Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How To Organize a Rummage Sale

I've decided that I'm going to start a regular column of How-to posts, and I thought if I posted them every Tuesday, I could call it "How-Tuesdays" but I don't know if that term would be very Search Engine Friendly, so I'll just keep that term in the tags and not the title of the post.

First up is something still fresh on my mind, the church-wide Rummage Sale. We held one this weekend, and it was incredible! This type of event can be a great way for your church to raise funds for building projects, church ministries, or mission trips.

I take my list from my days in the Army (if that isn't already apparent):

Steps for a Successful Sale:
Step 1: Planning. Don't fall victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: Poorly-planned Rummage Sales can turn into a disaster... fast.

It goes without saying, yet it must be said that you must pray about this before you start. Everything we do as the Body of Christ must be done under His leadership. Before you consider any part of your promotions or sales policies or even what brand of Hot Dogs to buy, ask yourself, "Is this the sort of thing for which Jesus died?" Don't turn your church into a circus for Jesus.

Be sure you know what you are getting into. A good Rummage Sale (hereafter known as "the Sale") takes many people working many hours with the potential to raise minimal funds. The amount of funds you are able to raise will vary directly in proportion to the amount of effort you spend during the planning phase working out details and finding problems before they happen.

Consider the following questions:
  • Will our Church members support this kind of fundraising?
  • Where will the sale take place?
  • How will we represent Christ through this event?
  • Will you have information about your Church available to visitors?
  • Who will be in charge of _______?
  • Will we have concessions?
  • What will be our policy on check writing, returns, etc?
  • What will we do with the leftovers after the sale?

Be vary careful as you choose a date. Make sure you aren't competing with the town fair in the next community down the road. Saturdays seem to work best, but don't pick the first Saturday of summer vacation, because everyone else will.

Don't forget, of course, that this will certainly bring people to you who wouldn't otherwise step inside of a church. The only thing stronger than most people's aversion to Christians is their attraction to a potential deal. This, as is anything we do in- or outside of the Church building, can be a chance to reach out with the Gospel. Be prepared.

Step 2: Preparation. The largest part of this step involves gathering donations for the sale. The easiest way to do this is simply to announce it to the church. Use handouts explaining what kinds of donations you need, when/where the sale will take place, and when/where to take the donations (You figured that out during the Planning phase, right?). Will you offer to pick up donations? If so, who will be in charge of that?

You must advertise. This is one of the single most important factors in the success of your sale. The most important place to advertise is in the want ads of your local paper. This is cheap, and people looking for sales look there first. You may also want to take out ads in nearby communities as well. TV and Radio stations often have free Community Calendars that will give you some free advertising.

There is a plethora of free places to advertise on the internet. Use them. Craigslist is a great place to start, but do some research on Google for other places to put your ads.

This is also when you gather supplies. You're probably going to need bunch of stuff to pull this off. Here's a list of some things you will most likely need:
  • Cash Register
  • Dolly or Handtruck
  • Clothing Racks
  • Millions of Hangers
  • Lots of tables
  • Sacks
  • Tons of masking tape and markers
  • Trash Bags
  • Food for Concessions
  • Lots of friends with Pickup Trucks
Don't forget any city/county/state permits you may need (e.g., Garage Sale, Food Service, etc.). Don't try to slip past this one. Christians need to lead the way in integrity in our communities. Besides, can you imagine the headline if you get caught? "Local Church Found Operating Illegal Garage Sale"

Allow lots of time to sort and price your donations. Make sure the cutoff for accepting donations allows for time to get the donations ready for the sale. We spent 4-5 hours on 5 straight nights preparing the sale. To give you some size comparison, our church size is around 150 people at Sunday Morning worship, so be sure to allow more/less time as needed based on the size of your sale. Don't underestimate.

Step 3: Execution. The day of the sale, make sure you are ready to open early, as there will most certainly be antique dealers, eBay enthusiasts and others who will be ready to burst through your doors as though their livelihoods depend upon it (because it does). We opened a half our early because we were ready.

Make sure your sale is clean and organized. It may be called a "Rummage Sale," but if you just have piles of stuff, people will assume it is all trash. If your items are valuable enough for you to fold and display them neatly, then they will be valuable to your customers. We tried to sort things by department, like a retail store.

One of the most significant lessons we learned this weekend was that you need people out on the street to attract people to your sale. You don't have to have clowns and a ferris wheel, but a few students with signs or someone grilling and selling hamburgers can draw attention to your event. This can be a lot of fun, and helping out on the grill can be a good way to get a snack and some fresh air if you need a break during the day.

Step 4: Exit Strategy. After the main event, be prepared to clean up the mess. If you hold the sale at your church, and if it is on a Saturday, how will you re-set the church for Sunday Services?

The best way to start cleaning up is to have less stuff to clean up. This means getting rid of your sale items before the sale is actually over. This, I've found, is best accomplished by having a 50% off sale during the last few hours of your sale. If you have signs/people outside the building, make sure this is prominent. Don't advertise this in advance. For instance, don't state in your ad in the paper "Everything 50% off after 3 PM." People may wait too long to come to the sale.

Make sure you have a place to store your leftovers that won't interfere with your regular church services. We utilized some unused class space for this.

Besides having a bonfire in the parking lot, how will you get rid of all the leftover stuff? Give it away! Who can used your unused stuff?
  • Charities
  • Thrift Stores
  • Groups preparing for Mission Trips
  • Shelters
You may even be able to find some groups who will pick up your stuff for free! Try to arrange this in advance so that you can get rid of the leftovers as soon as possible.

One final tip: Be sure to sort the leftover goods. Put clothes into trash bags and label them with masking tape. Mark boxes. Organize them as you store them. Put clothes in one area and old LPs in another. This will help if one or more of your charities are only taking one kind of item. For instance, we helped a mission team that only needed shoes, and they were easy to find because we labeled the boxes clearly in our storage area.

Our sale was a great success. We managed to raise more than three times what I had originally anticipated, plus we had a great time getting to know people from our church. I hope that yours will be just as great!

Care to share your experience/advice? Let me hear it in the comments!