I am talking about “The Big Apple.” Not Manhattan, Kansas, lovingly known as “The Little Apple” to those residing in the Jayhawk state. The Little Apple has its own characters, but perhaps not as colorful as what I’m about to describe.

If you’ve spent any time walking around the streets silent auction gift ideas of New York, you’ve seen street vendors. They sell sunglasses, fruit, umbrellas, hats, books, CDs, DVDs, jewelry, and many other items.

Most vendors display their wares on crude tables on the sidewalk.  Some vendors sit on a stool quietly reading a magazine until a passerby stops at their table.  Others are more aggressive, shouting their deal to anyone within earshot: “PERFUME AND COLOGNE! FOR $5! ANY BOTTLE FOR $5! MEN’S COLOGNE. $5 LADIES PERFUME!  $5!”

A half-second glance in their direction will immediately provoke a response. “Do you want to buy some perfume for $5?”

On a recent trip to New York, I walked past a man wearing a Superman costume. New York being the city it is, the costume didn’t phase me. But he also wore a beat-up cowboy hat, had a purse slung over each arm, and was dancing to music blaring from a portable jambox (Yes, I typed jambox. Not iPod.)  Above his head he held a sign: “PURSES. $10.”

Superman was slightly-built but made up for his stature with an enormous smile. His job was to dance on the street corner, catching the eye of the crowd.  He was to direct interested parties to his two friends which stood 15 feet away near a crude table overflowing with purses. “PURSES!” they shouted, “FOR $10! ANY PURSE FOR $10!”

Seems they were the sales guys; he was the marketing department.

Now what does this have to do with your charity auction?

There are many ways to market a benefit auction, and one fun way is to engage your potential guests in a manner they aren’t expecting.  In other words, catch prospects off guard, bring a smile to their face, and – heck – you might get them to buy a ticket. Our Superman was doing just that.

Is this idea crazy for your benefit auction?

Heck no! It’s fun!

This past spring, one of my school auction clients promoted their raffle and benefit auction in this manner. The President of the Parents Association dressed like a mime to match the Moulin Rouge theme of the auction. A week or two prior to the auction, he spent a morning greeting every parent as they pulled into the school parking lot to drop off their child. As a mime, he couldn’t say anything, but he handed every car a flyer advertising the auction and raffle. The Auction Chair stood nearby to answer questions and handle the financial transaction.

Corny …. or fun? I’d say both. It’s a unique way to catch your guests attention when they least expect it. It shows them that your auction is about having fun, and the party is starting … right now!

If you want to give this idea a shot, consider these tips:

1. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate costume.

A simple costume is fine. In fact, a simple garment might even help the promotion, especially if you are expecting guests to arrive in costume for the auction. They’ll look at your costume as the “standard” and might realize that it isn’t about trying to outdo someone with a costume, but about trying to have fun in creating an atmosphere.

2. Carry a sign written in big letters to help observers make the connection between your costume and your purpose.

If you are selling raffle tickets, the sign should state something such as, “Will you buy a $25 raffle ticket?” If you’re trying to sell auction tickets, the sign should reflect that.

3. Bring helpers.

If you are selling something that requires a cash or credit transaction, you will need help managing the selling portion because you’ll be busy promoting. It’s a division of labor.

4. Select your location with numbers in mind.

You will want to promote where there are a lot of people, but not where guests are necessarily expecting it.

  • For a church fundraising auction, auction planners might want to have their version of Superman walk through the after-service coffee and tea fellowship.
  • The drop-off or pick-up area at a school is a good place to promote for school benefit auctions.
  • Non-profit organizations hosting a series of events might want to have the masked man (or woman) make an appearance at the event immediately prior to the auction, such as a golf tournament or a wine tasting.


Benefit Auction Raffle Idea – A Lighthearted Way to Sell Raffle Tickets That Leaves Guests Smiling