PITTSFIELD -- With revenues flatter than they used to be, businesses tend to consolidate in order to compete. That means there are fewer people employed. While those strategies may help the bottom line, they tend to hamper giving to fundraising events, especially for organizations that hold charity auctions.
"It affects our club in a lot of ways," said Gregory Knight, the president of the Pittsfield Rotary Club, which held its 22nd annual auction on Saturday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Founded in 1920, the club has roughly half the members it had in the 1980s, Knight said, which means it has less resources to draw from. Plus, local businesses are dealing with the effects of a still-recovering economy, which means they can't always been as generous donating items as in past years.
"Fifteen or 20 years ago the club was a lot bigger," Knight said. "But because of consolidations of banks or law firms of whatever, we don't have either the amount of resources or the number of businesses out there right now. So our membership shrinks, and when it shrinks we have to rely on more people to get those items."
The Pittsfield Rotary Club's annual auction takes place on the last weekend of January. It is the club's largest fundraising event of the year. Since the event's inception in 1991, the Rotary Club has raised more than $1 million for a variety of community organizations, including $230,000 over the last five years. The club raised around $30,000 last year, and hoped to raise around $40,000 at Saturday's event.
So how do fundraising auctions like the Pittsfield Rotary's stay relevant? Knight said the club has had to "think outside the box."
"We do something to keep it fresh," he said.
One of the new angles the club has begun to explore are dinner-themed events at club member's homes that those who attend the auction can bid on. This year's selections included a "Turkey Trot" and a "Roll Your Own Sushi Party."
"This is just stuff that Kelly and I used to do for the auction after-parties," said Rotary Club member Jay Marion, referring to his wife. "Someone said why don't you sell this.
"We're always trying to find inventive things," he added.
Knight said Pittsfield Rotary is also toying with the idea of holding an online auction that takes place in conjunction with the live auction at the Crowne Plaza. Pittsfield Rotary has a Facebook page, but the club hasn't completely grasped the concept of using social media yet.
"We should," he said. "It's tough because all of us have jobs, and we put a lot into it. That's probably going to be the future [of the auction], where it goes."
Despite the current economic conditions, Knight said the number of items up for bid Saturday declined only slightly from last year. With fewer businesses, Knight said it becomes harder for the club to ask the same people for assistance every year. But he said some businesses have been extremely generous. One local restaurant put up a package that allows patrons to spend $50 a month for 12 months.
The club also has a different theme for each year's auction. This year's theme, "Superbowl Saturday" took an unintended jolt last week when the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship Game. But the club decided not to change direction.
"We were hoping that the Patriots would get in," Knight said. "But we've never used it before."
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