MBAs give back: Coordinating the Community Impact Auction

Sheri Hunter and friends working at a raffle ticket table
Left to right: Carrie Or, One-Year MBA ’19, Katie Colton, MBA ’20, and Sheri Hunter, MBA ’20, working the raffle ticket table together

By Sheri Hunter, Two-Year MBA ’20 and Consortium Member

Each year, Johnson hosts its annual Community Impact Auction to benefit the Community Foundation of Tompkins County. Students, faculty, staff, and local Tompkins County businesses donate items to be included in a raffle or featured in an auction, and the Johnson community then bids on them. Proceeds are given to the Community Foundation, where they are dispersed to fill grants for organizations in the local community, all of which our MBA students have identified in advance of the auction.

Putting on an auction is all about planning in advance

As auction chair, the Community Impact board and I began preparing for the auction in February. Club president Katie Colton, MBA ’20, and I first needed to retrieve and sift through the wealth of data provided by the students who ran the auction last year. Most importantly, we had to identify and reach out to donors who had previously contributed and ask them to donate again this year. Once these faculty and staff, businesses, and students were contacted, we reached out to the broader Johnson and local business communities to inform them of the auction and ask if they would be interested in participating. This was done with the help of Student Activities & Events, our Student Council, and fellow classmates with personal connections. Through weeks of reminder emails, back-and-forth communication, and the occasional mail-merge mishap, we confirmed 79 student donations, 28 faculty and staff donations, and 36 local business donations. In collaboration with fellow Consortium member Joyclyn Ragira, MBA ’20 MBA, who is also club chair of Student Council, we were also able to secure donations from 29 clubs.

Though we pestered the Johnson community about donating quite frequently, marketing the event was still key. The board created flyers to put around Sage Hall, had tables in the atrium to sell raffle tickets, invited our classmates to the event via Facebook, created info slides for each and every donation, and sent numerous GroupMe and Slack updates. We did our best to ensure that everyone knew the auction was happening.

Once the marketing and donations were set, other logistics needed to be sorted—the menu for Sage Social, accessing screens and the sound system, setting up tables, and deciding who the funds would actually be going to. Thankfully, Rhonda from Student Activities & Events was there for us every step of the way to ensure day-of logistics were set. After meeting with multiple individuals with insight into the community, we identified three organizations to receive our funds: the Paul Schreurs Memorial Program, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, and Ithaca Health Alliance.

As the event got closer and closer, I found myself neglecting my other obligations, losing sleep, and becoming increasingly on edge, but I was determined to make this the most successful auction yet and reminded myself of the impact the hard work would have on the local community.

Students scanning the silent auction items up for bid
Silent auction attendees browse the items being bid on

A Sage Hall silent auction that was anything but

At around 9 a.m., I headed to Sage after picking up a last-minute business donation. Katie and the board were already there, setting up the silent auction and raffle tables and selling raffle tickets. After what felt like only an hour (but was actually seven), the time had come.

The live auction started out with a bang. In cow and dinosaur suits, our MCs pushed through the loud echoes of the atrium to secure winning bids for our 12 largest donations. Meanwhile, students, faculty, and staff roamed the tables, writing down bids for the silent auction items and dropping raffle tickets into the relevant bags. The clock was ticking, and as Sage Social came to a close, people were running around the room to ensure that their bid was the winning one.

Student buying auction item

Once the auction was over, the real work began. We needed to collect payment from the winners, which proved to be more difficult than imagined. Many eager students went immediately to the cashier to officially claim their item, but many more did not. All silent auction sheets needed to be collected, and the winners and their bids needed to immediately be recorded. By the end of the evening, Katie, Micaela Lucero (another Consortium member), and I were sitting alone in the atrium totaling spreadsheets, counting cash, and desperately trying to access Venmo. Yet, we departed with a great sigh of relief—we had collected more than $24,000, a school record and $6,000 more than the previous year.

Tying up loose ends and looking back on lessons learned

It was then our responsibility to contact every winner and ask them for payment. Some winners backed out, so we had to reach out to the second-highest bidder and see if they would be willing to accept. A strict deadline was set, and after said date had passed, we sent out details to claim their items. For non-physical items, we connected winners and donors to coordinate fulfillment. A school-wide email was deployed announcing our success and thanking the community for their efforts in making it happen.

A couple weeks later, the process still wasn’t over. The board continued to send out thank-you emails, coordinate disbursement of the funds, and remind winners to pick up their items.

Though hectic and often overwhelming, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I learned communication and project management skills, as well as event planning best practices. Most importantly, I gained unparalleled respect and admiration for the immense support from Community Impact and the board, the administration, and the generous Johnson and greater Ithaca communities.

Here’s to an even better auction next year!

About Sheri Hunter, Two-Year MBA ’20

Sheri Hunter

Sheri Hunter is a first-year MBA candidate at Johnson. Before business school, Sheri worked as a development operations coordinator for Cradles to Crayons, a Boston-based nonprofit providing children with clothing, school supplies, and other essential items they need to thrive. Prior to Cradles to Crayons, Sheri worked in fundraising for another nonprofit organization. She also served a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. This summer, Sheri will be joining Bank of America as part of the Global Technology & Operations Development Internship Program. She holds a BA in international business from Rollins College in Florida, where she grew up.