Student Organized Auction Nets $10,500 for Scholarships

Posted: April 26, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: April 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm

By Robin Herron

Dani Miller, left, and Brittany Burkhart worked through a series of setbacks to pull off a phenomenally successful universitywide fund-raiser. Photo by Evan Cantwell

They may not yet realize it, but Brittany Burkhart and Dani Miller can pretty much write their own ticket if they decide to go into professional fund raising.

With only two months to plan, the Mason sophomores defied all odds in organizing an auction they called GBAY that netted more than $10,500 for Mason scholarships.

Best friends since they attended freshman orientation together, Burkhart and Miller are members of the Mason Ambassadors, a program of the Office of Admissions that encourages pride among the Mason community by promoting the unique traditions and opportunities that define the university. Together the two students chair the Ambassadors Service Committee.

Last fall, they were mulling over ideas for service projects and decided on the auction. Raising money for scholarships was one of their main goals, of course, but another goal was to hold an activity that would bring the campus community together and involve multiple groups in the planning and implementation. They were successful on that score as well.

“We wanted to change the atmosphere at Mason, where everything is siloed — Program Board does their own thing, the Greeks [sororities and fraternities] run their things, we run our own things — and develop a more traditional college atmosphere where everyone works together,” explains Miller.

Adds Burkhart, “Everyone we asked for help was so cooperative, from the President’s Office to Dining Services to the Greeks.”

The two credit Dean of Admissions Andrew Flagel with sparking their interest in the auction and getting them started. Flagel had been involved with a similar auction at another university and had saved his notes and records from that event. But even Flagel admits he was skeptical that the two Ambassadors could carry off the event in such a short time frame.

“They just had such enormous drive, energy and commitment to this event,” he says.

Not a Piece of Cake

Miller maps out strategy with auctioneers Ricky Malabranche and Andrew Flagel. Photo by Aaron Arenas

The project was no cakewalk either. Miller and Burkhart say their lives were pretty much consumed in February and March (the event was held April 1) with sending out 1,000 letters and contacting “anyone we could think of who might donate an item or an intangible,” says Miller.

Then, “every possible wrench was thrown at us,” laughs Miller.

“We had Snowpocalypse,” says Burkhart, “when no one did anything for a week.”

“And spring break, when no one answered e-mails for a week,” says Miller.

“And Easter, when a lot of people went away for a few days,” says Burkhart.

“Then President Obama came. And then there was Greek Week. And Brittany shattered her finger,” Miller says, ticking off more obstacles.

In the end, however, 110 auction items or services were secured, 500 bidding tickets were sold, and the event grossed $14,229.11. Their planning was so thorough that the only task left after the event was to turn over the proceeds to the Development Office, which will administer the funds.

The auction turned out to be entertainment itself, with Flagel and Ricky Malabranche, who conducted the live auction, making the most out of bidding wars, and competition during the final moments of the silent auction nearly causing fisticuffs, the organizers report.

$280 for a Sandwich

Bidding was fun but sometimes fierce. Photo by Aaron Arenas

Bidding was fierce on some items, especially a guaranteed “super single” dorm room (final bid $1,550), and having a sandwich in La Patisserie designed and named for oneself. That bidding escalated to the point that Flagel put in a quick call to Dining Services and got the okay for a second sandwich to have naming rights. The bidders each paid $280 for their sandwich (diners can look for Steve Steppe and Hassanahtull H. El-Yacoubi sandwiches soon).

Other popular auction sales were spending a day as the Mason president, priority registration for classes, reserved parking, Redskins tickets and round-trip airline tickets.

“It was a really fun event and folks had a really good time,” says Flagel. “Dani and Brittany fulfilled their mission as chairs of the service committee, but they also had the desire to start something with a broader, campuswide focus.”

One might think the students had previously planned a major event, but they say their only experience even somewhat related was taking a class on wedding planning. Burkhart is a public health major and Miller is a marketing and management major.

“Most of it was just flying by the seat of our pants,” says Miller.

Flush with their success, Miller and Burkhart have already vowed to organize the event again next year, but they are starting their planning now.

Decisions they have made so far include moving the auction to the Johnson Center Dewberry Hall (it was held in the Atrium this year), and holding it in February next year. They also have plans to ensure the auction becomes a Mason tradition by training other Ambassadors on how to run the event. By the time they are seniors, they expect to be advisors to younger students who will have taken up the mantle.

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