The ABCs of Effective Charity Auctions on eBay

Maximizing Charity Auctions on eBay

More than 40 celebrities signed 'Matt,' the paper mannequin training aid used to demonstrate Philips Electronics' automated external defibrillators at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Philips donated $500 to the American Heart Association for each celebrity who signed Matt, up to maximum of $20,000. When the Festival concluded, Matt was packed off to Auction Cause, an auction management agency in Beverly Hills, Calif. led by Eric Gazin.

Eric is an eBay PowerSeller and has specialized in celebrity and charity auction items for more than eight years.

I asked Eric if he would share some secrets from his experience, and there are some surprises. One, for instance, involves Britney Spears' recently shorn locks!

Read on.

How much did the Save Matt auction generate?

"The auction generated $300, but more importantly, it received a lot of publicity for the American Heart Association."

How does your service work?

"Auctions are deceptively easy to run. We take the guesswork out of the equation and are in a position to handle everything as a full service auction management agency. This means we help with pre-planning/strategy, handle the design work on the micro-site as well as the auction template design, customer service during the auction event, fraud detection, media services, collection of the funds from the auction winners, payment to the nonprofit, and fulfillment services. We are there to make our clients look great, gain exposure, and raise the most funds possible."

How is your fee determined?

"We work both on a flat fee structure regardless of the value of what is sold and also on a commission only basis. We typically provide both models to the client and let them choose the option that works best. There are cases where we do a hybrid pricing model too, where we receive a small amount before the auction launches and then a commission at the end."

What can you do that a charity/company/agency couldn't do on their own?

"We know the process to make an auction stand out at eBay. It is much more than simply throwing up a listing and hoping for the best. From contacting eBay to let them know about the auction, to publicizing the auction to our substantial charity auction bidder newsletter list, we go far beyond the resources of anyone else who does not do this work full time. We are also really expert at dealing with any problems that arise. I have been managing auctions on eBay for 9 years now, and have seen every scam, red flag, and other problem that can occur. Sadly, there are a few bad apples out there trying to rip off charities but we have specific methodology to deal with these situations."

How long should an auction go?

"We recommend 10 day auctions whenever possible unless there is a time sensitivity requiring a shorter time period. For an auction featuring a number of items, it is a good idea to stagger beyond the 10 day period. For example, start 1/2 the items on day one for 10 days and then the second 1/2 on day five. this way the entire auction event can last 15 days."

In your experience, what makes an auction item "can't miss?"

"Reasonable starting prices. Trust the 220 million+ worldwide eBay auction audience to bid up your items. A few times we have had clients insist on starting an auction near the retail price and have had less than stellar results. Another "can't miss" is having a celebrity offering some sort of in person interaction. This is a money can't by item that will raise quite a bit in most circumstances."

Are there some auction items you won't take on because you know they'll be "dogs?"

"Britney Spears' hair was one we would not touch. Auctions which have some sadness or negativity around them which are more exploitive than actually doing good for a cause we avoid. For more regular items, we tend to avoid auctions where the cost of shipping the item outweighs the value of the item itself. This usually means bidders will not pay much given the shipping costs they need to pay. At the end of the day, the nonprofit does not make very much."

If so, what are the common characterics of "dogs?"

"Overpriced items with very high appraisal values, usually art or jewelry. People believe their items are worth much more than the market indicates."

Is there any seasonality to these auctions? That is, are there times you might prefer or avoid?

"Holiday time on eBay has the best sales, but truly year round special items will always do well."

I assume you have competitors. What do you do better than them?

"I love getting this question as I firmly we believe we are the best at what we do. I have more hands on experience on eBay than any other competitor, over 9 years now, and to this day, I still do some of our auction listings, even though I have staff here to handle them. I absolutely love what I do, it is much more than a business to me, I believe this exuberance and enthusiasm translates into amazing dedication to go the extra mile for our clients and bidders. We also have better graphic designers in house, better connections with the media to generate attention to our auctions, and better pricing. Above all, we have no investor groups to listen to, we are a self funded corporation, meaning we can truly but our clients' interests before our investors, since I am the sole investor."

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