Your Thoughts: How to Increase the Accessibility of the Stonemaier Games Charity Auction in 2018

2 November 2017 | 49 Comments

Yesterday I launched Stonemaier Games’ annual charity auction, and it has already raised about $9,450 for 10 different charities. The generosity of the 10 currently winning bidders–and all bidders–is staggering.

The way our annual charity auction works is that I pick a special, timely Stonemaier product–in this case, an early signed copy of Charterstone enhanced by the recharge pack, Top Shelf realistic resources, and Meeplesource meeples–and pair 1 of them with 10 different tabletop bloggers, podcasters, and video creators whom I admire and follow.

The winning bid for each auction item (say, $400) is doubled by Stonemaier (total of $800) for a donation made to a charity of the content creator’s choice. If you can’t place a bid, you can still “thumb” your favorite participating content creators, because the creator with the most thumbs also gets an early copy of Charterstone to review for their adoring audience.

The intent is not just to raise money for good causes, but also share some great content creators with the gaming community. It’s one of my favorite things that we do.

However, over the last few years there’s always been a few people who tell me that they with they could participate in the auction, but they don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on a game. I remind them that they can still thumb the content creators, share the auction, or make smaller donations directly to the various charities, but I understand that those options don’t make people feel as engaged as active bidders.

So while this is fresh on my mind, I thought I’d mention a few options to see if I can find an appealing solution for 2018 without changing the core of the charity auction (because, honestly, it works really well).

  • Donation: Perhaps we could set up a way for people to publicly donate small amounts to the auction charities, with Stonemaier matching those donations. I think this would be difficult to track and manage.
  • Raffle: In addition to the 10 auction items, people would have the option to spend $10 through the Stonemaier website on a raffle ticket, with the winner of the raffle would receive an 11th auction item. All raffle proceeds would go to a charity selected by someone (me?), and maybe Stonemaier would match it as well. While I think this idea has potential, I would say it’s my least favorite proposal, because it undermines the generosity of those paying $400+ for the same auction item. I don’t know the legality of this kind of raffle (non-profits can get away from it, but we’re not a non-profit), and BoardGameGeek may have rules against it. Also, I want to separate the idea that this auction is about getting a “good deal” on a game. I actually made a point of highlighting that in a related post in the Charterstone Facebook group yesterday.
  • Purchase: For this year’s auction, two elements are the realistic resources from Top Shelf Gamer and the custom meeples from Meeplesource. It’s likely our partners will have related products like this in the future. What if people could purchase those items during the 5 days of the auction at a slightly higher price than normal (say, $15 instead of $10), with the extra money being matched by Stonemaier and going to a charity of the retailer’s choice? I like this a lot, as it avoids the raffle problems. The one big concern I have is that we’d probably need various retailers for these products in different regions so non-US customers can participate.
  • Other: I’m open to your ideas. The goal is to allow people to financially participate in the auction at smaller dollar amounts than the typical winning bid without undermining the generosity of people who are spending $400+. A big constraint is that I’m definitely not looking to directly ship out hundreds of items–I’ve moved away from managing fulfillment.

Let me know what you think! Do you like any of those ideas, or do you have another idea? Feel free to check out the auction to have some context for this discussion.

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49 Comments on “Your Thoughts: How to Increase the Accessibility of the Stonemaier Games Charity Auction in 2018

  1. As someone who has experience raising tens of thousands for charity over the years, I’d recommend working with other folks who have things to offer in the auction, offering smaller packages would work as well, things like signed copies of art work, co-host a blog with you. Write a blog post. Perhaps you could get someone on table-top games to play with those guys in an episode! I’m sure you’d get a big bid for that. Also as your charities expand work with other local brands to raise awareness. Perhaps tickets to a six-flags or other such things.

  2. A little late to the party but I’ll just comment that the timing of the auction could also be a factor in visibility – BGG has the JVMA on plus all the Secret Santa’s starting, it’s during/just after Essen, and folks are gearing up budgets for Christmas…. have you thought perhaps of having the auction at a different time of year?

