Saturday, May 3, 2008

Going Once...

Originally uploaded by velo_city
When it comes to raising funds for non-profit groups, auctions are the way, the truth and the life. The Times today had an article about parents' associations in NYC public schools holding auctions to cover budget deficits. Now, I know that PTAs have always held various sorts of fund raising events—bake sales and carnivals when I was a kid. But there's not a lot of money in cake walks, is there? Not compared to $4,500 for a limited edition Warhol lithograph.

I've never been much for auctions, personally. Sure, I like getting a good deal, but I tend to buy things when I need them—especially high-ticket items that are so attractive at auctions. The few times we've participated in auctions, Catherine and I have had a cap and stuck to it (read: we got outbid). When I buy from ebay, I only use the Buy It Now option: I still get a good deal, I don't have to wait around for days checking up on the thing, and I'm not disappointed in the final two seconds when someone else proves that they wanted the item more and have a faster Internet connection than I do.

I know that when I'm a guest at a fundraiser, the expectation is that I'm going to make a donation in some way—buying raffle tickets, bidding in auctions or silent auctions, or just pulling out the checkbook. And I understand the psychology, intellectually: you want a thing (or want to do a thing) anyway, so this way you get something you want and the organization gets a big donation—perhaps bigger than you might have given in a straightforward donation, since they got the thing donated. All well and good. But my experience has always been that when I have bid and won something at an auction, it hasn't been the big item that I actually wanted—it's been the smaller thing that no one else wanted more (and that, truth be told, I probably didn't want, either, but it was what I could afford). 

I'm not saying this as a complaint (well, not entirely): it's something I've had to consider every time Peculiar Works starts planning a fund raiser. Auctions bring in more money in a single event with less outlay of cash (time is a different matter: it takes many hours of work to organize an auction) than any other type of event we've ever done. The fund raising events shouldn't be divorced from the mission of the company (the Sierra Club auctioning off a 4x4 weekend in Yosemite?), of course. But it always feels to me a little like "Shopping for the Greater Good," and it's just not me (although I did put the amazon link on PWP's homepage... so I guess it is a little bit me). 

Regarding the school auctions, I think it underlines a few facts about our society. We don't trust government with our money: I won't pay higher taxes, but I'll buy Botox injections in the privacy of my own home instead—so disturbing on so many levels. The government has betrayed our trust in the past: why else are there things "that parents might consider essential but that the standard allocation from the city’s Department of Education does not cover"? Or, more disturbing, ultimately, we're just not egalitarian at all: what does it matter if a school in East New York can only raise $15,000 while another on the Upper West Side can raise $450,000?

What are we teaching our children here?

No comments: