Auction Off Our Memories

Auction Gavel

Thanks to Michael J. Connors for the photo! Courtesy of

All school districts have stuff they are not using – excess assets, surplus, or dust gatherers. Maybe they’ve inherited some items from an estate that are not practical for their own use. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s probably time to think about turning these unused items into money for priority needs. Which of these items can you incorporate into your school auctions? Generally, it will be those items that produce fond memories for your auction attendees. Let’s look at some of these items and match them with the style of auction that can generate the most interest and money for them. Let’s auction off our memories.

This week, the Hackley School in N.Y. received a bequest of several paintings by Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley. While they could have hung these on the walls of their school, they decided to auction them off to raise money for their programs. They enlisted the help of a specialized auction firm, who had access to the right bidders. Sometimes this is necessary. Christie’s was able to sell the paintings for $45 million after fees. Quite the windfall.

Also this week, the Orleans Parish School Board auctioned off a number of surplus properties: closed schools, historic buildings, and vacant parcels. Again, this required a specialized auction service that dealt with commercial real estate.

Guess it was a busy week for surplus school auctions! In Cincinnati, Mariemont Schools held a surplus auction through a local auction house. After a move, they realized they had a lot of extra desks, office equipment, art and science learning materials, sewing machines, gym equipment, TV’s, and computer parts they no longer needed. They also had some unique items such as a styrofoam polar bear and a stage curtain valance. They held a public viewing of the auction items and then sold them online over the next week. Auction winners were required to pick up their items the following Saturday at the school.

While most of these examples are fairly rare and not going to apply to your school, let’s think about how we could use a similar strategy to appeal to your school’s bidders–it’s friends and family. Let’s take what you no longer need, and instead of tossing it or donating it to someone that might use it, if it has some warm memories attached to it, let’s find the right audience to auction off those memories. Some examples:

Stage Lighting

Thanks to Bob for the photo! Courtesy of

Example #1: Items from school plays. Maybe there was a memorable prop or piece of the backdrop from the winter performance that sparks good memories of seeing your child perform in the play. Instead of tossing these items, include these with a DVD copy of the performance as an auction item. Parents will love to be able to hold onto these types of memories of their children. These are ideal for a silent or online auction, and possibly even the live auction.


Thanks to Clarita Natoli for the photo! Remixed by Shari. Courtesy of

Example #2: Instructional items. A sewing machine, a microscope, an aquarium, DVD’s teaching Spanish, or collectible die-cast planes have decent bidder appeal. These are useful items that don’t need to be thrown out or donated. Turn these no longer needed items into some cash by auctioning them off at a silent or online auction.

Basketball Shot

Thanks to Shaun Quinlan for the photo! Remixed by Shari. Courtesy of

Example #3: Memorabilia. Extra yearbooks, sports jersey’s of now famous players, or the basketball that made the winning basket at a championship game could have tremendous bidder appeal. Yearbooks could be auctioned off to alumni, sport’s jerseys could be auctioned off to the general public, or a winning basketball could be auctioned off to the team players or their parents. These items are about making sure the right target audience knows they are on the auction block at a silent, live, or online auction. is Coming Soon – “Where Donors Find You!”

It’s time for an online solution that simplifies soliciting school auction donations. Finally, there’s a fun way for your auctions to grow –


Shari Morfin is a volunteer-addict, nonprofit executive, world traveler, photographer, web designer, artist, and beach lover. She has volunteered and worked at some of the smallest and largest nonprofits in the U.S. She has a Master’s of Public Administration degree with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management.

Those are some school auction adventures. How about yours?

What unique auction items have you sold from your school’s surplus?

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