    1. That’s certainly a thought, though we’ve always done it at this time of year, and we’re not hurting for visibility or donations–this year we raised more than any other year even before the match. The idea of accessibility is more about how to engage more than just the big bidders.

      1. Late to the game here but here are a few things to consider:
        * Raffle for a different Stonemaier game from the one that is part of the charity. This should alleviate the concern of how the winning bidders feels about someone getting the same product for $10
        * Raffles and/or sales of limited art prints. You’re games tend to have gorgeous art so why not use that?
        * Limited charity-only promos. Consider making these witty or silly. Something that won’t upset people over the limited availability.

  3. One way to increase the appeal (Is it even possible?) of the charity drive would to offer an experience. An afternoon playing Charterstone, Scythe etc. With you or a major board game personality would give a draw factor!

    1. Thanks Oliver! I did something like that on my original Viticulture Kickstarter campaign, but it ended up feeling really weird to charge people to play games with me (especially since I would gladly do that without charging anything–I often host random guests who are passing through St. Louis at my weekly game night). But I like the spirit of your idea, to provide a special experience.

      1. If they left with the actual game board that was played (maybe signed/the box signed) it would make their version extra special to them. Could say they literally played that game with you whenever it was brought to the table.

  4. I think that you have a little bit of a paradox here. The purpose of a auction is to provide access to products of “significant” value, which prices many people out of the market. I think that if you want to maximize involvement then you need to offer something at a fixed price. Which is why I think that the promos that others have talked about are such a good idea.

    I also like the idea of taking something like the realistic resources and offering them for a little bit more money. Some would definitely accuse you of self promotion, but I look at it differently. Meeple source (and others) as well as your self make money here, but you would also raise more money for the charities. You would also donate more money in matching contributions. That sounds like a win-win to me. Some people would feel better about the charity getting less money as long as you don’t get any money from it, but I find that confusing. I really enjoyed that following podcast about how we view charitable giving

    As a far out, crazy idea: involve game stores. Say that people can pledge money to one of the charities with the name of their FLGS attached. Whichever FLGS raises the most money, gets to have a Charterstone or whatever the next game is launch party. Maybe you would even be willing to fly out and personally teach them the game.

    1. Thanks for sharing, John. Prior to this week, I hadn’t thought about the goal of maximizing involvement in terms of money–it’s been more about sharing content creators I love with as many people as possible, and raising some money for charity in the meantime. But I’m certainly open to creating something more robust if people have fun with it.

      I’ll have to think about the game store idea–thank you for sharing it! It might be a little too ambitious for me to handle with my time constraints, but there’s potential for something really cool there.

  5. Yeah, I see the problem. Almost anyone who comes to the auction now will be immediately scared away by the current bids. You could offer a single promo card that is signed by the designer of the game to the top ~100 bidders. It will cost you less than $1 for manufacturing the card, an envelope, a hard case, and a stamp to send it to them. Granted, it will take some time for the designer (it’s easier if it’s you) to sign them all and someone to ship them, but it wouldn’t be too bad. Since it’s a little hard to look for the top 100 bidders, you could instead just say anyone who donates $10 gets a card, but that’s a little less auction-y.

    Either way, you give a bunch of folks the opportunity to contribute to the charity and they get to make their copy extra special. It doesn’t even have to be a promo card really — just a signed card from the game to replace their unsigned card would be fine. Your manufacturer probably sends you a bunch of extra cards for replacements anyway so you could put them to use.

    Some of my friends have signed cards for games and it’s always cool to see those hit the table and hear the story of how they got them.

  6. I’m not entirely sure the people who are paying the $400-$500 for the auction would be dissuaded if the raffle option was a “lesser” object.

    For instance the Charterstone in the auction was signed and with the extra bells and whistles. If the raffle version only came signed, no recharge pack etc. its still a good prize but not the same.

