Friday, January 13, 2006

One of the local elementary schools holds its school fair in the spring, with one of the fund raising activities a 'silent auction', where parents bid on various items contributed by other parents and/or local merchants. Items in the past have included everything from gift baskets of haircare products to the use of a vacation home, tickets to local sports teams and gift certificates to local restaurants.

Now, I am sure that setting up and running such an operation is very time consuming for the (not enough) parents who volunteer. And it is because it takes so much time that the school PTA has decided to discontinue the silent auction and has asked parents to simply send in a donation check instead.

Which, I am afraid, is likely to fall on deaf ears... which indicates, at least to me, a lack of understanding of the motivations that drive the check writing at the silent auction.

Most of the items in the silent auction produce bids far in excess of the supposed fair market value of the items... and there are a couple of reasons for this. One, parents get caught up in the spirit of not losing to their neighbors and friends and ratchet up the bids (their kids certainly help, by standing around, monitoring the bid sheets and running to mommy and daddy as soon as anyone else puts in a bid). The second reason is that, while the parents know they are 'overpaying', they rationalize it away by thinking of what they are getting, not what they are paying. So a parent might pay $300 for a pair of tickets to a Redskins game that they could pick up from a scalper for half of that.

Even where the price paid is not higher than the 'value' of the item, the PTA still scores, as all of the items are contributed so any amount paid for that item is all gain to the PTA.

And all of that will be lost without the auction. Parents will look a tad more closely at the amount on the check they're writing... if they write one at all. There won't be any 'encouragement' to write a bigger check... so they won't.

So, the PTA has saved themselves some time... but, I am afraid, at the cost of much of the money the fundraiser would have generated.