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Do Well by Doing Good Sure, you can make money on eBay--but did you know you can make a difference, too? eBay makes it easy and rewarding to give back to the community.

By Marcia Layton Turner

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

At some point in our lives, we've all bought Girl Scout cookies or Boy Scout popcorn, volunteered to work at a local charity event, dropped off old clothing at the local Salvation Army or donated money to a special cause. For many of us, lending a hand or a dollar to a needy organization makes us feel good.

Fortunately, donating through eBay is yet another way to support a cause or organization you appreciate--and expand your eBay sales at the same time. eBay has developed a number of initiatives that connect nonprofits with their supporters. In addition, eBay buyers and sellers have also come up with their own ways of offering support.

eBay Giving Works
In an effort to make it easy for buyers and sellers to do business while supporting their favorite charities, eBay developed the eBay Giving Works program in 2003. "It's our dedicated program for charity listings on eBay," says Kristin Cunningham, general manager of eBay Giving Works.

Sellers can donate as little as 10 percent (or at least $5) of an item's final selling price to an organization of their choice, simply by selecting "Donate a percentage of the sale" in the appropriate field during the item listing process. More information can be found at

Once sellers do their part by putting an item up for sale, eBay does its part to encourage such grass-roots fundraising. Sellers who set aside a percentage of a listing's selling price as part of the eBay Giving Works program receive a credit toward the Insertion and Final Value Fees equal to the percentage they're donating. So a 10 percent donation yields a 10 percent credit toward eBay fees, which encourages more charitable giving.

The eBay Giving Works program is sponsored by eBay and administered by MissionFish, which collects the donations, distributes the funds to the chosen charities and gives tax receipts to the sellers. MissionFish also screens all organizations before allowing them to participate, explains Clam Lorenz, director of operations at MissionFish. "Any tax-deductible organization qualifies, from your kid's PTA to the American Red Cross to schools and churches," he says. As long as their mission does not advocate violence, intolerance or hatred, most organizations are permitted to participate.

Currently, nearly 10,000 organizations have been certified by MissionFish for the eBay Giving Works program. Since 2000, more than $86 million has been raised for charity from items sold on eBay worldwide.

Donating a Portion of Sales to Charity
One seller who supports a cause by donating a portion of his company's sales on eBay is Nir Hollander, owner of Gem Stone King (eBay User ID: gemstoneking) in New York City, who sells diamonds, gemstones and fine jewelry.

When Hollander receives "Spotlight on a Cause" e-mails from MissionFish alerting him of upcoming charitable giving programs, he selects items to sell that will benefit the specific causes, which have ranged from disaster relief to breast cancer to health, global poverty, education and the arts, to name a few.

"I try to support all the campaigns," says Hollander, adding that he finds it natural to give back. "[eBay] made it easy for us [to give]. You need something that isn't a hassle for your business." Hollander, 33, who is also a Titanium PowerSeller (which means he sells at least $150,000 per month), relies on automation tools that make donations part of his listing template. As a result, donating has become almost second nature to Hollander and his business.

Banding Together to Donate
Tiffany Hageman, owner of Knoxville, Illinois-based My Only Princess (eBay User ID: my*only*princess), who designs and makes custom jewelry for women and children using beads, crystals, pearls and gemstones, runs quarterly charity listings on eBay with the help and support of 500 fellow eBay members who sell handcrafted children's clothing and accessories. They met on an eBay discussion board and then created a website devoted to their new group, Boutique Angels Charity Organization. The members meet online quarterly to select which charitable organization will benefit from their campaign.

In 2004, their first campaign benefited Toys for Tots. Since then, they've sold handmade items to support St. Jude Children's Hospital, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the victims of Hurricane Katrina and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

For one week each quarter, 100 percent of the group's eBay sales goes to the chosen charity. There are usually between 150 and 300 participating listings during that time, says Hageman, and the money raised can be substantial. Their most successful program ran for four weeks and raised $30,000 for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Hageman, 30, spends hours coordinating the eBay charitable listings but also earns between $300 and $600 per month on her own.

Direct Selling
The eBay Giving Works program enables individual eBay sellers to donate a portion of an item's proceeds to a particular charity, but nonprofits themselves can also list merchandise for sale and keep 100 percent of the earnings.

Organizations that find themselves with donated items to dispose of--anything from a book collection to jewelry to an RV--can register as eBay sellers. The process of selling items is no different for nonprofits, but the eBay fees involved are. eBay gives a credit toward the selling fees based on the percentage donated, and because 100 percent of the money raised is going to the charity, nonprofits get 100 percent of the fees back, explains Cunningham. "For nonprofits, it's [virtually] free to sell on eBay."

Selling for Nonprofits

However, some nonprofits need a little persuading. In 2000, Mark Silver (eBay User ID: daddymade), an eBay Trading Assistant and Education Specialist in Studio City, California, approached his son's school about adding an eBay component to its annual silent auction dinner. Many of the school's parents are in the entertainment business and routinely donate prized items such as signed scripts, props and photos to be auctioned off to benefit the school. But Silver believed that opening up the bidding beyond the school's walls would drive up prices and net more for the school.

