January 2010

A Winning Bid: VanLandingham Rotary To Host 16th Annual Charity Auction

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

What’s more fun than eBay, more lucrative than the lottery and more satisfying than writing a check for charity? The VanLandingham Rotary auction, of course—an event that combines the thrill of the hunt with the excitement of competitive bidding, all for the benefit of children. Does it get any better than that?

If you’re thinking, “Ho-hum…another fundraiser,” think again, because this is one you don’t want to miss.

The 2010 auction will be broadcast live on WTOC television (Savannah’s channel 11), Sunday, February 28, from noon-3 p.m. Online bidding begins Wednesday, February 24.

According to Rotarian Brian Goode, the club expects to auction off approximately 300 items, with an estimated total value of over $250,000. The auction typically yields at least 50 percent of value, allowing the club to make substantial contributions to area children’s charities, including the Boys and Girls Club and the Children’s Center. This year’s primary beneficiary is the Children’s Center.

Goode, who along with local auctioneer and fellow Rotarian, Sonny Huntley, “dreamed up” the first auction in 1994, says the key to this wildly successful event is the practicality of the items up for bid. “It’s an every man’s auction, meaning that we have items that appeal to everybody: landscaping services, cable TV for a month, pool cleaning, dental cleaning, chiropractic care, eye exams…and restaurants and golf, of course! Invariably, we have a few high falutin’ things like exotic trips, but the emphasis is on goods and services that everybody can use,” he explained.

The other key is the ease of participation, said Goode, citing advances in technology that makes bidding as easy as a mouse click. “You never have to leave your house. You can sit there with your newspaper, watch it on TV and play along on your laptop computer,” he said. “Anyone can bid from anywhere.”

Then And Now
Describing the early days of the event, broadcast on Joy 108 radio and WHHI TV, Goode said, “When we first did it, the auction was a tremendous amount of physical work…much more manual. We had a dozen or more people answering phones, taking bids, as well as a live component to the auction. We had a huge ballroom and a platform. At the end of every interval, Sonny Huntley would do his dog and pony show with the live auction participants. It looked like controlled chaos, but it worked.”

“It was crazy,” said Huntley, describing plywood boards displaying auction items with hangtags for the bids, primitive software, people management issues, power outages and other assorted challenges. “It’s come quite a long way.”

Successful from day one, the auction has grown into “a huge money maker,” said Diane Fornari, current president of the VanLandingham Rotary club. “Rotary clubs throughout the world try to raise money for charity. When they hear what we’re able to do, they’re overwhelmed.”

“I don’t know that there’s another Rotary club around that generates more funds, per Rotarian, per one event,” added Goode. “In three hours, we gross over $100,000.”

Today, the event is broadcast from the Westin Hotel, and without the live auction component, it runs as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. “They [WTOC] have turned it into a major, beautiful TV production,” said Goode.

According to WTOC news anchor, Sonny Dixon, who serves as auctioneer, the television station is thrilled to produce the show. “The greatest sense of satisfaction comes from seeing so much money raised for a good cause in such a short amount of time,” he said. “But the greatest personal satisfaction probably comes from working with the members of the VanLandingham Rotary Club and with Carol Kavanaugh [administrator] all these years and seeing just how well-organized it is. I do a lot of events for non-profits and I readily say that my favorite, hands down, bar none, is the VanLandingham Rotary Auction, because it makes good on every promise.”

The day’s live action is “exponentially more frenetic” than his usual morning talk show, Dixon said, but that’s what makes it exciting for him. “There are numerous metaphors I can think of. Probably a NASCAR race driver is happiest if he gets into a machine that really runs. Well, it’s fun for me to climb into that thing for three hours and drive it,” he said.

And The Winner Is…
Sponsors, donors and bidders alike agree that the VanLandingham Rotary auction is a win/win opportunity. Consider the benefits of donating an item for auction or buying a sponsorship. Here is a chance to advertise your business in print, on the Web and on television. As Goode points out, it’s also an ideal association. “Your business gets to be on TV—on a CBS affiliate, broadcasting to 700,000 people—with the Rotary Club and the Children’s Center. That’s like Mom and apple pie.”

“When we put something on the Web site, there are photographs from the company and a link to your Web site,” added Rotarian Bruce Yeager, who has also been involved in various capacities since the auction’s inception. “The site gets an unbelievable number of hits,” he said, explaining that each item up for bid is also shown and talked about on television at least twice during a 15-minute segment of the live broadcast.

If you choose to sponsor a segment, your business is advertised on the scrolling banner at the bottom of the screen throughout one of the 15-minute auction segments. Segment sponsors are also listed on the Web site with links to their Web sites. During the live broadcast, there is interplay with the technology, so the Web images are shown on television as well, explained Goode.

On the flip side, bidders have the opportunity to pick up bargains on goods and services they would ordinarily purchase outright and do something good for the community at the same time. “Even if you pay full price for the item that is being auctioned, you would have spent that money anyway. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in doing something you would ordinarily do but funneling that money to a charitable cause,” said Yeager.

The Real Payoff
Without a doubt, the biggest winners are the children who benefit year after year. In the beginning, auction proceeds were pledged to the Boys and Girls Club of Hilton Head Island. According to Goode, in 1997, the VanLandingham Rotary club wrote the check for $250,000 which bought the land upon which the facility operates today. Since that time, the Rotarians have continued contributing to the Boys and Girls Club and other children’s charities. In addition, a portion of the funds raised is earmarked for college scholarships, awarded annually to area high school graduates.

For the past five years, auction proceeds have been pledged to The Children’s Center, with a total commitment of $300,000. Only $50,000 short, the VanLandingham Rotary Club anticipates this year’s auction will easily close out that commitment. The Children’s Center, which has locations on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton, has already broken ground on its new facility across from Jarvis Creek Park, which will open next summer.

“We like to do sticks and bricks as much as possible,” said Huntley, explaining that the club prefers the money to go for something tangible rather than operating capital.

“We all have a sense of accomplishment, especially when we see buildings go up and know that we were instrumental in making those things happen,” said Yeager. “It’s a sense of being able to empower and give opportunities to young people, because, they are the future.”

To Participate:
Bargain hunters and bidders, rev up your engines; watch your local newspaper or log on to www.vlrauction.com for a list of hot ticket items that are sure to be going, going, gone. If you would like to donate items for auction or sponsor a segment, please call Brian Goode at (843) 681-9325 or e-mail brian@goodevacationrentals.com.

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