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Fundraising season has begun! Some schools hold carnivals and silent auctions rather than asking students to sell popcorn and candy door to door. (Thankfully, my kids’ school is one of them!)
Like most silent auctions, we offer individual items, like gift certificates to local businesses. There also are themed gift baskets as well as smaller jars that students love to bid on.
Ideas abound when it comes to themed baskets; however, there are surprisingly few ideas out there for bid-on-me jars. Some basket themes translate well to smaller versions of the same topic. When doing this, the important thing to remember is that you’ll need to pay close attention to each item’s height and width so you can get it into the container and the winning bidder can get it back out.
Theme thought starters
If you’d like some inspiration to help get started, you’ve stumbled upon the right article. You’ve probably seen a few of these before; however, I’ve also included several that I brainstormed on my own.
1. All Things Fall – Include a caramel apple (without nuts), tickets to a nearby farm or pumpkin patch, and something pumpkin spice, of course. Then add a few faux leaves and acorns (to avoid bugs or anything growing), and an autumn-themed book with a pretty cover. (hint: buy a paperback version so it’s easy to get in and out of the jar.) 🙂 Also, this fall-inspired bookmark is pretty, too!
2. Mindbender Mania – This would be really appealing to a “STEM kid” like mine, who loves challenges. Pictured here are some small brainteaser toys and activities that my little guy enjoys. (Ivan’s Hinge by Fat Brain Toys & Flexi Puzzle by Brainwright are two others.)
For more ideas, search through the assembly and disentanglement toys listed on Amazon.
(hint: they make great stocking stuffers, Easter basket stuffers and toys for the car, too; especially if you’re looking for screen-free options!)
3. The Good Old Days – Incorporate a couple games, like jacks and Tiddlywinks, as well as a bunch of old-fashioned candy. If you have a Cracker Barrel near you, you can load up on all of the candy there. They often have retro toys and games, too!
4. Awesome Origami – I didn’t realize how appealing origami is to kids until a few months ago when my children attended a summer camp where they offered it as a class choice. My artsy daughter and aspiring engineer are both hooked now!
For this jar, simply include origami paper, a square container to store it, and a few detailed (and nice-looking) printouts or an origami book. (My kids tell me that Origami Book: Simple to Advanced by Robert Harris is good because the instructions are easy to follow.)
Also make a couple origami pieces from the book/printouts and put them in the jar, too. Not only will they make your jar look nicer and help fill it up, showing “the final product” will inspire kids to try making origami themselves.
5. All Things Art – This theme is an easy one to create. Just grab some: crayons; washable markers; stickers; pom poms; blank, colored index cards; glitter glue; etc. You can stock up on all of this at Hobby Lobby, Michaels or JoAnn Fabrics. They always have sales, so be sure to check their store app for coupons.
6. School mascot – All the kids will be oohing and awwing over this one. Whether your school’s mascot is an owl, otter, cougar or some other animal, pick a few cute items that feature it.
For example, you could incorporate an adorable stuffed animal, stickers, a little book or some nice print-out activities, and maybe a DVD. Have fun with it!
7. Makerspace Mania – Makerspaces are becoming really popular, so this is a fun twist on the art theme. School makerspaces tend to have items like: popsicle sticks, pom poms, Play-Doh, colorful painters tape (it’s more forgiving than masking tape), toothpicks, washable glue, pipe cleaners, straws, string, and even plastic eating utensils and cups.
8. Fairy Dreams – Some clever women are combining two popular concepts – fairy gardens and Mason jars – into, you guessed it, fairy jars! I love how this image to the right that shows how you can use the same idea for two different jar sizes. I found it on the Lil’ Luna blog.
Stephanie, the MomDot blogger, added a tea light to make her fairy garden glow. It would be pretty as a night light. And not only did blogger/YouTuber Lily Ardor add a tea light, she made hers into a fairy lantern.
Needless to say, if you have any of these cuties at your bid-on-me-jar event, girls (and their moms) will be eager to cast the highest bid.
