll want to divide up the list among Live Auction and Silent Auction items.  At our church, anything that is a tangible item is placed on the Silent Auction, and everything else is on the Live Auction.  We set up tables around the perimeter of the fellowship hall to display the Silent Auction Items.  Each item has a bidding sheet that includes a brief description of the item, name of the donor, and a minimum starting bid.  Beneath these items, you will want to provide 10-12 blanks for people to write their name and the amount of their bid.
For the Live Auction items, you will want to create a classy-looking certificate that includes a brief description of the item, name of donor, and two blanks — one for the name of the winning bidder, and one for the amount of the winning bid.  It’s also imperative that you find a real auctioneer that can call the Live Auction.  Finding someone from within the congregation is ideal…but if nobody fits the bill, you can call a local auction company.  Sometimes their employees will donate their time for a church Auction.

At this point, you should be able to get through the final days leading up to the big event.

You’ll want to have all the certificates (Live Auction) and bidding sheets (Silent Auction) filled out in advance, along with 8-10 extra blank copies for last-minute donations.  You will want to post a list of all the items up for bid throughout the church.  If your Auction is on a Sunday, you might also opt to put a copy of the item list in the bulletin announcements.  Be sure to highlight some of the big / expensive items that might draw in a person who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in attending.

Set up the Silent Auction items on long tables around the perimeter of the room.  Be sure to allow enough space next to each item for “elbow room” among the bidders.  You will also want to have space for a few extra tables – again, for the last minute donations.  Have all the Silent Auction items in place at least one hour in advance.  The people who arrive early can get a head start on the items they want to bid on.

Once the official start of the Auction arrives, begin with a few opening remarks…including, but not limited to:

  • Opening Prayer
  • Thanks to all donors
  • Thanks to the person calling the Live Auction
  • Mention of any refreshments available
  • Indication of what projects / trips the Auction supports
  • Brief explanation of bidding procedure
  • Clarification of when the Silent Auction ends (probably 15 minutes after the Live Auction ends)
  • Turn it over to the Auctioneer

Have a table set up next to the front podium where you and another helper will sit during the Live Auction.  Your job is to make sure there isn’t any confusion of who is the winning bidder.  Your helper can fill out the certificates.  Once the bidding is closed on an item, the winner should immediately come to the front to receive their certificate (and item, if applicable).

When the Live Auction has concluded, be sure to thank the Auctioneer once again, and indicate the official time that the Silent Auction will close.  At that point, people are welcome to leave.  The most important thing is to make sure they “cash out” before leaving. Put a small table with a cash box near the exit.  Have a couple of trustworthy people working the table.  The certificates (Live) and bidder sheets (Silent) serve as their receipts.  The people working the table will add up the total amounts of the certificates and bidding sheets and ask the winning bidder to pay AT THAT TIME.  Most people will pay with a check, but be prepared to make change for large dollar bills in some cases.  Try your best to avoid I.O.U.’s, but not to the point of jeopardizing a good relationship with a church member.

Once the dust has settled and everyone has left, put up your feet, pour yourself something cold to drink, and celebrate the fruits of your labors.  Not only have you raised money for your ministry, but you have created an intergenerational event for your congregation…one that will continue to foster relationships in the months ahead as people begin to redeem their prizes.

The final installment of this four-part series will include a brief synopsis of how to follow-up with people after the Auction, and to make sure people continue to have positive feelings about the event.

A few things you’ll want to do before closing the books on your Youth Auction

  • Publish a list of all the Auction results in several places around the church.  Do NOT include price in the listing.
  • Thank the congregation for their support in church publications.  Include total amount of money raised in these recaps.
  • Follow up with all of the donors after 1 month to make sure the winning bidder has contacted them to redeem their prize.

The challenge with ANY event is to not wash your hands of it the moment everyone goes home.  It will be much easier to build on the success of your Youth Auction in future years if you do thorough follow-up with bidders and keep detailed records of what happened at the Auction.

I’m a big believer that, if you are going to subject yourself to the necessary evil known as church fundraisers, a Youth Auction is one of the best events you can do!  Feel free to comment on any of these articles if you have any questions or suggestions.


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