    Along the same lines if it was a standard edition compared to a limited edition special version? Maybe a unique box art though costs might make that impossible.

    1. Additional thought is what if a promo card/pack was developed that people could spend $10 on I’m sure plenty would jump at the chance to have a charity promo card for Scythe, Viticulture etc.

    2. Oliver: That’s an interesting idea about offering a streamlined version of the prize for the raffle (compared to the primary auction items).

      The promo card idea is also a possibility. In general, I’m moving away from promo content, but if I decide to continue to make it, this would be a good reason.

      1. I understand the move away from Promo content as it means those in the future wouldn’t be able to get it. Though I feel as a way of getting people to donate to charity it could drive a lot of donations.

        You could look to release a pack that could be sold until it ran out or for X months and the first month of release or pre-order profit could go towards charity. This could limit the issue of people unable to get the content later on.

  7. What if you separated the experience based on whether it was a full game versus an expansion. For example run your charity auction as is for large game releases with a charity raffle for expansions.

    I would recommend you identify the charity. (You get to have some voting power too on what you feel is important). I would have the charity take the money for the raffle through their own operations.

    Then you start a separate geeklist talking about the raffle. In that geeklist I would highlight that Stonemeier games will match the raffle contributions to the charity in the Geeklist that gets the most thumbs. BGG users could post their favorite charities and why. You could include the charity sponsoring the raffle in the geeklist.

    This way no money is going through your hands. You still get to do good and you start a Geeklist that will open BGG users to charities they could support in the future.

    1. Joy: Thanks for sharing your idea! I must admit that I both like it and don’t like it. :) I like the spirit and execution of it. The part I’m wary about is that it becomes a completely different thing than the charity auction that already works so well.

      1. Jamey: I understand that it is so different but I think it gives you an entry point and community building for a group of people who may not have the financial means for the auction or who are interested on promo content.

        I miss the focused Stonemeier community time that Kickstarter campaigns brought. It was for a limited time and a group of people with similar interests had a gathe ring point. I think a yearly raffle would have the same feeling.

        Also the problem with the charity auction is only 10 people actually get to give money. There are many more who may like to give even if they were not guaranteed a return. Maybe not the $$$ amounts but many more people giving smaller amounts still would have huge results.

        I would visualize them as two separate events. The raffle could be the same time each year with smaller prizes (maybe a game but not a game bundle). The charity auction would become a standard practice for pre release of highly anticipated games. Those with resources and the desire to get the game early get to give to their hearts content.

        Whatever you decide I choose to support your company because of these type of bus inessential practices and your unwavering customer support. I am only buying one new game in 2017 and Charterstone is it. I don’t know if it will be the best game of the year but I know it comes from the best company.

        1. Thanks Joy! That’s an interesting point about the focused Stonemaier community time. That’s a bigger topic to explore, and I’m glad you brought it up. The Facebook groups have provided some wonderful interactions and community building, but they’re not focused on a certain amount of time. There’s no urgency. Regardless of what I do with the charity, I think that’s important for me to replicate in some way. This is really good food for thought.

          Also, thanks for making Charterstone your new game purchase of 2017. :)

          1. Just because now you have my creative juices flowing…how about a raffle with stretch goals…the more money raised the more prizes added….then we can all rally around watching that number go up =)

            I did look at raffles online last night as it peaked my interest. It does have to be run by the charity itself but there are companies that provide raffle set up online so no one has to develop the technology.

            I will walk away now but this excites me…no matter what you choose i’m a Stonemeier fan

  8. If you wanted to continue the purchase line of thought, is it possible to maybe partner up with BGG for a week and they increase the price of the promo cards they sell by a dollar or two (which goes to charity) and you have the option of matching it?

  9. Pat Rothfuss and his Geeks Doing Good charity campaign use a raffle every year for several big ticket items (including a 2-person cabin on the JoJo cruise. You can throw $5 into the hat for a ticket (or more if you want to increase your chances). Last year that alone raised $3630 for Heifer’s International.

