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The Inner Workings of Our Dessert Auction

Recently I wrote an article on, “What I Appreciated So Much About Our Teen Takeover Service,” describing how God had blessed a few principles and why we believe He did so. For the past four years our student ministry has participated in a Teen Takeover Service and Dessert Auction in order to minister to our church family and raise funds for summer camp. Each year that we have done the Dessert Auction (and long before I came), it has been a hugely successful fundraiser for our summer camp needs. I hope this article is a blessing to your youth ministry and if it is, would you mind letting us know so that we can rejoice with you?

Here goes:

1. Planning
Simply put, pick a date on the calendar. A couple things to look out for are avoiding big Sunday’s or events such as Missions Conference and Mother’s Day. Missions conference is a time when your church family (and youth ministry) should be focusing on giving to local and world missions specifically. Most people only have so much “disposable” income…so don't make them feel bad if they have already given liberally to your church’s missions program by following it up with a fundraiser for your youth ministry. The same thinking applies to Mother’s Day, only more from a time standpoint than monetary overuse. Allow your church families and teenagers to enjoy their Mother’s Day without having to worry about making a dessert for the Dessert Auction. Find a calendar date with some margin in it, and plan accordingly.

2. Preparation
Each church has a different set up, but most have a “Fellowship Hall” or gymnasium. Pick a location that will fit your church family comfortably. Turn the AC down well in advance, sweep the floors, select a music playlist, and decide on a set-up. Now, to many, these details may seem irrelevant to a successful dessert auction, but we have noticed a huge difference in adding attention to these little details over the years. One of the best articles I have read on this was written by a friend to our ministry, Pastor Cary Schmidt in Newington, CT, entitled, “Make Meetings Great Again!”
In our case, when I first came to Christchurch, the Dessert Auction was already a part of the church and youth ministry culture. It was held on a Sunday in the spring to allow for plenty of planning for the summer camp budget. The date was picked with attention given to the details above, and the actual dessert auction was held after the morning service. I took some advice that I read in a youth ministry book and decided not to change anything huge within the first year of my ministry here so as to learn and appreciate what had already taken place in years gone by. Not that you can’t make it your own…by all means you should; but that’s another topic. The first year that we held it I noticed that the whole morning service felt rushed to make it over to the Fellowship Hall for our Dessert Auction. Add to that the hunger that every good Baptist is experiencing on a Sunday morning after the morning service and by the time that it was all said and done I had quite the headache. The event was successful, but it was also a little painful. So the following year we sat down and tried to imagine what would make the Dessert Auction not just a success, but a delight! Here is what we came up with.

3. Procedures
This is the meat of my explanation, so most of the following may be more outline form rather than paragraph. A quick explanation would be that we do our Dessert Auction in the form of a silent auction and a live auction. Every dessert entered starts out in the silent auction, and then the juniors and seniors pick their top 4 desserts to be entered into the live auction. We allow 15(ish) minutes for the silent auction, then read all the bids out loud. I try to make this part quick and lively. Then we enter the live auction phase. This year, we had one cake go for $1,000, which is a little higher than normal. However, each year we have desserts go for several hundred dollars in the live auction. As you begin to do this every year, people will get into the spirit and be ready to try and outbid others. It really is a lot of fun.

Leading up to the event:

