How to Celebrate Thirty Years and Become An Amateur Philanthropist

March 8, 2013

Last Saturday, I hit a milestone.auction web

I celebrated my 30th birthday.

Now, it’s been a long time since I really got any major birthday presents.  And it’s not like I put off paying the credit card bill until I get some birthday cash.  So this year, I told my wife I wanted to donate my birthday to One Day’s Wages.  If you don’t know ODW or you don’t read the founder, Eugene Cho’s blog, you need to fix that right now.

What did that mean?  Simply that whatever gifts people were going to give me, I wanted them to donate instead.

Now, I share my birthday with one of my best friends, my college roommate, Tim.  So we always celebrate together.  But it was my wife who emailed me one of the best ideas I have ever heard.

She said, “Let’s throw a charity auction.”

So we did.  We threw a flipping charity auction.

How did it go?

birthday

The Stuff

The first thing you need to throw a charity auction is stuff for people to bid on.  We envisioned that since this was our 30th birthday, the day would be a celebration of adulthood, specifically masculine adulthood.  We wanted a manly charity auction.

So, I started sending out emails.  I told companies about our event, about who I was.  I sent them links to our ODW campaign and a link to me on Moody Publishers’ site.  I had never asked people for free stuff, and had no idea what to expect.

And the stuff came pouring in.  A backpack from Huckberry.  A gift certificate from The Local Pig.  Wallets from Bellroy.  A leather satchel from Colsen Keane, easily worth $400.  Over a dozen items in all, some small and some very large.  All were donated by companies ranging in size from small to very small, like two employees small.

The lesson?  It’s very easy to ask people for free stuff.  Giving away stuff is good word-of-mouth advertising for companies.  The little guys are much more inclined to give stuff away.  I didn’t hear back from the bigger guys I reached out to.

The Place

Next we needed a place to party.  We needed a place that was centrally located and had a private space.  Not only did we find a great place with a private loft and bar with a dedicated bartender/server, but they advertised on their site that they offer it free for non-profit events.

The lesson?  Restaurants are no exception to wanting good PR.  Lots of places want to charge a minimum fee or demand that people buy a minimum amount of food for private space, but don’t settle for that.  Tell them what your plan is, and get the space for free.  Then make sure everyone comes hungry and tips generously.

imagesThe Boss

The absolute icing on the cake was Eugene Cho himself.  He and I have communicated just very briefly over the years, but he emailed to thank me when I started the online campaign.  He asked if there was anything he could do to help…and I had a brainstorm.

At the event, we could tell people about ODW, but most people had not heard of it.  We could tell them it was all about extreme global poverty.  But we needed a face to attach to the name.  Eugene made a one minute video for us, explaining the ODW vision and welcoming everyone to our party, calling Tim and I out by name, so everyone knew he took the time to do that just for us.  (I was very specific in my request for this.)  People cheered and clapped and I think it greased a few wallets.  Eugene Cho is the boss.

The Impact

We had the items, the venue, the video, but I still didn’t know if my friends were all frugal, cheap, or just poor.  My goal for the night was $500.  If everything on the table sold for just $30, we’d make it.  About 35 people showed up.

We made $1700.  The high-seller went for $400, more than double its retail value.

A small gesture, but it blew my expectations away.  Best of all, more than one person told us they were so excited to throw their own charity event…including our bartender.

You know that scene in Office Space where they are singing Happy Birthday to the boss and Milton is told to “Just pass” the cake?  Your next birthday doesn’t have to be like that.  It’s super easy to become an amateur philanthropist.

What do you think about that?

6 responses to How to Celebrate Thirty Years and Become An Amateur Philanthropist

  1. I wonder if I could get my mother-in-law to go along with something like this–I’ve been trying to convince her that I’m 35 years old and therefore no longer need Christmas presents. I’ve tried telling her to “just get something for the kids”, but, nope, about November she starts pestering me for a list of stuff I want. Again, I’m 35. I kind of already have all the stuff I want. Maybe I can get her to donate to something like this instead?

  2. Great job, Matt! It also sounds like you made a lot of great memories, which should be the real goal of a birthday party.

    I have some relatives who would rather we donate to charity at Christmas in their name, which is more fun than trying to find a gift that they need or want. Shopping for a sheep or goat or chickens is much more fun.

  3. We often give and ask for charitable gifts (such as the above-mentioned sheep, goats, and chickens), but I love the idea of combining it all into a party. Not only do you all have a great time, but I think people may be more generous when others are watching!

    I’m inspired… and I have a BIG birthday coming up in two years. I’m going to drop hints, starting here.

  4. Matt, the auction was such a hit, it inspired me to do my own fundraiser for my 30th birthday! http://www.allisonvesterfelt.com/letting-go-of-excuses/

    Thanks for being an inspiration to so many.

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