    It’s just fun to buy or bid on specific items that you want as well as be able to go in for the chance at something big that you’d never be able to afford on your own. Even though most years I’m lucky if I can donate $50 to his charity, I always throw in another $5 on the chance of being able to go on the cruise. It’s like buying a lottery ticket…you know there’s little chance of winning but you never know. So instead of a raffle for a single item maybe a pack of games or even something bigger if possible which will make it more fun and exciting.

    1. Cindy: That’s a great example! I’ve actually entered that raffle myself. :) I wonder if Rothfuss can get around the legality issue of running a lottery since it all goes directly into the charity.

  10. Personally I think a raffle could be a good way to go. A lot of people are willing to drop a small amount of money to charity and the potential of a really nice price is a good incentive to draw that out.

      1. I think there aren’t many easy solutions there other than for (perhaps) the charity in question to handle it themselves. Certainly in the UK charities have a lot more legal flexibility over these things (mostly due to the non-profit status).

        As for the undermining side, I’m not sure it does in that way. Ultimately people pay that amount because the charity gets a nice donation. A decent raffle prize can (at least in theory) collect even more money for the charity while allowing those who cannot afford to make a large contribution make one with the potential chance of a reward.

  11. I’m not sure I necessarily agree that a raffle is undermining the generosity of the direct bidders. With the example you used in your post, if 40 people bought raffle tickets they would, as a group, have supported the charity auction as much as one of your example winning bids. My guess is that the raffle participants taken as a whole would actually net a greater bid than the individual purchasers but I’m not sure how many requests you’ve actually been getting. Speaking personally for this particular auction, I would have been happy to pitch in $10 for a chance at another copy of the game but justifying several hundred dollars to bid on a game is a difficult proposition for me when I’ve already preordered the game, the recharge pack, and the resource and meeple upgrades.

    1. Jeremy: I see what you’re saying. My concern is that if someone is spending $400+ on the same thing that someone else gets for $10 (and either way I’m matching the donation), will they (a) feel like their contribution isn’t valued and (b) maybe not make that bid at all?

      1. My personal feeling is that the type of person who’s willing to bid high isn’t the same sort of person who would be willing to drop a few bucks and leave it up to blind chance if they had another option. With a raffle it’s also impossible for the participants to know exactly how much the winner spent unless you’re fixing the number of raffle tickets per person at 1. What if the winner was a person who dropped out of the bidding at $350 and purchased 35 raffle tickets? As for the raffle donation matching, you could base your match on either the highest/median/lowest individual auction contribution (which would be another thank-you for the big individual donors) or offer to match the person who purchased the most raffle tickets which would help to encourage multiple raffle buys.

      2. I think you could certainly take a poll of the people who are actually bidding hundreds of dollars in this one to ask directly if a raffle option would have made a difference in their behavior.

        But I agree that you might be on legally uncertain territory though. Raffles are illegal or difficult to run in some states and countries, so by time you pay a lawyer to make sure you’re all good, you’ll have spent more money than you’d raise.

  12. Jamey,

    Every time I turn around you are approaching a subject in a way that is completely different to how I would approach it, and every time you make me think long and hard about my initial approach.

    Knee jerk reaction, I see auctions like this as something I can’t participate in, but I scroll through anyway just to “celebrate” and get excited about seeing thousands of dollars being raised. I think it’s cool.

    If I were running it and anyone was sad that they couldn’t participate I would simply remind them that they can always donate to the charity of their choice and if they are looking for a reward they can always order a copy of the game for themselves as a pat on the back. That’s no different than what happens in the auction other than the matching portion.

    But, you made me think differently about it…because the more people that you can have participate, the more you can raise which is a win win.

    Of what you listed, I’d agree with your PURCHASE bullet point. It maintains an award but it also raises money.

