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A 'Signature Event' --
The Autograph Auction
As a School Fundraiser

When some students' need for shoes was discussed at a meeting of the student support committee at Manor Hill Elementary, member Marty Kelsey knew immediately what might make a wonderful fundraiser. As a collector of celebrity autographs, he saw a potential event that would be entertaining, require little investment, and, hopefully, raise ample funds -- the Celebrity Autograph and Shoe Auction! Included: Tips for holding a successful autograph auction or other fundraising event!

"Our school counselor brought to the student support committee the idea that some of our kids needed shoes," recalled Marty Kelsey. "Our school consists of kids with hard-working parents who sometimes aren't able to provide everything for their children. We had many students in need of new shoes."

Families "shop" for autographs at the Manor Hill Elementary auction.
The committee at Manor Hill Elementary School discussed several ways to raise money for the shoes -- teacher donations, collecting change, and more -- but Kelsey, who teaches a split class of fourth and fifth graders, had another idea for the Liberty, Missouri, school.

"I have collected autographs for the past 15 years," he explained. "I suggested the idea of having a Celebrity Autograph and Shoe Auction, in which celebrities would autograph their shoes and donate them. Then we could auction off the shoes. The money raised would go to a 'shoe fund' to help those kids who needed shoes or other items their families couldn't afford."


Advice for the Autograph Auction

Based on his recent fundraising experience, Marty Kelsey offers the following tips for auction planners:

* Start early and delegate responsibility.

* Lay out what you want the event to look like, and then divide up the duties. It is too much for one person.

* Talk about the event with everyone. You never can tell who used to live next door to someone famous!

* Get local celebrities involved. The shoes donated by local news celebrities didn't sell for very much, but every news station that participated covered the event. The positive press we received was worth much more than the shoes!

Because he had collected autographs in person and by mail for so long, Kelsey had a large supply of addresses and a good idea about celebrities who might be willing to contribute. He began gathering items during the summer, with a mailing of 50 letters.

"About two weeks later, stuff started rolling in, and it continued to come in until the day of the auction," Kelsey reported. "In addition to the letters, I asked everyone if they knew someone famous. You would be surprised how many people do! We also recruited local celebrities, including athletes, news personalities, and newspaper writers. Everyone was more than happy to help."

One of the teachers at the middle school had been a scout for the Denver Broncos; another grew up next to Tom Arnold's mother; and Kelsey knows a player for the Kansas City Attack. The personal connections were most helpful in obtaining items for the auction. Donna Stewart Hardway, who played the role of a munchkin in the movie The Wizard of Oz phoned to say that she would be sending a new pair of shoes for a child as well as an autographed pair of slippers. There were endless similar gestures of goodwill.


For their part, students at the school decorated old shoes in their art classes, and those recycled pieces of art were placed all over town with signs advertising the auction. The students also attended the auction; two served as guest auctioneers.

"Organizing the auction was a monstrous task," said Kelsey. "Nobody quite knew what to expect or what it should look like! Getting the autographs was the fun part. We had a big Web site showing off all the items up for auction, and I was constantly trying to get more items."

Kelsey persuaded an auctioneer to donate his services for the night of the auction. Refreshments were sold, and a police officer was present for security, the only expense for the event other than postage.

Students designed shoes for the auction too.
"Probably the most surprising thing about the auction was the range of items we had," Kelsey reported. "We had original artwork, boots from Buddy Hackett, game-used cleats, presidential autographs, and a pair of shoes from our superintendent. Some of the prices surprised me as well. Some things that I thought would go really high didn't, while others went through the roof!"

He added, "I had my brother bid on the game-used cleats from Rod Smith of the Denver Broncos. He bid $350 on them and couldn't win them. My hope for the auction was to raise $500. That one item almost met my projection."

As promised, the proceeds from the auction - more than $2,000 -- were used to buy shoes and other supplies needed by children at the school. A form was created for teachers to use when they noticed a student in need of supplies. After it was approved, the school counselor purchased the items through the fund. The auction was so successful that the school has yet to use up the funds, so Kelsey plans to gather donations for another event to be held next year.


Manor Hill's great response with its autograph auction doesn't surprise Jean Joachim, an experienced parent helper at New York City's P.S. 87, who has literally written the book on raising money for schools. Her book is called Beyond the Bake Sale. In it she offers ideas and step-by-step instructions to help school organizations secure the funds to keep school programs going.

Read an Education World e-interview with Jean Joachim. See Beyond the Bake Sale: A Guide to Phenomenal Fund-Raising.

Best Fund Raisers

What is the best school fund-raiser you've ever seen? Which fundraiser was the most fun? Which raised the most cash? Which had the biggest turnout?

"Show and tell" about your fundraising experiences by joining the Best Fund Raiser discussion on Education World's message boards.

See more articles of interest in our Funding and Fundraising Archive.

"The autograph auction is a terrific way to raise money for a school," Joachim told Education World. "Anyone who is famous is a draw, and gives an event more appeal. The key is finding a connection either to an individual in the school community or to the school itself. An active alumni organization is an invaluable resource."

One of Joachim's most important pieces of advice for organizers of fundraisers is to identify and emphasize the cause or specific school need you're raising money for. Many parents want to know exactly what will be done with their donations. Before one book fair at her school, Joachim asked teachers to share their "wish lists" of books they'd like to have for their classroom libraries. She posted the lists at the book fair, and many parents chose to purchase and donate the items to their children's classrooms.

"Also keep the school community informed of your progress, and put out the word about your fundraiser via word of mouth, posters, mailings, and especially the school newsletter," Joachim added. "The newsletter is the most important way we reach parents about fundraisers. In the upper grades, we mail them directly to the students' homes."

(Photos used with permission of Marty Kelsey.)