Good items for an auction?
January 10, 2008 6:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for ideas for items I can solicit as donations to an auction at a professional conference.

I'll be attending a conference for Parks and Recreation professionals in February. I've been asked to help come up with items for the annual auction which supports several scholarship funds that the organization maintains. I've really been striking out with the vendors I use, because most of the stuff they sell is not really appropriate (i.e. playground equipment or bulk chain link fencing).

In the past, there have been various power tools and just miscellaneous stuff. Just to be clear, the attendees purchase these items from their personal funds, and for their personal use.

One thing I'm absolutely committed to bring is the "Tulsa Basket." Every participating city or town traditionally brings a basket of goods representing that city for the auction. I'm thinking about a BBQ theme for mine, but any ideas for different stuff for the basket would be appreciated as well.

Thanks a million!
posted by Shohn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total)
At museum conferences, you often see collections of old posters or brochures. I don't know if the parks and rec community is into things like that, but I love those little bits of history.
posted by advicepig at 6:57 AM on January 10, 2008

From my perspective, it may not be so important that the vendors give you items representative of their business, but rather items in general. If it is representative (i.e. a local restaurant vendor donates dinner for 8) then all the better, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I’ve heard that people like bidding on experiences, like a hosted dinner, a private flying lesson, a spa service, a round of golf, a personal training session(s), professional organization services, etc. Even a playground equipment vendor could “donate” any of those things, despite it being outside the company’s product line. Same goes for items like iPods, artwork, portable DVD players, other electronics, power tools, wine, etc. Any one of your vendors could purchase and donate those items, and consider it a branding/sponsorship cost, provided they are getting good visibility from their donation.

It's like when you go to a conference and exhibitors are raffling off iPods, Wiis or other devices, even though they aren't Apple or Nintendo.
posted by ml98tu at 7:02 AM on January 10, 2008

What's the demographic of your attendees? Women bid on different auction items than men. The black-tie charity crowd bids on different items than just-folks at a work event. Any demographic will bid on a kids' package.

I've really been striking out with the vendors I use, because most of the stuff they sell is not really appropriate (i.e. playground equipment or bulk chain link fencing).

Your problem is the one of "what would this audience bid on." People donate to charity auctions because they either have a vested interest in the auction's success or because it makes their company look good; companies who have bid-worthy goods to donate just might not fall into one of those two categories, as you are finding. If I were an niche vendor and really wanted to get my name in front of a bunch of highly qualified leads at a specialized industry event, I sure wouldn't let something as simple as "nobody wants to bid on chain link fencing" stop me. But they might not realize there are other options:

If your regular parks & rec vendors wanted to participate anyway, you might investigate the logistics / legality of their donating cash, which can then be used by the conference organizers to purchase auctionable items outright. They could also donate generic consumer goods, as ml98tu pointed out. A Wii or an iPhone would be a marquee item, for sure.

Or, you might suggest that your relationship vendors partner with another local vendor who does have auctionable items -- example: "This basket of power drills and yummy candy, value $500, donated by Chain Link Fence Corp and the Drills & Candy Store!" Chain Link Fence Corp gives a bit of money to Drills & Candy to underwrite the wholesale cost of the basket, Drills & Candy gives up their retail margin, and both companies get the recognition.

A couple of other things to keep in mind: emphasize the scholarship aspect of the donation. Donors aren't just marketing to parks & recs professionals, they are helping children. And, the bad news: January is a hard time of year to solicit charitable donations from businesses.

[Warning, what follows is just random brainstorming, so feel free to disregard anything that wouldn't fit your project]

Other parks & rec-specific ideas: are there national vendors or orgs that would have an interest in getting involved with this group? Are there any consumer-goods companies who have recently started an ad campaign along the line of "let's play" or "getting outside" or "get into community events" - in other words, they might recognize the value of marketing to parks & rec professionals if someone just put the idea in front of them?

Other ideas: if people will be coming in from other parts of the state or country for this event, ask the Tulsa CVB and the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce if they can donate something. Conventions that bring in out-of-towners are the raison d'etre of those groups, and they should be happy to give support. ...Have you talked to the Oklahoma Centennial people? That was an extraordinarily well-funded and prominent campaign; they might have piles and piles of stuff sitting around that they would be happy to give away. ....State tourism boards in general usually are good for donations... or at least good contacts -- they know all the regional head honchos in the hotel, restaurant, theme park industry, so they know who to call for that sort of donation.

If most of the attendees are flying in for this event, you might want to avoid big bulky auction items that they have to then carry home.

If many of the attendees are from Oklahoma, you could probably get OU / OSU / UTulsa sports paraphernalia donated fairly easily -- sports baskets always seem to do very well in our parts.

If it's mostly Tulsa-area or Eastern-Oklahoma-area attendees, you could ask the local restaurant association to donate a pack of gift certificates to various restaurants.

Experiential items -- things that people do, like cooking classes, racecar driving weekends, tickets to a big game -- those always jazz up an auction but again, it depends really on where your folks are coming from. A guy coming in from Idaho isn't going to bid on a day at the racetracks in Tulsa.

Is your conference one of many regional conferences? Or a local branch of a national group? Maybe other branches of the umbrella org would donate stuff, in order to promote their upcoming events.

Southwest Airlines just did a big Tulsa feature in their in-flight mag. They might be interested in donating a gift card.

Good luck!
posted by pineapple at 7:21 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

In the auctions I've gone to (for lawyers), there are usually lots of items that have nothing to do with lawyers but everything to do with relaxation. Dinner at X restaurant, massage, etc.

To me, the random power tools thing from years past sounds sort of ... not-fun for an auction. I mean, power tools are great, but I think you have the right idea to branch out.

Do you have any vendors who sell plants?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2008

Other "experience" suggestions could take up the Parks & Rec theme: guided hikes, bird walks, canoe or kayak rentals for a day or weekend, camping trips or equipment, etc.
posted by bassjump at 9:45 AM on January 10, 2008

The baskets are really the most successful model for your sort of thing.

I'd go farther and suggest you solicit individuals for stuff. Crafty stuff, etc.

You could also get approved to do a raffle, have vendors donate money, use the money to buy a nice item, and raffle it.

Going after local restaurants, movie theatres, etc, *that are local to the conference* can be nice.

Find out if your vendor partners can donate airline miles which you can turn into an airline voucher which you can auction off.

There are also auction services which will give you memorabilia, etc, for your auction. You pay them a set price, everything above that goes to your organization
posted by Mozzie at 11:53 AM on January 10, 2008

You guys are awesome! I can't thank you enough for all the great ideas.
posted by Shohn at 4:12 PM on January 10, 2008

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