Third Annual Friends of VINP Online Auction Rakes in More Than $30,000; Donations kept coming in until the last minute

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Friends of V.I. National Park officials recently wrapped up another successful online auction, which netted the non-profit arm of the Virgin Islands National Park more than $30,000 to support cultural and environmental education and resources.

“Once again, response from donors was amazing,” said Friends’ development director Heather Ruhsam. “Our bidders had a lot of great items to choose from, and it shows in our numbers, which exceeded last year. And we had a significant increase in bids this year too.”

With 53 items up for bid in the group’s third annual online auction, which ran from November 18 through December 4, Friends of VINP had netted $28,650 when one late donation came in, explained Ruhsam.

“We got a last minute item, which someone donated on Sunday morning, December 4,” said Ruhsam. “We didn’t expect it to draw many bids on that final day, so we posted it again the next weekend, ending on December 11.”

The last minute donated item was a big one; a two-week stay at a two-bedroom, three-bath villa at the Westin Resort and Villas for this Christmas.

“It was a two-week stay at a Westin villa from December 18 to January 1 of this year,” said Ruhsam. “It was worth about $16,000 and our opening bid was $1,000.”

The two-week holiday stay ended up going for only $1,500, quite a steal for prime time at a two-bedroom Westin villa.

During the full auction, the seven-night bareboat charter on a Hylas 54 brought in the highest bid; going for $5,100. Other big-ticket items included a week’s stay at a ski-in and ski-out villa in Park City, Utah, which fetched $3,500 for Friends and a three-night stay at Caneel Bay Resort, which went for $3,000.

“The auction was definitely successful,” said Ruhsam. “Our goal was $30,000 and we reached it in the end with the last minute Westin vacation donation. We had a few bidding wars in the end, which was fun to watch.”

Also fun for Ruhsam was checking the Bidding For Good website each morning to find out what new donations came in, she explained.

“It was so much fun, when I’d get into work in the morning and get an email with new pending items which people had donated overnight,” she said.

Auction trends this year saw several people put together vacation packages, with nights at Concordia or a cottage and a few boat trips or dinners at local restaurants, according to Ruhsam.

The VIP treatment at the January Love City Live! reggae concert, with special events with the bands and a two-night stay at the Inn at Tamarind Court, went for $295 to a St. Croix resident, according to Ruhsam.

“That item went to someone in St. Croix, which is perfect because they’re coming over for the concert and will really have a great St. John experience,” Ruhsam said.

Anyone who missed out on the jewelry, private chef services, artwork, boat trips and more which were up for bid during Friends’ online auction, should just gear up for next year, which will give bidders more time to get in on the action, according to Ruhsam.

“We’ll absolutely do this again; expect the fourth annual online auction next year,” she said. “We’re going to run it a little big longer next year because, although we like the fact that it starts the week before Thanksgiving so people can look at it at home with relatives, we also recognize that the week after Thanksgiving is also hectic.”

“So next year we’ll extend the auction one extra week and we’ll end it in time to get stuff out for the holidays,” said the Friends’ development director.

Friends officials expect to have their revamped website up and running soon, and Ruhsam is excited about a few new programs for the group’s supporters, she explained.

“Our new website should be up and running soon and our online store is being completely revamped,” said the Friends’ development director. “We’ll have a wish list function and we’re updating some of our giving plans to expand the ways people can support us.”

“We’ve been discussing other way of planned giving beyond wills,” said Ruhsam. “We’re trying to get creative in this financial time to find ways for people to give by appreciated stocks or property with tax breaks. We’re trying to reach people who want to support Friends, but can’t take on the immediate burden of spending cash.”

Friends’ officials are also excited about a matching donor program underway through the end of the year, Ruhsam added.

“We’ve had a donor step forward who helped us last year with a matching program and because of the success of that, which raised $34,000 in the last two weeks of the year, we’re doing it again,” she said. “This year it was upped to $40,000 with the possibility of more. So every $50 donation becomes $100 and $100 becomes $200.”

Friends supporters should also mark those calendars for Saturday, February 4, when the group hosts its exclusive gala fundraiser. This year the party will be at Marea, the Ditleff Point home of Judy and Michael Skurnik.

Rudy and Irene Patton of R&I Patton are also pitching in to help Friends reach its fundraising goals. The goldsmiths have created a hand-made 18k gold chain with 6.6 ctw emerald nugget necklace and earrings set valued at $4,200 for the group. Friends will sell only 100 raffle tickets at $50 each for the set, beginning on December 20.

Donations for the matching donor program must be made by December 31, either online at www.friendsvinp.org, or call the group at 779-4940. Raffle tickets for the R&I Patton set will be available at the Friends Store starting December 20.