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Hosting a mutual-aid fundraiser on Discord
Posted Friday, January 9, 2021

In November of 2020, the boxes began to really stack up. A few by the hallway, then a looming tower near the kitchen. Spurred by months of COVID-19-induced isolation at home, I'd put myself on a mission to finally go through all my possessions and throw or give away what was no longer needed. Around the same time, my thoughts turned to making a charitable donation. Given the difficult circumstances 2020 brought, I wanted to be thoughtful about making a positive impact.

One thought led to another, and eventually I came up with the idea to host an online silent auction/garage sale to raise money for a good cause. I had four main objectives for the silent auction:

  • to facilitate sharing and rehoming of items to others in a quarantine-safe way,
  • to raise money for a charitable cause (in my case, Austin Mutual Aid),
  • to create a unique avenue to connect and have fun with friends remotely, and
  • to help activate others in the rewarding act of giving.

The event ran for two weeks in December and raised $1,646. Now that I've had a few weeks to reflect on it, I'm sharing a bit of a post-mortem on the event in case it's useful for others wanting to undertake something similar.

How much would you pay for the Internet?

Event overview

Here is how I prepared for and ran the event.

  1. Sorted through my items. I went through the boxes and found the fun stuff: instruments, movies, etc. Other items were taken to mutual aid centers or Goodwill.

  2. Set up a Discord server. This was pretty easy to figure out on my own, but there is also a guide to setting up a Discord server. I created four top-level channels: #👋・welcome, #📢・rules, #⛲・wishing-well, and #☕・chat. I also created a channel category called "Auction items."

  3. Decided on and posted auction rules. The auction would work like eBay, complete with a minimum starting bid (usually $1). Participants would post a dollar amount in the corresponding items' channel to make a bid. After two weeks, bidding would close, and all money raised would go to the charitable organization. Additionally, I pledged to match every bid dollar for dollar. Anyone wanting to donate money without bidding on items could post dollar amounts to the #⛲・wishing-well channel, where I also matched donation amounts 1-for-1. (You can read the complete rules here.)

  4. Grouped items into thematic bundles. Instead of having participants bid on single items, I grouped them into themed bundles. A bass guitar was paired with an amplifier and live music DVD to form a "rock bundle." A pile of 15 mystery LPs was billed as a "crate-digger bundle." Each bundle got its own channel in the "Auction items" category where participants would post bids.

  5. Added descriptions to bundle channels In each bundle channel, I posted photographs of the items, a description, and the minimum starting bid.

Photograph of spoon rest and brownies in the cooking bundle, which also included a collection of cookbooks.
  1. Invited friends via Discord or email. I invited about 35 local friends to keep things manageable and made sure I knew each person personally in case there was any issue.

  2. Supervised bidding for the run of the event (2 weeks). I occasionally posted updates if certain bundles hadn't yet received bids, for example.

  3. Collected bids via PayPal and Venmo, and sent double that to charitable organization.

  4. Delivered bundles to winners. I offered curbside pickup or delivery based on the winner's preference.

Screenshot of Discord channel listing

Learnings

I went into the silent auction with low expectations, just because it was a pretty experimental idea, and I had no idea how things would play out. Plus, the extent of my prior experience with fundraising was selling Girl Scout cookies as a child. Would there be bidding wars? Zero interest? In retrospect, I was really pleased with the outcomes. It was fun. And it was great how much we were able to raise just with unwanted items in our own homes. Here are some assorted observations, what I think went well, and what I'd do differently next time.

  1. Why Discord? I had initially considered running the silent auction through something like Google Sheets or Forms, but I wanted to be sure that everyone participating could see bids without modifying them. I also wanted an avenue for conversation. Discord was my next candidate for handling this. It could also allow participants to set up notifications if desired. I think it generally worked well. Now that the auction is done, I can simply close the server.

  2. Ask friends to contribute unique items. When I look back at which bundles generated the most excitement and bids, it was clear that one-of-a-kind items were most popular. Bundles with locally-made ceramics, zines, or instruments were among the more desired. If you have friends willing to contribute art, homemade desserts, or services (such as lessons), do reach out to them with plenty of advance notice to see if they have something they'd like to contribute to the cause.

Resources

Want to run an event like this yourself? Here are a few additional resources.

Additionally, I've reproduced the rules I posted to my server; feel free to modify these for your own use.

Bidding starts at 12:01 AM on December 4 and ends at 11:59 PM on December 18. For each bundle, the person who has posted the highest bid in that bundle's channel when bidding closes will win the bundle and agrees to pay their highest bid amount.

Editing bids is not permitted.

Each auction bundle contains a curated selection of multiple items united by a theme. Bundles cannot be split or rearranged. If you are the winner of a bundle, let me know if there's something in the bundle you don't want, and I will donate it to Goodwill.

Most items are gently used except where indicated. Photos should help address concerns about item condition. But also, like, this is a garage sale. Everything is as-is, no exchanges, returns, or refunds.

Winners will be messaged on Discord to arrange for payment and delivery (within Austin only). I'll donate all proceeds and match them dollar for dollar to Austin Mutual Aid's "Kick the Cold" fundraising campaign. They're halfway to their $20,000 goal! https://www.gofundme.com/f/kick-the-cold-austin-mutal-aid

If you want to donate cash (and have your donation matched) but don't want to bid on anything, head over to the #⛲・wishing-well channel.

This is meant to provide a lighthearted way to raise money for a good cause while keeping unused items out of landfills and dusty garages. While healthy competition is encouraged, please be mindful that each of us is in unique circumstances in these awful times. Don't feel obligated to overbid or participate at all. And don't be a jerk. I know you won't, though. ♥