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Bachelor Auctions Spur Giving

Sex and the city has brought a new meaning to fundraising.

New York City’s most eligible bachelors, from famed economist Nouriel Roubini to bankers and CEOs, are being auctioned off in the name of charity, and possible love.

“People always want to give and at the same time they always want to find love,” said Willa Bernstein, founder of Manthropy, an organization that hosts bachelor date auctions.

Hard times have put pressure on charities, which have struggled to raise donations amid continued economic uncertainty. Charitable giving fell for a second year in a row with donations down 3.6 percent in 2009, according to the Giving USA Foundation. It marks the first decline in giving since 1987, and only the second since Giving USA started publishing annual reports in 1956.

And as cities and states cut spending, cash generated from creative fundraising like Manthropy is more important to charities than ever.

“We are finding a need to be open to lots of untraditional ways to raise money,” said Jane Golden, assistant executive director for child welfare policy and foster care services at The Children’s Aid Society. “This is not the typical event that Children’s Aid Society benefits from, but it seems really fun, and I know this group has raised money for a lot of great charities.”

Just last March, one New York woman bid $1,850 for Roubini, also known as Dr. Doom, a name he earned for being first to predict the housing bubble and his somewhat dour predictions since. At another event at the Hudson Terrace lounge, one entrepreneur generated the highest bid ever of $10,100. All proceeds went to the Redlight Children Campaign, an organization dedicated to promoting awareness of child sexploitation.

“The men are always willing to volunteer of their time and it doesn’t take any investment on their part,” said Bernstein. “So we’re finding that even in this recession, it’s going very strongly, and we’ve sold out this time and every time.”

Bernstein, 43, a former lawyer, came up with the idea five years ago in response to Hurricane Katrina. She and her girlfriends, some of who were raising children at the time, wanted to help without having to fly down to the gulf coast. Manthropy started off as an annual event and now occurs three times a year. A date auction typically raises $10,000-25,000 a night, though Manthropy’s most recent auction in mid-June raised some $6,000 for The Children’s Aid Society. Bernstein suggested that potential bidders were distracted by other venues within the members-only Soho House.

“Some people may have been excited to see what the rest of Soho House was about,” she said. “I don’t know how much this has to do with the economy and losing a few big bidders.”

At the last auction, female bidders yelled out names and raised numbered paddles made from paper plates as bachelors paraded across a red carpet.

“Why should it always be about women, and not about guys?” said Philip Hordijk, 27, founder of Mappyfriends.com, an online, location-based recommendations network. “Why should not the guys be trophies?”

The date auction trend is going national

While TV shows like “The Bachelor” have fueled a celebrity dating appetite, a decade of “Sex and the City” has made it culturally acceptable for women to “buy” men.

Date Auction
Source: Alist
Date Auction

San Francisco, home to various Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, sports a bachelor auction of its own. Twenty-five of the city’s “most eligible” men were auctioned off at club Ruby Skye this last Thursday. Bachelors included Thomas Foley, 26, the founder and CEO of FinancialOS, a web-based financial operating system, Adam Michael, 35, a hedge fund manager, and Woody Levin, 31, the founder & CEO of BringIt, an online gaming site.

While the auction typically draws 1,200 people and raises some $100,000, the last event pulled just $80,000. The highest bid went to Chippendale's dancer Billy Jeffrey for $3,500.

“The median bidder of this event is actually the S&P 500 if you look closely,” said Anupam Dalal, chair of the bachelor auction, a 38-year-old health care venture capitalist. “In June 2008, it was our best bidding year ever, but largely because we quantum-leaped ourselves in terms of package value. It should have been much better.”

Dates range from a full-expensed weekend trip to Las Vegas, $1,200 lash extensions, and a private dancing lesson with Chris Judd, Michael Jackson’s former lead dancer. At the last auction, Judd and four dancers performed on stage in front of a crowd of screaming women.

Corporate sponsors included Benefit Cosmetics, Saks Fifth Avenueand Total Experience, a subsidiary of Harris Casino.

The Guardsmen, the auction organizer, is made up of 150 men who raise money for at-risk kids. The organization tends to draw men from the financial industry. The Guardsmen also hold a wine auction, which typically grosses $550,000, a sports memorabilia and tickets auction, which grosses up to $300,000, and a Christmas tree sale which generates $300,000.

And while New York’s Manthropy dates have resulted in two to three subsequent meetings, dates coordinated by the Guardsmen in San Francisco have resulted in three marriages.

“We have a tremendous number of applicants to be auctioned off so we’re able to screen guys very carefully,” said Dalal. “One test that I used with these guys is would I want this guy to date my sister?”