Tricky tray fundraisers have been known by many names. They have been dubbed penny auctions, Chinese basket auctions, gift auctions and brown-bag auctions. For all of these events, participants purchase raffle tickets and place the tickets in canisters near the items they hope to win. One person can put as many tickets as they want in a given container to increase the odds of winning.


Many states have strict laws governing charities and gaming. Generally, tricky tray fundraisers are governed by the same laws as bingo games. Check with your state’s gaming department to determine what permits are required and what is needed to obtain them.


Display prizes on tables and provide a raffle box near each prize. Organize the prizes according to category, retail value or size to make it easier for participants to find items they are interested in. Have supervisors stand nearby to guard items such as gift cards. Organize tables in a way that is easy to navigate, and deep aisles wide to accommodate many viewers; do not create dead ends. Have more raffle tickets available than you likely need. Provide pens so buyers can write their names on the backs of the tickets before dropping them into the raffle boxes. Establish a set price per ticket.


Profits are greatest when the gifts and prizes are donated or assembled by members of the fundraising organization. Advertise the names of donors on small cards by the prizes they donate to encourage donations. Unusual or high-demand items such as theme-park admissions, movie tickets or vacation packages can dramatically increase the profitability of the fundraiser. Gift vouchers for house cleaning, auto repair and other services can increase profits while providing advertising for the businesses. With each item, include an information card with all the relevant details, such as the length of a hotel stay or the value of a gift card. If donations are scarce, ask organization members to donate time and talents.


Many tricky tray fundraisers involve a dinner event or other form of entertainment. This helps pass the time while shoppers bid on items, and it can give the fundraising organization a reason to charge a higher admission fee to the event.

Closing the Event

Before the event, establish a set time that bidding will be closed. Make announcements at regular intervals to inform participants of how much time remains. At the end of the fundraiser, announce the auction is closing and urge everyone to take their seats. Draw a single ticket from each raffle box. Read the name on the back and congratulate each winner as the prizes are handed out. When all the prizes have been distributed, the event has ended.