The school's then-director of development was totally against the idea of listing items on eBay, but Silver tried again the following year. This time, the school had a new director, who loved the idea.

That first year, working on his own, Silver raised an additional $20,000 for the school through eBay. One of the biggest sellers was a commemorative poster that had been given only to members of the band Duran Duran. That one poster received bids from around the world and ultimately sold for more than $4,000, says Silver, 51.

That was $4,000 the school earned that the parents didn't have to chip in, he points out. "This is outside money." That is, people not associated with the school ended up contributing a total of $20,000 to the school. And all the parents had to do was provide in-kind donations to auction off.

In-Kind Donations
Providing donations in the form of excess inventory or unneeded equipment is another way for companies to support nonprofit organizations. These in-kind donations--as opposed to cash gifts--are sometimes referred to as "unkind donations" because the receiving organization may have no way to use them (think obsolete computer equipment or a massive pipe organ, for example).

Lacking a means of disposing of such items for profit, most charities simply decline the gifts and miss out on any proceeds. But now they have another option: "eBay is a great way to liquidate goods," says Cunningham. In some cases, the organizations may not even need to take possession of the items, as long as they have access to take photos.

Teaching Seniors to Sell on eBay
Most people have at least heard of eBay, but some may have no idea how to participate in e-commerce. That is where Sirie Thongchua, owner of Pebble Beach, California's S T Pebble and Co. (eBay User ID: stpebble), comes in.

An eBay Trading Assistant and an Education Specialist Trained by eBay, Thongchua combined her love of eBay with her commitment to the Meals on Wheels organization. A former board member for Meals on Wheels of the Monterey Peninsula, she teaches the basics of buying and selling on eBay at area senior centers. Not only does this create a new social network for them online, but it also helps them get rid of stuff they no longer need, says Thongchua, 45. In addition, she teaches similar courses to the general public for a fee of $50 per attendee, which she then donates to Meals on Wheels. So far, Thongchua has single-handedly raised more than $3,000 just through these seminars. That's in addition to the $1,500 she has generated through eBay listings that benefit Meals on Wheels and the thousands of dollars of free publicity Meals on Wheels has received as a byproduct of these classes.

The press releases sent out by Meals on Wheels for Thongchua's classes always net a fair amount of local publicity. That exposure "is a wonderful tool for donor development," she says. After hearing about Meals on Wheels and its upcoming eBay classes, community residents often think of items they can donate that they wouldn't normally have thought of, says Thongchua.

She also benefits through referrals to her Trading Assistant business. And because she's in the process of ramping up her venture to full-time status, that added exposure has yielded valuable referrals.

Bottom Line Impact
Altruism certainly has its rewards, as many sellers have discovered. Volunteering with a local charity has the potential to turn into a business relationship, says Cunningham, such as when nonprofits need help selling in-kind donations they can't use or don't know how to handle. When they're in need of the services of an eBay Trading Assistant, they are more likely to turn to someone they know--someone who has demonstrated a commitment to their cause.

Some Trading Assistants have also discovered that targeting the nonprofit community can be both satisfying and lucrative. Becoming known locally for work with charitable organizations can lead to referrals to similar organizations, which will pay a percentage fee for your services.

In addition to raising money to support a worthy nonprofit, online charity selling often boosts the seller's total proceeds, explains Cunningham. "Buyers are sometimes willing to pay a little more to support a cause," she says. In fact, charity listings can receive up to twice as many bids as noncharity listings, and they tend to have a higher conversion rate, or likelihood of sale, she points out. That means the seller, buyer and organization all win.

Letter of Recommendation
Can't find your favorite nonprofit? Getting it listed is easy.

Want to support a local charity that's not currently listed on MissionFish? If you do a quick search for your favorite nonprofit and discover it's not among the nearly 10,000 certified organizations in the MissionFish database, you can "Recommend a Nonprofit" at

There you'll be asked for the name of the nonprofit, a contact person and his or her e-mail address, as well as your name and contact information. MissionFish takes it from there, sending an e-mail inviting the nonprofit to apply for inclusion.

It generally doesn't take long to verify an organization and set up an account to receive donations electronically, says Clam Lorenz, director of operations at MissionFish. Then you can start donating a percentage of your sales to support their good work.

Status Symbol
Visual elements assure users that their donations are legit.

To make sure buyers are aware that a percentage of a listing's proceeds are going to charity, eBay uses a number of graphic elements to distinguish it. Such visual reminders help increase bidding as well as the final selling price. Watch for these:

  • Listings that are part of the eBay Giving Works program are identified by a blue and yellow ribbon that appears next to the item description.
  • The percentage being donated and the benefiting nonprofit organization are also identified in the item description.
  • To increase exposure for charity listings, eBay features them in the eBay Giving Works search engine and at MissionFish, as well as in the regular eBay listing results.

Marcia Layton Turner's work has appeared in Woman's day, Health and Black Enterprise. She is based in Pittsford, N.Y.

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