    Another thing you could consider is offer your games for sale for a specific period of time (maybe get several retailers involved?) and have $X amount go to charity for each purchase, similar to what was done for pre-orders for Pandemic Rising Tide.

    My only problem with this model (and I think I may be alone on this which is totally fine if that is the case) is that to me it feels like the brand is using charity as marketing which feels a little “icky” to me. In the Pandemic case it appeared to be more damage control than marketing but that’s another topic for another time.

    Whatever you decide – keep being you. The world needs more people like you.

    1. Joseph: Thanks for sharing your perspective. While I like the idea of maybe selling games during the auction, my reaction is similar to yours: It seems a little bit like a marketing gimmick (or damage control, in the case of Pandemic). But it’s a good idea to add to the mix!

  13. 1. I think the purchase Idea is your best. Both for effectiveness as well as having a low difficulty for implementation into your current structure. My only suggestion there is just say something to the effect of “Stonemaier Games will donate x% of the sale/profit to charity”.
    I believe this way will be easier for the buyer to understand than matching your price hike.

    2. Other: (and this might not even be doable)
    What if you allowed people to make small donations to the creator of their choosing to be pooled together to make a bigger purchase?

    – Donators get to support their favorite creators
    – Creators have more incentive to reach out to their own audience.
    – You open yourself up to much more eyes and the smaller donations could add up quickley
    Overall it would give small donators a reason to share and be excited. It gives them a goal, something to band around. It offers them the ability to participate, support charity and creators they like while also discovering new one’s.

    As I said before, I don’t even know if this is doable. I have never ran anything like the charity events you have run and have no idea how you might be able to do this. It might even require the structuring of a whole website. either that or immersive correspondence with the mirco-pledgers. But I believe this method is rife with possibilities and will translate especially well to those who have been active on crowdfunding and donation sites.

    1. Zack: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your idea. I’m curious about what you mean by “pooled together to make a bigger purchase.” Are you saying the purchase might be something to help the content creator, like a new mic? That’s interesting.

      1. It work like this,
        – Say you have a $400 dollar item up for auction. This could be a collection of games or something that really benefits the creator like lighting equipment, lap top, editing software, or a mic as you suggested.
        – Followers of the creator who want him to review the games/collectible items or have the nice equipment would each make small contributions, say $10-$50 to help reach the $400 goal.
        – The creator could then close whatever is left of the gap or promise to match each dollar.
        – You could also have creators and their audiences battle it out in a true back and forth auction. Each side raising money in an effort to out bid the others.

        There are of course many directions you could take this, but this describes my core idea.

        1. Zack: Thanks for elaborating: I’m intrigued by it, though I’d want to find a way to separate it from the idea of the content creators fundraising for themselves, as there are other avenues for them to do that. I’m happy to bring new audiences to them through the auction, but I think it’s important that these particular funds go to charitable causes.

          1. With that in mind, perhaps it would be best if the items were things the creators would have bought anyways. At any rate I believe the creators pitching in is would be a big part of it. Matching each dollar from the micro-pledgers even, hopefully to the point where it exceeded the goal would likely have to be a requirement.

            And admittedly another difficulty is how to incentivize the micro-pledgers to pledge after the goal has been reached. The responsibility of keeping the charitable feel going and encouraging more pledges would fall heavily on the content creators shoulders, and you would know how that might turn out better than I would.

          2. And now I’m sitting here going through an excruciating inner debate about the morals of donating for any form of gain and how much selfishness should would allow in a charity function even if that selfishness leads to more money being raised for the charities….I think I need to go eat some leftover halloween candy and chew it over.

        2. I could see this maybe working if all donations went to charity and then whichever creator collected the most donations Stonemaier Games donated a specific piece of equipment to them. That way all donations still went to charity. And fans of that creator can help them get an additional piece of equipment from a separate donation from Stonemaier Games. Of course there would have to be a limit on how expensive the piece of equipment is.
          -Cody Thompson

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