How much would you pay to drive Michael Andretti’s racecar? How about getting up on stage with a rock star?
When opportunities like these arise at live auctions during benefit galas, lots of high rollers can’t resist, knowing their money’s going to a good cause.
“You can get a little caught up in the excitement of the live auctions,” says Mark Ein, CEO of Venturehouse Group. At the fall YouthAIDS gala, Ein bid $7,000 for the chance to accompany Ashley Judd, the organization’s global ambassador, and Salma Hayek on a trip to Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Ein’s seven grand got him only the opportunity—he still has to foot the bill for his own travel.
Also offered that night:
• An at-home, seven-course dinner for eight with wine pairings by CityZen chef Eric Ziebold. It went for $10,000 to Jay Rappaport, former Vonage USA president.
• A chance to sing onstage at one of the Bacon Brothers’ concerts, won for $4,000 by tech entrepreneur Richard Kay.
• A trip around the track in Andretti’s racecar at 180 mph and a seat in his family’s box at any of several races. Fellow racer Dario Franchitti threw in a helicopter ride (he’s a licensed helicopter pilot). Real-estate developer Bob Kettler got it all for $20,000.
Auction leaders compete to offer the biggest draws, like the Super Bowl package at the annual Leukemia Ball. Construction magnate Tony Giachinta has been involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for years, but he’d always been outbid for the package.
“After 9/11 we heard so many people saying, ‘Life is too short,’ so we told our wives that we wanted to have this guys’ trip to the Super Bowl each year,” he says. “We all have our ways of getting the tickets—often through auctions like these.”
This year, with a bid of $7,500, he finally won the package—including two tickets to Super Bowl XLI, four nights at the official NFL hotel, invitations to the Commissioner’s Party, and a celebratory postgame dinner.
Some auction items allow the high bidder to treat others. One offer at November’s Knock Out Abuse Against Women event: a holiday party in the winner’s home, with dinner and wine for 20 by Zola chef Frank Morales and decorations by Amaryllis florists. Melissa Showalter, wife of real-estate mogul Rick Showalter, won the honors by bidding $6,000.
At the YouthAIDS gala, AOL’s Ted Leonsis and Kay, a fellow partner in the group that owns the Capitals and Wizards, paid $16,000 for a behind-the-scenes tour of Ashton Kutcher’s MTV television show Punk’d. Apparently the package was a gift for their daughters.
Darcars VP Tammy Darvish donated the most sought-after item auctioned at the last Bobby Mitchell/Toyota Hall of Fame Banquet: a trip for six aboard her family’s 130-foot Westport yacht. The bidding on the six-day, island-hopping Caribbean cruise was fierce enough that Darvish and her family decided to bend the rules.
“When the bidding got to be so high, my father said, ‘Let’s give them two trips if they’re willing to donate that much,’ ” says Darvish, who cochaired the fundraiser.
In the end, real-estate developer Brad Kline and advertising executive Dave Pivec each paid $50,000 for their trips.