Business

CharityBuzz raises $100M for good causes by auctioning off celebrity experiences

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How much would you spend to have coffee with Apple CEO Tim Cook, or go on a polar bear expedition on Manitoba?

Online auction site CharityBuzz has raised $100 million raised for non-profits to date by offering experiences like those, and shared some interesting numbers about its success.

It took 50,000 auctions, 325,000 bids, and contributions from 100,000 people to hit the $100 million milestone, which supported 2,271 different charities. CharityBuzz has made a nice pile of change for itself as well — the company keeps 20 percent of all the sales.

Considering the money is for charity, this seems like a pretty sizable chunk to me, but I guess 80 percent is better than nothing,

CharityBuzz is known for auctioning off intimate access to famous people, who are willing to sell off their possessions and time for causes they believe in. Participants include Cook, as well as President Clinton, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Oprah, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, George Clooney, LeBron James, and Anna Wintour.

Tim Cook’s auction attracted the biggest bid ever of $610,000, followed closely by the opportunity to own the first Lamborghini Aventador in the U.S.. Other popular auctions include a meeting with Bono backstage after a U2 show, dinner with a professional football team, and a pitch meeting with famous venture capitalists. 

Luxury auctions have been a staple of fundraising for decades. What CharityBuzz did is bring it online, and achieve a breadth and scale that the offline versions can’t have.

The site features a wide range of auctions that are live for about a month. Each has an image, description, and tally of the current bid. You can search by category, which includes celebrity, entertainment, travel, sports, food and wine, and CharityBuzz also has an option for requesting a specific experience you’d like to see.

CharityBuzz also released a native iPhone app so people can browse through experiences and place bids from their phone. The app sends push notifications when you have been outbid or when an auction is about to close. The company said 35 percent of its customers were visiting the site via mobile, and considering the time sensitive nature of auctions, a mobile app was definitely needed.

The site is mostly geared towards very affluent people who are willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to meet celebrities, for a good cause of course.  It works with well-known causes like UNICEF, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the Children’s Health Fund, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Humane Society.

Prizeo is another tech startup reinterpreting traditional gala fundraising tactics for the Internet eta. The Y Combinator-backed company runs digital raffles, where you make a small donation to a celebrity’s chosen cause for the chance to hang out with them.

Unlike CharityBuzz, Prizeo’s prizes don’t go to the highest bidder which makes them more accessible to regular people.

CharityBuzz was founded in 2005 by CEO Coppy Holzman, who previously founded Webvan. It is based in New York City and has raised $5 million to date.


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