The Power of an Awesome Auction: Tips for Private School Fundraising
Anyone who’s ever attended a Catholic school or sent their children to one understands its many benefits. From the integration of Catholic principles into the curriculum to the deep sense of civic and community engagement, the rewards of a Catholic education live on for a lifetime. Yet, unlike public schools, a private education is funded solely from tuition, endowments and fundraising—lots and lots of fundraising.
Nicki Salido, a preschool teacher at St. Peters in Kansas City, Missouri and mom to four active boys, has donated her fair share of time and money to fundraising. With a master’s degree in Education and nine years of teaching in private schools under her belt, she’s had plenty of experience on the planning and execution side of fundraising as well.
Originally a middle school teacher, she quickly realized it wasn’t her calling and stayed home to raise her children. When she went back to work, teaching part-time in a preschool, she realized how much she loved that young age and the atmosphere.
- What do you love about your role, and what is your greatest challenge?
I have been teaching at St. Peter’s for four years. I love early childhood because it is so amazing to see how quickly children learn and grow. They truly are little sponges! St. Peter’s, much like Visitation where my younger boys attend, has a great community of families that help support the school in so many ways. One of the challenges I face in my role is that children really do see and hear everything. They pick up on the emotions of their classmates and teachers. I try to always be an intentional teacher who pays close attention to the children’s needs and abilities and then plan my lessons accordingly.
- Fundraising plays a vital role in the financial health of private schools. Do you have many smaller ones, a large one or a combination throughout the year?
Fundraising is huge in a private, Catholic school. Not only does it pay for the supplies needed for the school but also for maintenance of the facilities and low tuition for families. Fundraising takes place all year long from selling Spirit Wear, $1 out of uniform days, restaurant nights where a portion of the proceeds goes to the school and the big one—the school auction.
The auctions take the entire year to plan. For St. Peter’s it takes place in March, for Rockhurst High School it’s April, and for Visitation it’s November. I do think the auctions are intentionally spread throughout the year because these schools share many of the same donors and parents, who have children at multiple schools.
- What have you found to be the most effective methods of engaging donors in fundraisers?
I think because Visitation and St. Peter’s are located in Brookside, a tight-knit Kansas City community, there has always been a partnership with the stores, restaurants and schools. Many of the parents and parishioners also run some of these businesses. I think parishioners, parents and families make up the largest population of donors. One of the greatest challenges with fundraisers is making sure it changes each year and stays fresh. When the same fundraiser is done over and over, people become less involved because it is the same people coming to them.
- In what ways have fundraising at the school changed with the rise of social media platforms and digital technology?
The auctions have changed dramatically. It used to be that you bid on paper and then were told if you won an item later; now everything is on your smartphone. You can even bid on items with out being present and before the auction takes place, so that has increased the amount of support.
- What has been the school’s most successful fundraiser, and what factors do you think contributed to its success (that other schools can model)?
The auction is the most successful and biggest money-maker. I know that St. Peter’s and Visitation help each other at their auctions. They run each other’s computers or whatever needs to be done, so that the parents can enjoy their own auctions. They also get ideas for themes and money makers by seeing each other non-profit auctions, such as a beer pull or auctioning a dog from the local no-kill shelter, Wayside Waifs.
- How important are volunteers in your fundraising efforts, and how do you build up and retain your “army”of volunteers?
Volunteers are the thing that makes these auctions successful. Having a strong community that cares about their school and church helps parents continue to volunteer and be committed to the cause. Also, teachers are encouraged to participate by donating special parties and volunteering at the event. It truly takes a village.
- How do you combat “fundraiser/donation”fatigue?
I think by changing the amount of fundraisers and how often you have them helps donors and parents alike. Also, finding fundraisers like “Culvers Night is an easy fundraiser that helps the restaurant and the school without a need for a lot of volunteering. Parents don’t mind having a night off from cooking, especially if it helps their school.
- What are a couple key, hard-won lessons you’ve learned over the years in managing fundraising efforts that other, greener, teachers and nonprofit leaders can learn from?
Keep the fundraiser simple – the auction used to have so many items you couldn’t even look through the entire booklet. Having less, higher quality items and maybe more items like a specialty drink or great class projects for auction make the fundraiser more successful.
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