9. Lunch with My Favorite Teacher – Imagine what a hit this would be. You could have an entire section just for this that includes a jar for each teacher! Aside from the jar itself, all you’d have to do is insert a photograph of each teacher and one or two little props like a ruler, a faux apple, or a few faux leaves and acorns.
Another idea is to include an item that reflects each teacher’s personality. For example, if all the kids know about her dog, also include a photo or figurine of the breed of dog she has. If all the students know how much she loves to read, simply add a fun book and a bookmark.
To make it extra fun, have someone photograph each teacher making an animated expression or holding a silly prop. This will get everyone giggling – and bidding!
10. Principal for a Day – What kid wouldn’t want the opportunity to do this? Your school principal could solicit the help of the winning bidder for morning announcements and involve him or her in 2-3 other “fun” aspects of the job. A couple of those responsibilities could even show why the skills students learn, like math, neat writing and strong communication skills, are important. (Sneaky, right?) 🙂 Don’t forget to include an Honorary Principal certificate!
11. Silly Sloths – Sweet and cuddly animals are so fun that you could easily have more than one at an event like this; sloths are another one. There are so many items available right now, featuring these little guys, that you could quickly fill up a bid-on-me jar. Here are a few of them!
A couple other fun ones, using popular animals, would be llamas or hedgehogs.
12. Mad Scientist – This article on the Non-Toy Gifts blog, describing 11 DIY science kits for kids, will provide you with plenty of inspiration to create a jar with this theme. Also, don’t forget kid-size safety glasses for eye protection!
13. Family Game Night – This theme is an oldie, but a goodie. Family Game Night Baskets always attract lots of bids at school silent auctions.
Pictured on the left are some smaller games that would work well for a bid-on-me jar.
They’re really fun, too. (Just check out the reviews on Amazon!)
14. Secret Spy – My son’s night-vision scope that I snagged a couple years ago, for a great price on Zulily, made me think of this theme. If you buy one, just ensure it has good ratings so you’re not giving the winning bidder a dud!
Here are some other fun spy items you can include: a book about spies (again, paperback so it can fit through the jar opening), a secret agent code name chart (pictured right), dark sunglasses, a spy journal, or an invisible ink pen that you could pair with a plain white puzzle that you write a secret message on!
You also could add a cipher wheel and attach it to the first secret message for the winning bidder to solve, like:
- “You’re the world’s coolest kid.”
- “You are one smart cookie!”
- “Madison Creek Otters rock!” (insert your own school name and mascot 🙂 )
- “You did it!”
- “Nice job!”
For more inspiration, look through the spy party favors on Pinterest. For example, this secret code party pack is really cool because the designer made the files editable! (In other words, the secret messages are not predetermined.) You type your own text into each of the 8 Top Secret Messages to create your own secret messages/codes. Then, your message will automatically be encrypted to match the corresponding Cipher. So awesome, right?
15. Ice Cream Sundae – This is an easy, but fun one! Add pretty paper cups and spoons, some cocktail napkins and an ice cream scoop to match them, and lots of assorted sprinkles.
A youth-sized apron would be cute, too.
And to top it off, include a gift card to one of your local ice cream or frozen yogurt shops.
16. Local Sports Team – Team merchandise will have fans cheering for this themed jar. Include a few small or skinny items, like a fidget spinner, backpack clip or key chain, playing cards and a water bottle with the team logo.
Also be sure to add in a game day snack, like a bag or two of microwavable popcorn.
Kids’ height and weight can really vary, so to garner as many bids as possible, avoid sized clothing. Well, except for maybe a youth-size hat if your jar opening is big enough to accommodate it.
And of course, if you can get your hands on an autographed item, like a baseball or something small, be sure to include it. That will certainly drive up the bids!
17. I’m Flipping Out – Flippable sequin products and clothing are all the rage right now, so there would be a lot of competition to win a jar with this theme. (I can just hear my daughter now!)
Simply fill up your jar, put it on display, and watch the bids roll in!
