Three Considerations For Your Fundraising Auction Centerpieces

When I worked as a corporate event planner and needed to decorate an event “on the cheap,” I ignored room decor and focused on dressing up the table. After all, it was the table – not the room – where guests would spend most of their time.

So let’s talk centerpieces.

Centerpieces are fun in that they can bring the theme of an event together. And talk about variety! There are a vast number of options and your choices are growing. There is no end to the creativity of committees as they look for ways to be elegant, unique, and budget conscious.

Benefit auction centerpieces tend to fall into two camps: a “single item” centerpiece versus what I call “the cornucopia” centerpiece. An example of a single item would be a floral centerpiece in a vase. Pink tulips in a glass vase fit that model. These types of centerpieces offer consistency at the gala.

In contrast is “the cornucopia.” These centerpieces are created by using a collection of items to create a “tablescape.” Usually these tablescapes are consistent across the tables, but not identical.

Assume an auction has a beach theme. One table might have a collection of large shells set off by a small aquarium housing a colorful betta fish. The next table has a toy sand bucket filled with toy tools. Sand and seashells might be on all tables, but the larger props create a “tablescape” which will vary from table to table. Each table uses a cornucopia of props!

Both concepts work fine for benefit auctions, but there are pros and cons to each.

First, production is usually easier to coordinate for single item centerpieces. With a vase of fresh tulips, it’s easy to determine how many flower stems are needed for each vase and how many stems are needed for the entire room. On the other hand, the cornucopia option requires more flexibility because you’ll have a beautiful collection of items unique to each table.

Another consideration is time. If you’re using a professional florist, a single item centerpiece might be easier to execute and thereby save you money. The cornucopia option might require a florist spend more time sourcing, sorting, and delivering the individual elements. In addition, onsite set-up could take a bit longer (resulting in greater expense) with so many props to incorporate into the tablescape.

I feel that cornucopia centerpieces are well-suited for volunteers to create. Each person can be assigned a table to decorate. To get your volunteer in the right mindset, you might offer her a list of ideas (e.g. sand, seashells, colorful rolled-up beach towels, straw hats, shell necklaces, small inflatable toys…), and suggest she build a tablescape centerpiece from props found at home. The centerpieces will be different from table to table, but each will support the theme… and the cost of a professional florist is eliminated.

Finally, consider the ease of transportation. If your guests are accustomed to buying or winning the auction centerpieces, offering them a cornucopia option could be a challenge. It’s easier to take a vase of tulips off the table than it is to scoop up sand and a smattering of shells.

Use what works for you. When time is of essence and budgets aren’t as tight, a single item centerpiece from a florist may be your best bet. But if you’ve got a team of volunteers itching to show their creative sides, the cornucopia approach might be your centerpiece of choice.

Copyright (c) 2010 Red Apple Auctions LLC

Benefit auctioneer Sherry Truhlar, CMP, BAS has been featured in for her trend-setting work with auction galas. In addition to offering traditional auctioneer services, she shares tested tactics to improve profitability for a benefit auction. To jump-start your gala, get her FREE AUCTION ITEM GUIDE TM, an annual listing of the 100 top-selling items. It’s a pefect resource for procurement teams:

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