Silent Auction Fundraiser
One of the easiest ways to raise money for your church is to hold a silent auction, and now is the time to ask merchants for a donation to yours.
Most businesses set aside a specific amount to give in response to requests like this and they give them out on a first come, first served basis. If you ask in August, you may be out of luck, so ask in the first quarter of the year…..preferably February or March (they often haven’t done their inventory and closed the prior year’s books until the end of January).
When you ask, have a specific fundraising purpose you and your parishioners can describe to potential donors. Ask your parishioners to think of goods or services they can donate, or places beyond your local community that might be willing to support this effort.
Donations that Make Great Auction Items
It isn’t unusual for parishioners to donate a time-share unit they don’t plan to use this year, or for them to ask the ski resort they frequent to offer free ski lift tickets. Also, think beyond the usual food baskets, toys, artwork and dinners. A swim club might offer a free family membership (which was THE most popular item at one church), a museum might offer free admission, and a roller rink might offer free skating for an evening. Approach any business your church uses as a vendor and ask parishioners to tell you their favorite stores, events and organizations so you can ask them for a donation.
Define a Course of Action
Business people want to make a difference in their community, but they also need to earn a living. Some may ask you “What is in it for us?” Tell them you will give them credit at your event, and then make sure you do so. Put their name in a booklet you hand out and/or on the paper next to the donated item — you can even put out a business card or small flyer about their business. Send them the usual thank you letter with the IRS tax deduction statement when they donate. And then remember to send them another letter after the auction, thanking them for their donation and telling them how much you raised at the event and what you will do with it. In other words, tell them how their contribution will help make a difference in your cause and their business.
If you set up form letters for your requests and thank you letters, you can easily solicit many vendors. Some will require you to use your shoe leather and personally request it, but some will respond to a letter. You can always follow up with those who didn’t reply to the request letter.
Hosting the Event
There are many people outside the church who want to make a difference and will support a cause by attending your event even if they couldn’t donate an item, so promote your cause widely outside the church. Then, at your event give attendees a way to make a difference regularly and they will begin to identify with your church — some will begin to see it as “my church” even if they don’t attend worship. If they feel belonging in this way it more likely that they will turn to you at other times in their lives, or even just start coming to your church!
At the auction, have a set opening and closing time. Be sure you collect names, emails and phone numbers so you can follow up with winners who left early (and so you have that information and can invite them to your next event!). Prepare some interesting food (appetizers and desserts are good) and music, then arrange your silent auction items on tables around the room and let people browse. If you have really good food and music, you can even charge a modest cover charge ($5/person) which increases the income. And don’t forget to have your parishioners circulating, getting to know people and inviting them to church.
If you have a beautiful church building, you can even have the organist playing (or set up some quiet recorded church music), light lots of candles and offer people a chance to tour the church. You’d be surprised by how many people will take you up on that — and, again, it gives you an opportunity to connect your church with people in a way that makes it easier for them to turn to you when they are seeking God.
This (and every fundraiser) can have some, or ideally all, of these goals:
1) raise money, 2) build relationships with people, 3) invite people to church, 4) provide an opportunity to serve and 5) be a fun/joyful/rewarding experience for participants.
By The Rev. Linda L. Grenz, Canon to the Ordinary