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Planning an On-line Fundraising Event

January 2006

Adapted from Fundraising on eBay: How to Raise Money on the World's Great Online Marketplace

Step 1: Build Support

You already know you want to hold a fundraiser. Now you need to get the important members of your immediate community to decide they want to undertake an on-line auction fundraiser. It's essential to get your board members, staff people, or townspeople on board. Make every effort to instill them with enthusiasm by sharing the size and benefits of the on-line marketplace along with success stories. Be prepared to hear and answer some commonly asked questions from your colleagues and constituents:

  • Q: What's the advantage of holding a fundraiser on-line rather than at a brick-and-mortar facility?

    A: An on-line fundraiser enables you to attract potential bidders from around the world rather than just from your local area. With more people competing for merchandise, you're likely to attract higher bids. Equally important, rather than tapping the same people over and over for donations, much of this money comes in from people outside your traditional fundraising reach. You may need to find a storage area and a source of computers that are connected to the Internet, but with an on-line auction you save substantially on overhead by not having to rent a facility, cater, and hire entertainment.

  • Q: Does it require more work than a "live" fundraiser?

    A: Yes and no. In some ways on-line auctions are easier than traditional fundraising because you have the option of eliminating the "real world event" component. In other ways, it's exactly the same—you have to solicit donations, sell them, and receive payment. An on-line auction initially requires extra work because of the learning curve and the additional tasks involved in selling on-line, including photographing items and shipping items to buyers.

  • Q: What kinds of things sell well on-line?

    A: This is the good news, most anything can be sold on-line and everybody can contribute items for sale. In general, items that routinely sell well include new and brand name items, collectible items, and common household items such as purses, cell phones, and electronics. But you're not limited to these items; experiences can be extremely popular and raise big dollars.

  • Q: What does it cost to sell on-line?

    A: Generally, you can assume selling on-line will cost about 10 percent of the item's selling price if you do it yourself, and up to 40 percent of the selling price if you hire a professional service to run the auction for you. (Note that if you donate 100 percent of the proceeds, fees could be as low as just the credit card fees of 2.9 percent.) Compare this expense to the cost of running a real-world event. Offsetting these expenses is also the additional value the on-line platform provides in terms of PR benefits and access to a large audience, which often results in finding new donors and receiving, on average, 20-40 percent greater prices for the charity items.

  • Q: How much can we raise?

    A: The amount of money you can raise depends on primarily two things: the total number of items you sell and the average selling price of the items you sell. It's probably reasonable to target an average selling price of $20 per item unless you're looking at selling fewer but higher-priced items such as cars, celebrity items, and experiences. A small organization or town could, as rural Atkinson, Nebraska, did, collect 1,000 donated "everyday" items and raise around $12,000, whereas organizations with access to higher-ticket items and experiences could, as the city of Chicago did, raise $250,000 in the same amount of time and with fewer items. Read on for other factors that will affect your success.

Factors Determining the Success of Your Fundraiser

  • Volunteers: How many people do you have available? How many do you need? Two is a bare minimum; anywhere between 10 and 100 is better. You'll need to designate who will perform critical tasks, such as soliciting donations, photographing merchandise, preparing sales descriptions, and handling packing and shipping.

  • Organization: Do you have support and structure? You'll need top-down organization support to get the resources that you need, and bottom-up support to ensure grassroots community participation. With many staff and volunteers involved, you'll need to be organized, maintain a schedule, establish your own processes, and have clear roles and responsibilities. Ideally, you'll have people in your organization or volunteer ranks with some expertise in computers, the Internet, marketing, and public relations that you can tap for troubleshooting and support in this endeavor.

  • Donations: Do you know what auction items to go after? It takes time and money to list items for sale on an on-line auction site. You need to make sure you solicit items that bidders are likely to want. Before collecting donations and listing items for sale, understand what sells well and what doesn't by doing research.

  • On-line experience: Do you or your volunteers already sell on-line? If you already know what makes a good description, you're a step ahead. Having people who have sold on-line before will enable you to begin selling sooner and make it easier to train volunteers. Experienced sellers can help you avoid common mistakes and answer questions if things don't go the way you expect.

  • PR expertise: Does your nonprofit group already have a public relations staff and are those staff able to work on your on-line fundraiser? Some high profile events benefit from conventional press releases and media contacts. But marketing on-line sales can also involve link exchanges, keywords, ad word purchases, and other on-line marketing approaches that your PR staff may be less familiar with.

Greg Holden and Jill Finlayson
© 2005, The McGraw-Hill Companies. Adapted from  Fundraising on eBay: How to Raise Big Money on the World's Greatest Online Marketplace. Adapted with permission.

Greg Holden is an eBay PowerSeller and the author of more than 30 books, including the bestselling How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business. He has written extensively about eBay, on-line auctions, and e-commerce.

Jill Finlayson worked at eBay as a senior category manager for Toys, Dolls, Hobbies, and Crafts, growing the category to more than $1.5 billion annually, and was a founding member of the first eBay Foundation Governance Committee. She currently oversees curriculum and training materials for M Networks courses and seminars on starting and running effective on-line businesses.