Family Reunion Auctions – Ideas on How to Conduct Them

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Let me guess. You’re planning a family reunion, and one of your relatives has suggested holding an auction to raise money for the incurred expenses.

What a great idea!

Like many other families, my family started holding an auction to cover the costs of producing the event.

The money collected from the auction is used in the months leading up to the reunion for expenses like renting the facility and purchasing utensils, coffee, and related supplies. My cousin buys the meat (for which he’s reimbursed) and graciously smokes it to a melt-in-your-mouth tender on his farm. We also buy fun prizes to award for “oldest attendee” or “traveled the furthest.” Winners of various other games also receive small gifts like travel-size hand lotions and sanitizers.

For our first auction in 2005, we sold 23 items and raised $610. Everyone was delighted! Because the reunion has typically only cost ~$200 to organize, an account was opened at the credit union to hold the extra cash. Reimbursements are made from that account. Because that first event was so successful and covered our costs, we’ve since put less emphasis on everyone bringing an item.

We advertised our first auction via a blast email to the family. Everyone was asked to bring something to be sold in our inaugural family reunion auction. Because the concept was new, many people had questions about what would be an appropriate item to bring. We gave examples of items we had heard were sold at our friends’ family auctions.

When guests arrive at our reunion, we put their donated item/s on a separate table with a sign that states “Auction Items.” Guests walk by the table to browse, and after lunch I begin the sale. If no one in your family is an auctioneer, I encourage you to find the most outgoing member of your brood and ask him or her to serve in the role. (If you have a very large reunion, it might be worthwhile to hire a professional benefit auctioneer who will likely take a small percentage of the gross or charge a modest flat fee.)

We don’t number the items, write descriptions, or use bid numbers. The clerking is managed by one of my cousins, and everyone pays the clerk in cash or check after the event. It’s a low-tech, low-effort auction, yet it still makes money.

Items sold are generally handmade by the donor or have some personal significance to the family. For example:

• Canned tomatoes

• A dozen kolaches

• Crocheted items

• A basket filled with all Kansas products (wine, snacks)

• Wahoo game board with marbles and dice

• Bird house

• A collection of freshly picked garden vegetables

• Reprinted photos of Grandma and Grandpa

• A scrapbook of Grandma’s saved sayings, recipes and other clippings, including some in Czech

• Basket of cookies

• Old postcards kept by Grandma and Grandpa

• Painted Christmas ornament

In short, our family auction has served its purpose and become a tradition. I predict the same will be true of your event!

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