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Benefit Auction Centerpieces – Should You Sell Them Or Give Them Away?

Some people have complicated relationships with people.  I tend to have complicated relationships with centerpieces.

As an event planner, I loved centerpieces.  If I needed to “dress” the room on the cheap, I knew the trick. Forget about wall decor.  Divert a tad more money into the table decor (as that’s where guests spend most of their time, anyway) and with the right linens and a fun centerpiece – KABOOM – you’ve got yourself a festive atmosphere.  The rest of the room be damned; if the table looked good, the theme worked.

The fact is that I teach organizations how to improve their return-on-investment with little-used benefit auction ideas.  “Follow my silent auction ideas advice,” I say, “and with some simple changes (sometimes substantial changes), you can start making more money selling that same item in your benefit auction.”

So I’m in a quandary about these centerpieces because one method of improving your return-on-investment is to turn cost-centers into profit-centers.  How can one do this?  Sell the cost-centers.

Centerpieces are a perfect example of selling a cost-center.

A few organizations are able to secure centerpieces for free, but usually centerpieces require a financial investment.  It’s only natural a group wants to recoup that cost. But there’s a line (and it varies by organization) as to when you are being smart about raising money and when you just look like another Midwestern garage sale with one too many deviled egg dishes on the table.

Here’s a general rule.  Schools can sell centerpieces for higher prices than other non-profits.

When children have produced a centerpiece, and the guests are parents of those children, it is an easier sell.  What parent doesn’t want to own their own child’s artwork, and simultaneously make a donation to their kid’s school.  You’d be a monster not to buy your child’s work of art.

This relationship breaks down if the guests are not parents of the children.  For instance, if children living in a homeless shelter create the centerpiece, and the guests are John and Jane Smith (no relation to the child), the centerpiece will sell, but usually for less money.  There is no blood tie.

Here’s another general rule.  Consider the cost of your event ticket.

If your event has a high ticket price in relation to competitive events in your area, avoid selling centerpieces.

A higher ticket price attracts a different clientele.  Do you really want to nickel-and-dime this guest?  If I paid $500 to attend your gala, and then you try to entice me into buying a $25 floral arrangement, it seems like you’re being cheap, dahling.  At that price-point, some guests will expect you to give them the arrangement.

On the other hand, if I paid a mere $40 to enjoy your fundraiser, I would expect to see a number of smaller fundraisers within the party itself.  A $10 raffle ticket?  Bring it on!  A $20 centerpiece?  Of course!  A dunking tank with some hunk sitting there in boardshorts?  I’m there, and fishing out another $25 to try my aim.  In this scenario, the selling of a low-cost centerpiece better fits your ticket price.

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