  • Begin announcing the Dessert Auction a minimum of one month in advance. 
  • Explain to the entire congregation how the Dessert Auction works two weeks before. This will: include new members in the process, remind everyone of the process, and generate a mental note for the upcoming date. 
  • Take extra time during teen announcements (Sunday or Wednesday programs) explaining the importance of their participation. Encourage teenagers to make a dessert themselves! If they don’t, why should anyone else?
  • Be energetic about announcements. 
  • Personally encourage people to participate. 
  • Send out reminders the weekend before (Saturday before) the Dessert Auction as most people will use that day to make their dessert. We use social media for this part. 
  • Set up the area with plenty of time to allow for unforeseen circumstances. We set ours up the Thursday before. Include in your set up plans:
  • Plenty of seating around tables including high chairs (people need a place to put their stuff, kids, and purchased desserts:)) These tables should be located close to the front and middle of the room.
  • Plenty of tables set up around the room for the dessert entries to be placed on. Try to create a traffic flow so that people can make it around the room to see each dessert and potentially place a bid during the silent auction.
  • Set up a registration/check out area for incoming desserts. Print out registration sheets with plenty of room for bids. If you would like to see what ours look like, simply contact me and I will send you a copy.
  • Serving station - we staff this with a few senior high young ladies who can cut and serve purchased desserts on the spot (include plates, utensils, and napkins in this area!)
  • Have simple refreshments like water and coffee available
  • Have a table set up at the front of the room for live auction items.
  • Have a sound system set up. Events often get loud.
  • Make sure trash cans are empty and available.
  • Double check the AC

Day of the event:

  • Host a combined teen Sunday school class in the location of the event (Fellowship Hall or gymnasium). Instruct them on what they will be doing such as: Serving station, Dessert and bid sheet collection for announcement, trash detail, and cleanup and break down. 
  • Encourage teenagers to: participate, serve their church family, and express their thankfulness throughout the night! 
  • Desserts will arrive at the church as early as that morning. That’s just the way some people are made. Simply have registration sheets out that allow them to place their name and the name of their dessert on it. Also, be sure to have cleaned out some room in the church’s refrigerator as some desserts will need to be kept cool.
  • Open registration that afternoon at least one hour before your evening service. If you have choir practice before the evening service as we do, open registration 15 minutes before choir practice begins.
  • Event begins immediately following the close of the evening service. This will prompt people to make it to your event location as quickly as possible.
  • Announce that the silent auction will be open for 15 minutes following the church service, but don't start the timer until you can make it over to the location. When the 15 minutes are up, judge the crowd. If people haven't even made it around the room yet, give them an extra 5-10 minutes. The longer the silent auction goes, the more money you will potentially make. But the later the event goes, the more restless people will become. So balance is the key.
  • Bidding during the silent auction can get tricky. This method was handed to me, and it is ingenious. Each dessert starts at a minimum of $10. Bids are then placed in increments of $5. So if a dessert has been bid up to $30, the next lowest bid is $35. People can place as high of a bid as they would like to, as long as it is a $5 increment. This prevents someone from outbidding someone else by 1 penny each time. Not that that would ever happen…
  • Once you have closed the silent auction, teenagers should be lining up behind the silent auction table and desserts. They will take the dessert and bidding sheet and bring it to the front so that you can announce it.
  • Announce ALL the entered desserts, regardless of the amount that they raised. Somebody invested in that and they are listening for it, so be sure to announce it. It is their contribution.
  • As you are announcing the silent auction bids, have the person who has “won” that bid meet the teenager carrying their dessert at the registration/check out area. My wife and some of our other ladies in the church always do an excellent job at expediting the check out process. This year we introduced taking payments by debit or credit card, and at least half of our total monies raised were taken in that form (check out Square or PayPal).
  • Once you have announced all the silent auction bids, the live auction will begin. This is where most of the pressure is on you. If you cannot be energetic in front of a larger crowd, you might consider finding someone who can be. My personal opinion is that it will mean more if you do it, but do what you have to. The goal of the live auction is to raise as much money as possible for the desserts that you are about to auction off. One of my mentors, Bro. Reno Likins, used to say this, “Remember you’re not asking for the money for yourself. You’re raising it for the Lord. Give it your best shot.”
  • Once you have concluded the live auction, thank EVERYONE for giving of their time, talent, and money to the Lord through the youth ministry and then have your Pastor (if he stuck around;-) or a parent in your youth ministry close in prayer.
  • Enjoy some fellowship afterward, and try to shake as many hands as you possibly can. You will be tired, but it will mean a lot to those who gave.
  • Have the teens once again show their thankfulness by cleaning up.
  • Announce the total monies raised at the next church service.

Do you have any questions or ideas? Has something else worked for you? Feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me at: Thanks for reading!

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