If you have students in a private school, you probably have a school auction problem. If there's a church attached to the school, that problem might be more complicated. I assume not all schools use the funds from the auction for the same purposes, but it does seem to be part of a budget that might already include you feeling like you pay for everything. And that's probably because you do--that's what a private school is all about. So how to handle the auction.
We were part of a school in Kansas that was declining a bit as a school, but the church side was hugely supportive, especially when it came to the auction. It raised about four times the money of our current school auction, but some of the reason was built into certain decisions that were made. The auction should not be relied on as guaranteed income, but if you find a formula that works, that's great.
Our school last year focused on hand-made class items to be sold. Crafty stuff that cost nothing. A parent would buy it and then often donate it to a classroom or teacher. That's pretty generous, to pay $50 for a bunch of fingerpaint, only to give it away. The next school we were at had classroom parents buying an item to be sold at the auction. So one class might say that every parent needs to give $10 or $20 for the item. So people are buying $200 items with parents' money in the hopes that someone might pay $300 for it. So the parents pay a total of $500 for the item, and the school gets $300, but it really feels more like $100 to parents in the class. I know it's a good time for some parents to show off that they're high-rollers, but they can also do that by bidding $100 for a class project.
Our last school also had a few parents who worked in jobs where they could get discounted items that they purchased and then offered to the auction. I assume the next school has the same kind of thing. It can be a good way to get your home business out there. I think there was also a solid network established with local businesses willing to donate items at that school. Basically, the auction was jam-packed.
The school also had several teacher items, wherein a teacher would give an experience with a student. I liked that idea, even if it was a little bit of a hassle for my wife/teacher. She offered to take a kid and parent to a arboretum, but going to an art museum or the zoo would also work. I'd just tell the teachers to focus on something they like to do or have a membership to get in free. Some teachers had one or two kids over for dinner and a movie. That kind of stuff. Again, very little money laid out and a decent return. I think my wife raised $50+ for the school, and our membership got the group into the arboretum for free.
There was also some kind of rapid-fire bidding to give to the scholarship fund. I don't even remember how it went, but I know we were shamed into at least giving the lowest amount. Some people just kept on giving more. These people were excited about giving.
The last school's auction also had a principal challenge. This raised a lot of money for the principal to do something or other. It was just everyone giving as much as they cared toward a total. I didn't care to give anything because I had learned to dislike the principal a bit, but people seemed to want the kids to see this person do something silly. Somewhat related was the principal for a day. One kid got to make up rules and sit in the desk for part of the day.
All told, that school, similar in size to our next school, raised enough money to pretty much pay for a teacher each year. But it had a lot to do with the fact that well over 50% of the kids went to the church, and probably closer to 75% of their grandparents or parents were members of the church at some point. The next school is less than 20% church kids. Sure, some parents might spend a little at the auction, but the grandparents won't be there to put the auction to bed.
Another issue that might come up would be church parents who are not school parents. They might technically support the school, and they might feel like it's the thing to do, but that's not really the case. Our church in Wisconsin kind of invited all church parents and kids to an auction-like festival that was so centered on the school that it made us very uncomfortable as non-school parents at that point. It's better to just make it clear what the purpose of the auction is, even though you DO want church members to get involved. If you only have 20% of the school coming from the church, that church needs to know how important the outreach is, and the auction should acknowledge this.