18. Paint Your Heart Out – Paint and some good-quality brushes are a given for this one. Also be sure to add a couple instructional painting books. (Again, paperback is best.) Hobby Lobby and other craft stores have them.
19. Outdoor Adventure – Kids are mini explorers, so they love little tools and gadgets to explore the outdoors and search for butterflies, worms and creepy crawlies. My kids have enjoyed catching fireflies and ladybugs in the bug catcher and viewer pictured above!
Also, I highly recommend including a Roly-Poly Playground, too. Hint: keep it in the original packaging so bidders see the tips for what to put in the playground with them (like tiny rocks and leaves). I bought one for my kids at Hobby Lobby; Amazon has them as well.
20. Bananas for Bird – Bird watching is another take on the outdoor theme. Combine kid-friendly binoculars with a children’s book about our feathered friends, and you’ve got the makings of a great bid-on-me jar. This highly-rated kit on Amazon is surprisingly inexpensive for what you get. It comes with binoculars; a small, paperback 30-page book; and a compass that has a whistle.
You could take out the contents and display them in your auction jar along with a small branch, and a couple faux birds or a few faux feathers. Easy peasy!
21. Girls Night In – Spa and Girls Night In auction baskets are always popular, and so many of the items in them are small. You could easily make a mini version for a bid-on-me jar. Just add pretty nail polish, cute nail files, colorful finger and toe separators, and a kid-safe facial mask. If you want to add a child-size sleeping mask, Santa slipped one in my daughter’s stocking last year. (He got it from this Etsy seller and she loves it because it’s super soft.)
High-quantity home runs
For those who prefer the “one and done” approach to shopping, bulk items make great bid-on-me jars, too. You can make your jar’s theme really simple by purchasing multiples of the same type of toy or item.
Buy them in a variety of colors or styles, so the jar looks more appealing. (This will help increase the bids.)
Here are some examples:
22. Magnetic tile building blocks jar
23. Hatchimals jar
24. Ninjago LEGOs jar
25. Pokemon jar
26. Hair accessories jar
27. Hot Wheels jar
28. Shopkins jar
29. LOL Surprise jar
30. Mighty Beanz jar
31. Barbie Mania jar
32. Baseball cards jar
33. LEGO Love jar – hint: mostly basic, colorful LEGOs with a few unique pieces or fun minifigures prominently displayed (i.e., not buried in the middle where bidders can’t see them)
I’m sure you can come up with many other themes if you spend a few minutes brainstorming. The possibilities are pretty much endless!
Tips for silent auction organizers
There are many types of jars so, if you’re one of the event organizers, give parents a specific size to work with (i.e., quart-size, gallon-size).
Also, help them out by telling them which local stores carry those types of jars, or buy them in bulk out of your PTA funds so those making jars don’t have to pay for that cost as well. When you do this, they’ll likely spend more money on each jar’s treasures, which will drive up bids – and quickly offset the expense of the jars.
Also, when you send out your call for submissions, be very clear that they should pay close attention to each item’s height and width as they’re making purchases. You don’t want them buying items that are too big, which they’ll have to return. That will be frustrating and, if the process feels like a hassle, parents won’t be as likely to contribute next year.
Lastly, on auction day, post signs stating that a child’s parent must be present in order for a student to write down a bid. (You don’t want to surprise or frustrate a parent, or end up with unsold items at the end.) You’ll also need volunteers to kindly, but firmly, enforce this rule. Some kiddos don’t even notice the signs because they’re too focused on all the awesome auction items.
Supporting our schools
While this may seem like a “fluffy” post for me, fundraising is so important.
Onsite makerspaces and school-wide STEM / STEAM Days are gaining popularity.
With the money that my PTA has raised in the past, we’ve purchased Chromebooks, a special needs playground, and school library upgrades including: new furniture, 3D printing and virtual reality technology.
My little engineer rarely comments on school voluntarily, but the day he heard about these updates, he was quite the motormouth when he walked in the door!
Again, I hope these tips and ideas are helpful. And best of luck to you on your school’s fundraising efforts!