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3/20/2008
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Online Bidding Site To Silence Silent Auctions

E-commerce site cMarket expects to host more than 3,000 online fund-raising events for the likes of the United Way and the Muscular Dystrophy Association this year.

For many schools and other nonprofit organizations, silent auctions represent a necessary inconvenience. They're critical for fund raising, but they can be expensive, time-consuming, labor-intensive events to produce.

Web site cMarket has been trying to convince organizations to move their silent auctions online since 2003. And while schools and nonprofits tend to be slow to adopt technology, many of them see value in moving their fund raising onto the Internet. In 2008, cMarket expects to host more than 3,000 online fund-raising events for the likes of the United Way and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, as well as a slew of schools and nonprofits.

"Good fund-raisers need an online fund-raising auction component," said Jon Carson, CEO of cMarket and BiddingForGood. "The problem with the current silent auction world is it hasn't changed in 70 years."

Automaker Ford has been holding fund-raising events for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation since 1983. Its current Ford Global Walk team helps with a variety of fund-raising activities around the country, including Walk to Cure Diabetes. For the past three years, Ford has run online silent auctions through cMarket.

Gina Roche-Kelly, national account manager of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said that Ford used to host silent auctions at various facilities run by local employees and that recently the company has consolidated these events online. "We realized there's real potential here to bring everyone together on one online auction," she said.

The first year, Ford's online auction for diabetes foundation brought in $92,000, said Roche-Kelly. The second year saw $82,000, a decline she attributed to loss of workforce and economic conditions in the auto industry. Last year, Ford's auction was open to people outside the company, through cMarket's BiddingForGood community, and brought in $92,000.

BiddingForGood auctions benefit charities and nonprofit organizations. They provide an easy way for anyone to bid on auction items in support of positive causes.

It's the possibility of developing funding sources beyond an organization's core constituency that is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of cMarket's service. According to Roche-Kelly, the diabetes foundation saw that possibility realized. "It really does expand your audience," she said.

That's not to say traditional silent auctions -- where people wander around to exhibit tables and write their bidder numbers on clipboards while clasping plastic cups of cheap wine -- have nothing to recommend them. Presentation can make auction items sell for more than they might unadorned. And being able to see and touch auction items has real value. Roche-Kelly concedes that setting up a cMarket auction requires effective preparation: Items must be cataloged and photographed, descriptions must be written.

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