A Night At The Ward Auction (aka Bargain Shopping For A Firedancer)
Posted by Shawn L on March 9, 2008
One of things I loved about Church as a kid was going to ward fundraisers. My motives, of course, were far from altruistic. We had a guy in our ward who owned a 7-Eleven franchise, so he always brought boxes of candy and Slurpee coupons for auction. After 2 hours of relentless nagging from their pack of wild kids, my folks inevitably would give in and we would go home with weeks worth of Butterfingers, along with all sorts of other trinkets we didn’t really need. These events were always great fun and served to rally us together around a specific goal, be it the youth program, a new chapel or the construction of a local temple.
It’s been nearly two decades now since I attended such an event. Indeed, it was my understanding that the Church prohibited ward-sponsored fundraisers when it lifted the rule requiring congregations to raise their own budgets. Apparently, I was wrong because, last night, our ward held its first annual Ward Auction to raise money for this year’s iterations of Scout Camp and Girls’ Camp. I am happy to report it was rousing success.
I was overwhelmed and gratified by enthusiasm for the project: members donated over 140 items and services, ranging from used exercise equipment and cookies from the youth, on the low end, to a complete estate planning package and professional college counseling at the other end of the spectrum. The most-anticipated item was the chance to shave the heads of a couple of young men. To facilitate them all, we had (i) a live auction, (ii) several tables worth silent auction items, and (iii) a three-page list of “direct sale” items (you sign, you buy).
The bidding, which lasted for two hours and was accompanied by a pot-luck dinner, was heated. While folks started off a bit timid, they soon got into the spirit and threw their paddles into the air often and with abandon. When it was all over, we had won (i) a Hawaiian-themed party for 12 at the house of a counselor in the Stake Presidency (and our former Bishop), (ii) a fire dance performed by one the Teachers (see #1), (iii) 2 Disneyland tickets, (iv) tax preparation services, (v) a car wash from the Teachers, (vi) a tea party for our 3 girls led by a Beehive, (vii) a private piano performance by a supremely talented ward member (we’ll cash that one in when my oldest is baptized in December), and (viii) a plate of cream puffs. I’m too embarrassed to tell you how much we spent to end up with that treasure trove. Then, as we folded chairs and rolled away tables, everyone gathered together to watch those poor, self-sacrificing young men get their heads shaved to the scalp right there in the cultural hall.
For me, the evening served as a warm reminder of good times past. I’ve often lamented the fact that, while its nice to receive all of our funding from SLC, having to work together to keep ourselves financially afloat can be an exhilarating experience. It’s easy to forget what a central role fund-raising played in the lives of ward members only a generation ago. I recently read a good book entitled “Mormon Lives: A Year in the Elkton Ward” by Susan Buhler Taber. It’s a snapshot of a New England ward in 1985-86, comprised of member interviews (including one from their Bishop, Richard L. Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling). A large number of the interviews mention, or focus on, fundraising events, including splitting wood and making chocolate eggs for sale. I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind the current structure, but it came at the price of such community-building events. I am jealous of those who are able to look at their chapel with pride, knowing that they helped build it either through direct donations or physical labor.
So, for my money, last night’s event was a very definite step in the right direction and while my pockets are much lighter, I don’t regret a single penny spent (well, maybe the fire dancer . . . .) Reaction at our meetings this morning leads me to believe others feel the same way. Here’s hoping that my ward, and others, take a chance and organize fundraisers like these in the future. I’m interested to know whether (i) this was a unique event, and (ii) I am alone in my fondness for ward fundraising.