How best to utilize donations of gift certificates?

Dear Kim,

I coordinate a program for at-risk girls and our funding was cut due to state budget problems. We are doing a 5K Run and expecting about 400 people. We have about 20 local businesses and corporations that have donated gift certificates, all the way from a massage therapist who donated an hour massage, to Wal-Mart and Outback Steakhouse, etc. Initially we were going to have a raffle, but I’m wondering if that’s the best way to go with so many items. I’ve been thinking about a silent auction as a possibility. Do you have any thoughts on what would be the best way to utilize these donations?
—Need to Maximize Results

Dear Maxi,

First of all, congratulations on getting 20 gift certificates to augment your 5K event! That is an excellent achievement in what appears to be one of your first forays into this type of fundraising. Although an argument can be made for either strategy, I would go with the raffle. You can “sell” tickets before and during the event, and if you have an active and large team of “sellers” you can make more money from the raffle than you would have made from each item in an auction. You also don’t need to create another gathering for the raffle as you would have to for the auction, as you can announce the raffle winners at the end of the 5K. Notice that I say “sell” in quotations-to be legal, raffle tickets cannot be sold but are made available for a suggested donation of $1 or $5 or whatever.If someone wants a free ticket, they should be able to get one. You will want to ask other organizations about how strictly the law is enforced in your community. Most of the time, organizations are given some latitude as long as you are not promoting gambling or selling tickets through the mail.
—Kim