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On-line Auctions Raise Funds for Charity


Traditional fundraising events raise funds while reinforcing a sense of community among members and supporters. Conflicts of time and place, however, or lack of knowledge about events often prevent potential bidders from participating in live auctions. On-line auctions can help organizations reach thousands of potential bidders and promote their name. The most common bids are on cars, clothes, and celebrity appearances.

eBay, one of the world's largest on-line auction sites, saw the potential for nonprofit organizations to benefit from the broad range of sellers and buyers in the on-line market. One of their newest programs aimed at helping nonprofit organizations is Giving Works, which combines technology-based initiatives from MissionFish with due diligence for donors. This program allows nonprofits to raise money through on-line auction events, in addition to individuals buying and selling items that support charities. Companies can also raise money for nonprofits as a way to conduct cause marketing effectively and strengthen community bonds.

"The Web has certainly played a key role in the impressive growth of cause-related marketing over the past several years," says Anne Leslie of Cone, Inc., which reports on effective cause marketing. "It provides an easy way for employees and consumers to participate in cause marketing initiatives as well as an effective communications vehicle for companies and nonprofits to connect with key stakeholders. The Web makes cause marketing accessible to a broader audience."

One chapter of the American Red Cross has reaped the benefits of eBay's broad market approach. The American Red Cross Serving King & Kitsap Counties developed an annual "virtual auction" fundraising campaign. From community drives and donations they acquired in-kind gifts to sell, then listed the items on eBay for potential bidders to view. The charity then promoted the virtual auction on its Web site and to its community. The success of this on-line event led to more auctions. In 2002-2003, the Red Cross chapter sold 2,699 items and raised $547,472.

eBay's tremendous growth allowed numerous nonprofits to promote items for sale to thousands of people in the Internet community. Many of the organizations' constituents, however, were unaware of auctions on eBay because the on-line format was too large. In 2002, Greg McHale launched cMarket, a more streamlined on-line auction tool that allows charities to maintain ties with their communities.

"Nonprofits don't have enough people working for them, they usually rely on volunteers," says McHale, "If the tool is too difficult, then nonprofits without a technology staff are lost. There is zero technology knowledge needed [with cMarket]  ... it's as simple as point, click, and type."

cMarket allows organizations to merge Internet and live auctions to reach maximum coverage, integrate constituent e-mail lists into the tool, and keep receiving donations from their sponsors. The site has seen a 100 percent renewal rate among its users. There is no up-front fee for nonprofits to pay, nor is there a contract to run a specific number of auctions per year.

With the growth of the Internet, supporting charity has never been easier. Nonprofit organizations have received more than $30 million from trading on eBay alone. It is important, however, to do your research on on-line events. If you're thinking of bidding on an item, find out how much of your bid actually goes to charity. If want to raise funds for your own organization, contact other nonprofits that have used the service and ask about their experiences. You can also check to see if the site is listed with the Better Business Bureau.

Staying informed about the Internet and your favorite causes just might get you a few steps closer to bidding on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

For more information visit these Web sites:

  • cMarket–Web-based tool that allows nonprofits to create auctions on-line using their own home pages and easy accessibility.
  • Mission Fish–creator of new tech-based solutions to help nonprofits find new sources of unrestricted funding.
  • Cars 4 Causes–on-line auction site that donates the proceeds from car sales to nonprofit organizations.
  • eBay–on-line market that allows buyers and sellers from across the country to interact in the purchase of goods without ever leaving their homes.
Pheniece Jones, 2004
© Philanthropic Research, Inc.

Pheniece Jones is an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. She is currently a marketing intern at GuideStar.
Topics: Charitable Giving