By Courtney Phillips
In an unexpectedly groundbreaking meeting in 2014, members of the KidsPeace board of associates boisterously debated ways to support the Fayetteville division of the foster care non-profit that has quietly gone about the work of changing the lives of foster children in the eastern United States for the past 135 years. Locally, KidsPeace offers essential services such as counseling, intensive alternative family treatment, therapeutic foster care, psychiatric services, and enhanced therapeutic foster care.
Words and ideas were volleyed about the table: “Charity!” “Philanthropy!” “Big Event!” “Auction!”
“Charity,” mused Jerry McDonald, KidsPeace board member and Fayetteville business owner. He recalled, “When someone said, ‘Auction,’ it clicked. Chair-ity Auction. I immediately went to Godaddy.com and bought the website.”
The board worked tirelessly and, within three months, held the first annual Chair-ity Auction for a crowd of 30. Sixteen well-worn wooden chairs, intricately hand painted by local artists, were sold to raise an admirable $1,600 for KidsPeace. “We were high-fiving each other,” said Jerry. “Growing a business is great, making money is great, but you can’t put a dollar amount on helping these foster kids.”
Jerry, owner of OnlyN Door, a full-service marketing and advertising company that uniquely utilizes indoor advertising billboards and digital media screens, immediately recognized potential for growth.
The second annual auction raised $25,000, with one of the chairs—painted by a KidsPeace foster child—fetching $1,600. In a breathtaking moment, the chair winner donated it to the foster mother of the child who painted it. “The energy in the room was amazing,” said Jerry.
Last year, the event raised a remarkable $44,000. Despite destructive downtown flooding the week before Hurricane Matthew, three hundred people attended the event at the Metropolitan Room.
“I’m thinking we’re going to do about $55,000 this year,” said Jerry confidently.
The Business of Philanthropy
“I will say we are not the first ones to do a Chair-ity Auction in Fayetteville, but we thought we were the first ones,” Jerry laughed. Nonetheless, the team started from scratch. He attributes the event’s explosion in popularity to Facebook advertising. “We document the chairs being passed out, in process, and professionally photographed by Raul Rubiera at the end. I try to treat it like a business. If you’re going to raise money for something, believe in it the whole year.” Chairs are presented to artists at an official kick-off at the ReStore Warehouse each April.
An unexpected positive effect of the event is the increased visibility and awareness of KidsPeace in the community, or in Jerry’s words, that the auction is “helping to grow the brand.” Local philanthropic organizations are beginning to hold events to benefit KidsPeace – on their own. Cape Beard, a local beard and moustache club, supports KidsPeace with their annual Bearded Beauties Pageant. All American Tattoo Convention is a supporter. A local car club donates proceeds from their car show each year. Kickback Jack’s supports KidsPeace with a bike night.
Artists clamor to donate their time. This year, nearly 100 artists applied to paint a chair. “You’d think they’d run out of ideas, but they just keep on going,” said Jerry, motioning to the foyer of his office. Overlooking downtown Fayetteville, clients are greeted by a collection of wooden chairs of all shapes and sizes, though the bulk of donated chairs are housed by the event’s presenting sponsor, The ReStore Warehouse.
In the transformation of the chairs, Jerry finds a poignant parallel: “When we get them in, they’re worn down, battered and bruised, very similar to how foster kids come into the system. We give that chair to the artist, who donates their love and time to give this chair new life, just like foster parents, who give the children a new purpose and a new life.”
“There are so many people to thank. I couldn’t do it without my team. My team couldn’t do it without the sponsors,” Jerry said gratefully, as he rattled off an impressive fleet of sponsors, including in-kind sponsors like Paddy’s Irish Pub, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Healy Wholesale and Mutual Distributing Company. Yellow Crayons, The UPS Store, 219 Group, Five Star Entertainment, A+ Moving and Storage and Carolina Specialties International are integral to the success of the event, as well.
He passionately relayed impactful personal stories of Fayetteville foster children who receive needed care from funds raised and accounts of spontaneous generosity at the event. “Last year, Paddy’s not only provided the liquor, but the bartenders as well. At the end of the night, those bartenders donated the $2,000 in the tip jars,” Jerry said.
Despite the magic of the evening, he finds it difficult to simply stand by and enjoy the fun. “I’m always making mental notes of how I will make it better next year.” This year, guests can expect a digital upgrade, utilizing an app for bidding and touch screen kiosks to streamline the checkout process.
How it Works
Keep an eye peeled downtown – beginning the week before the Folk Festival, chairs will be on display in the windows of various shops. For more than a fleeting glance, the event website will feature each chair and artist. Website voting will drive selection of the 30 chairs offered in the exciting live auction.
An additional 25 chairs will be sold in a silent auction in the Metropolitan Room on the night of the event. Using the Handbid mobile bidding app, silent auction chairs will be available for bidding days prior to the event, and will close online shortly after the live auction begins.
“By the day of the event, we will have money committed through the silent auction,” said Jerry excitedly.
On the Road
When asked about future plans, Jerry quietly tabulated the number of chairs in storage then talked of chairs donated by local restaurant Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, sturdy desk chairs from Cumberland County Schools, Arrow Pest Control’s donation of church chairs thoughtfully designed to hold a Bible and hymnal . . . Jerry doesn’t turn down a sturdy, free chair.
Jerry and supporters of the Chair-ity Auction appreciate that the money stays local, but he quickly noted that the organization has 37 offices in 7 states. “Our ultimate goal is to take this event on the road to help KidsPeace foster kids all over the country. I have all of those chairs in storage. It would be a shame for them to just sit there for the next ten years.”
Interested in supporting the 4th Chair-ity Auction? Tickets are available online at www.chairityauction.com for $25, or $30 at the door on the night of the event. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and the live auction begins at 6 p.m.. The event offers a myriad of sponsorship opportunities, both monetary and in-kind. A full application can be found on the website. Levels of support are aptly named: Love, Healing, Hope, and Help.