Make-A-Wish Foundation Boosts Fund-Raising With Electronic Bidding, Celebrity Assistance

By Jenny Berg July 6, 2010, 1:29 PM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois

Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois' Wish Ball
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The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois grants requests for children with life-threatening medical conditions. At the organization's Wish Ball, held at the UIC Forum on June 26, examples of such dreams appeared in the program. “I wish to be a worker in a pickle factory,” one child had written. Another hope was “to have a castle in my own bedroom.”

Each Wish costs $5,000, and the recent ball raked in $1 million to sponsor more of them. With a live and a silent auction, the fund-raiser incorporated wireless auction software BidPal for the first time. “We saw a definite advantage to it,” said the foundation's special events manager, Debbie Purcell.

According to Purcell, the novelty of the devices lead to a higher level of participation: “Some people bid just for the fun of it.” Although in past years, some lots got no bids, “this year there were an average of eight per item,” she said. “But another good thing about the system is that people can keep track of how many bids each item has.” At the end of the night, the lots without any bids were broadcast on a jumbo screen. “So if there were any bargain hunters in the crowd, if you will, they could say 'oh, wow, this item has no bids on it. Maybe I can get this for an opening amount.'" 

Purcell said that the live auction's “Fund a Need” component was “an area where we saw a major upswing.” Some guests donated $5,000 to underwrite an entire wish, but the software also allowed them to participate at lower levels. Several tables shared the cost of a wish sponsorship, with each couple donating $1,000. As pledges poured in, they appeared on the screen, which showed guests' names instead of anonymous bidder numbers. “We thought it would be fun to give people a little plug,” Purcell said.

Though the live auction was successful, Purcell acknowledged that “not everyone can give at that level,” and guests who couldn't participate were in danger of “getting antsy.” To avoid that, Purcell arranged for celebrity guest star Dana Carvey to assist with the live auction. “We negotiated that into our contract,” she said. “By incorporating a celebrity into the live auction, it becomes an extension of the entertainment.”

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