Garden State Philharmonic—Online Auction

Raising funds with an online auction


Searching for a new development method, the Garden State Philharmonic launched an online auction in late May 2006. Publicity leading up to the event centered around program inserts and e-mails; the e-mails were also used throughout the three-week course of the auction. The day after the online auction closed, a new live auction began. The two auctions were linked, using the winning bid of the online auction to start bids in the live event.

Items for the auction were solicited by volunteer members of the organization. Paintings, hot air balloon flights, a conducting opportunity, designer watches, and spa treatments were all up for sale. The auction organizer, cMarket, also provided big-ticket items such as family vacation packages to Disneyland, London, and Canada on consignment. When organizing the items, the Garden State Philharmonic only needed to set an estimated value and write a description; cMarket provided the online framework to bring the auction onto the Internet.

Benefits of an auction facilitator:

Due to limited human resources, the Garden State Philharmonic needed an organization to facilitate their online auction with moldable templates for easy configuration. With cMarket, they received:

  • a web page with the Garden State Philharmonic logo and other identifiers
  • an internal administration page with instructions and examples, facilitating the entire process
  • the opportunity to create graphic-intensive e-mail messages and highlight items for sale
  • the ability to import large lists of e-mail contacts, and subsequently send out the e-mail
  • a market place of consignable big ticket items, such as a "day-long fighter pilot experience" or an African Safari trip

Process of online auction:

When a bidder decided to join the auction, s/he was first required to complete a user profile with a login screen name and password. Users selected items after browsing through the web site, organized by different categories. The bidder kept track of bids with a home page called "My Watches" designed to track the status of multiple items and send the bidder an e-mail when one of the items received a competing bid. To increase bidding momentum, the Garden State Philharmonic used incentives. The first 25 bidders each received a set of four music lessons donated by a local performing arts school, while the last person to bid before the auction closed received a season subscription.


The majority of online auction participants were female baby-boomers; older patrons freely admitted a reluctance to provide credit card information online (despite the website’s accredited security measures). During the course of online bidding, some items increased 400 percent in price. The Garden State Philharmonic raised the most amount of money from the live auction, but also spent the most on the live event. The online mechanism provided a foundation for the live event and leverage for soliciting new business "event" sponsorships. The orchestra entertained over 150 people at the live auction, while the number of online participants was fewer.

Plans for next time:

  • Plan more than six months in advance.
  • Raise $10,000.
  • Sell gifts that are better suited to the audience of buyers.
  • Sell mid-range gifts (that are more expensive than $100, but less expensive than $6,000).
  • Create a larger team of individuals to assist the project.
  • Offer better packaging: Instead of a dinner, offer dinner with the conductor. Instead of music lessons, offer music lessons with opportunity to own an instrument.

Orchestras who have used a similar program:
American Composers Orchestra
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Boston Baroque Orchestra

For additional info contact:
Darlene A. Dreyer, Executive Director, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.