ebay bookWhat is it the commercials say? You can find “it” on eBay. “It” can be just about anything – from collectables, the latest fashions, comic books and even cars and homes.

Many charities are now diving into the world of online auctions at eBay, using them as a tool in their fund-raising toolbox with great success.

Jill Finlayson, a fomer eBay Senior Category Manager has written a book titled Fundraising on eBay. Written with Greg Holden, a bestselling author and eBay PowerSeller, this book is chock-filled with practical tips that any charity can take advantage of no matter its online auction skills.

If you have never placed an item for sale at an online auction, this book will walk you through the process. If you are an experienced user of online auctions, this book will offer you tools to maximize the benefits of your online auction experience.

Probably the best feature of this book is the case study after case study that it features, showing non-profits just how other non-profits have used eBay to their advantage. Reading these case studies will no doubt inspire you to do a lot of “we could do it too” type of thinking. This is a book that will inspire you to take action and come up with inventive ways to raise funds for your organization.

Step by Step Fundraising was fortunate to have Ms. Finlayson take some time to speak with us about how fund-raisers can use eBay. We thank her for her time.

Why should non-profits sell on ebay?

The number one reason for nonprofits to sell on eBay is that it allows you to tap into a much larger group of people to get more bids, dollars, and supporters. The second reason is that eBay allows you to accomplish several goals instead of just one goal. It’s not just about raising the funds, it’s about increasing awareness, finding donors, converting in-kind gifts to cash and getting the market value for your goods. eBay allows you to leverage a global marketplace and get the most bang for your fundraising effort. That’s why people use eBay.

What are some of the top selling items on eBay?

There are three main categories:

  • The first is collectibles, such as vintage items and classic brand items including many things you find in your closet that you think have no value but to someone else it does.
  • The second is practical or new items, brand new with tags. Often these are the types of things that you would typically get donated from companies. Most valuable are hard to find popular items and brand name items. For example, a “generic” new teddy bear might not sell on eBay, but a teddy bear made by Steiff will do very well.
  • The third category that does very well is experiences. Non-profits can raise money by selling one of a kind items and experiences from celebrities, or on a much smaller scale can auction off lunch with the mayor or turn a town event into an experience by auctioning off the opportunity to be the one to, for example, turn on the lights on the town’s holiday tree. There are experiences that have mass appeal and then there are experiences that have local appeal. Often your board members will have contacts for experiences such as premium tickets to a sporting or theater event or friends who are influential in politics, business, or entertainment.

What are some challenges of online auctions?

There are a couple of challenges. One is the start-up time – if you haven’t done online auctions before, there is a learning curve. People underestimate how many questions they may get from the bidding community. People will want more information and they will ask questions at a silent auction. It is important to take the time up-front to write as much information as you can about items. This will reduce the number of questions you get and save you time once the auction starts. eBay also allows you to post the questions that you receive and the answers on the auction description – which is great because if one person asked, probably others are wondering as well.

Another time consuming part is shipping. You will need to figure out the shipping costs ahead of time and then package and ship the items to the winners at the close of the auction. On the other hand, you don’t have to get a caterer, rent a facility, etc so compared to a real world auction it is often cheaper and less time consuming overall.

Do you think that online fund-raising will replace in person fund-raising?

I think, like many things, it’s one more tool in your fund-raising arsenal. You don’t have to do one or the other. You should use online auctions where it makes sense and adds value. Some things will sell better at a closed door auction. A board member may not want to sell a week at their vacation condo at an online auction. Art by kids at your school will likely sell better at a closed door auction. But if you have collectibles, celebrity items or very valuable items, an online auction on eBay will often bring in more bids and dollars.

eBay can compliment your other fund-raising efforts and allow you to mix it up a little to keep your community engaged. If you have an annual live event, you may prefer to use eBay for ongoing auctions of donated items or perhaps only as a one time event where you want to publicize a milestone accomplishment or event. It is a nice tool and the online auction option helps you to choose the right marketplace to get the most money for the items.

What are the benefits of an organization putting on a live auction instead of just a regular item for bid or sale at eBay?

People can browse the catalog ahead of time, they can look at the pictures and when they come they are ready to bid. It’s a great tool to bring in interested bidders. eBay’s Live Auctions are definitely or higher end auctions, typically where at least some of the items are expected to sell in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Even at these auctions, it is best with an include items at different price points and lower price points so that there is something for everyone to bid on.

Is there anything about the book or eBay that you would like to make further comments?

In the front cover of the book, there is an auction decision tree that can help you decide how you would like to use ebay. This walks you through the type of auction, what items to sell, and how to staff for success. Depending on your resources, staff and volunteers you may be able to do it yourself, but it is good to know you don’t have to do it all yourself.

There are Auction Trading Assistants and auction management companies that can take some of the burden off you. They can do the mechanics of actually listing and shipping the items, so you only have to get the items and market the auction. They know the eBay marketplace, the keywords to use in describing, the category to list in, and so forth. They can be very helpful to you as a nonprofit. For very high profile auctions that may draw a lot of nation-wide attention and high bids, auction management companies can go a step further to actually help market the auction, ensure that nothing goes wrong, and collect payment at the conclusion of the auction.

And be sure to use eBay to market your cause and accomplishments to increase awareness and find new donors. Be sure to mention information about your non-profit in every item description and use your “About Me” page to tell people how to donate or sign up for your newsletter.

You can sell fixed price donations or t-shirts with the nonprofit logo. In one of the profiles in the book, one person said that they consider eBay auctions much “friend-raising” as “fund-raising” so every interaction you have with a bidder is a chance to get a new supporter.

Provide the best and most friendly customer support you can. eBay auctions will allow you to find new donors that you wouldn’t have met any other way. The case studies in the book, makes fundraising on eBay concrete and achievable. It is great to see what other nonprofits have come up with, as well as how and why they did it.

Get more info on the book: Fundraising on eBayby Jill Finlayson and Greg Holden

Posted on 22 March 2007

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