Is Flipping A Charity Auction Item Going Too Far?

Our son’s preschool has run a charity auction for a number of years, I believe this was the 12th year.  Being that this is his first year, and our first year involved with the school, we were excited to see what it was all about.

The goal was to raise $5,000 toward the school.  This helps keep the costs relatively low, as well as the fact that it’s a co-op, so they have less staff being that the parents participate.

The auction consisted of two different elements, one was buying tickets, and then putting them in buckets corresponding to certain prize draws.  Some of the items included:

  • A package of Disney DVDs, games, figurines, and other assorted goods
  • A basket of wine, liquor, and other assorted ‘adult’ goodies
  • Gift cards to Target, Kroger, or other big stores
  • Gift cards to local restaurants
  • A box of Twinkies

So, you can see that the prizes were far ranging.  All were in great fun.

The second item was a silent auction.  Here, about 75 items, all donated by local businesses or friends of the school, were available where you could write your name next to a line on a sheet of paper.  The person who got the highest bid won.  In many cases, the ‘value’ of the item was listed, as it would be the value of the item if it were sold at regular price.

Many items sold at or near their value.  Some sold way below.  We actually got a four-pack of tickets to a Detroit Pistons game, and two activity centers for children for $25, where this probably would have cost over $100.

Again, the items here were all over the map in terms of pricing.  The two highest ‘valued’ items were the ones that caught my eye.

  1. A bundle consisting of a brand new Wii U, a controller, a game, and some other accessories
  2. A four pack of park hopper tickets to Disney World.

Both had assigned values right around $500.  And both caught my eye, not because I wanted them, but because I thought that they could be valuable.

I even whipped out my smartphone to look and see what these types of items were selling for on eBay.  The Wii U pack was selling for around $400 on eBay.  It ended up selling for $410, so it was around the correct value.

The Disney tickets were selling for around $100 per ticket.  The ‘retail value’ was $124 per ticket, so anything less than $400 was a potential opportunity.

I mentioned it to my wife, and she was aghast.  She didn’t think that it was right to make money off of a charity auction.  I pointed out that the school didn’t pay for the items, and that if I bid for them, they would actually get more money, since I would be bidding higher than the person who had won them.

Really, would the school care what the use of the tickets was or were they interested in the proceeds of those tickets?  I guess there might be some element of both.

My wife ended up looking at the name on the list, and noting that the person with the highest bid (who ended up winning) was actually planning on using them for their family.  She prohibited me from writing my name, and kept a watchful eye.

Since the names of the winners (but not the final bid) were announced, I realized later that this could have reflected poorly on us.  If other members saw that we had purchased them, but then found out we never used them, they could have figured out that we flipped the tickets.  Since my wife didn’t think much of the practice, it’s certainly possible that others might not have as well.

In the end, it was an idea that I merely considered, but when my wife said no, I didn’t fight back at all.  Given the fact that it was for our son’s preschool and that it could have reflected poorly on our family, I’m glad I didn’t.

However, it brings to mind if this is an opportunity elsewhere.  After all, this was an event that was technically open to the public.  What if Joe Blow off the street had come in and done exactly what I had considered.  Joe would have had no affiliation to the school and therefore would never have been judged by other members.  Would he have been doing anything wrong if he had come in, outbid those who had placed bids, and gotten the tickets?  Technically, no, not at all.

So, maybe those charity auctions you see, maybe there’s an opportunity or two there.  Or does it still make it unscrupulous even if you aren’t affiliated with the actual organization throwing the charity?

Just curious what your thoughts were.  Is this crossing the line into being a vulture or completely within bounds?

And for the record, the package of tickets was listed at $270 moments before the auction closed, so they definitely went for below market price.