Amy Christensen, Art for Auction for a Cause donations

Amy Christensen and her daughter Addilynn Price, 2, display a few items donated to Art for Auction for a Cause on Thursday at their Ketchikan home. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

When Ketchikan’s Amy Christensen saw people in her community in need of help, she didn’t just sit by and wish them well, she created a system to raise money for them, undaunted by the challenges she faced with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Christensen sat down to share her journey to creating her Facebook-based fundraising site “Art for Auction for a Cause,” through which she raises funds for locals in need.

She said that she started thinking early in 2020 about how she could help people in need of help due to catastrophic events such as a house fire or a cancer diagnosis. She said she’d been noticing GoFundMe pages, and realized that although those fundraisers had their place, a different approach was needed also.

“There’s a lot of times where people can’t donate,” she said. “I personally have never been able to donate a large amount of money like I wanted to or help out the way I wanted to.”

In the middle of the pandemic, she said that there also arose a roadblock to simpler local fundraisers such as spaghetti feeds or auctions.

“When COVID hit, nobody could go to community places” to gather for fundraising, she said.

She decided that an online option using an auction format would be an effective tool to achieve the fundraising goals she had in mind.

After much thought and consultation with friends, Christensen said she finally was ready to launch her fundraising site on Aug. 3. The group now has 1,100 members.

Christensen recently completed her seventh auction, which was for Ketchikan’s Libby Oaksmith who is facing large medical bills due to a diagnosis of cancer. According to her calculations, posted on her group’s page, Art for Auction for a Cause was able to raise $16,448 for Oaksmith.

“The town really kind of pulled together for Libby,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

Christensen explained how the auctions work through her system.

People who would like to donate art, crafts, or even gift certificates from their businesses send her a private message with photos of the donated items with a description and a suggested starting bid amount. Christensen said if the donating person doesn’t have a starting bid amount, she will figure out how much the item might sell for, then will subtract a percentage from that to create a starting bid price.

Donations do not need to be art in a strict sense, Christensen said.

“It’s not strictly art — it can be pretty much anything people are willing to donate — but it’s also not like a thrift store,” she explained.

Two unique handmade items she mentioned receiving was a quilt, which the artist paid a high price to ship to Ketchikan, as well as a knife which featured a blade crafted from metal salvaged from a decommissioned Alaska Marine Highway System ferry.

When artists donate their work, Christensen said that she is eager to promote their businesses. She will post a link to their websites or Facebook pages if they have one, she said.

She sets a date for the auction to start, and places all the photos of donated objects in one post in the “announcements” section of her page. Bidders post a comment on the items they want to purchase with their bid price. If they’d like to bid anonymously, Christensen said they can privately message her and she will bid for them.

The recipients of the raised funds set up a GoFundMe account where all of the revenue is placed directly into their account. People can pay through the recipient’s Venmo or Facebook Pay accounts as well, Christensen said.

“All of the funds goes to whomever the auction is for,” she said. “There’s no percentage taken out of it. It’s strictly just for them.”

She added that although GoFundMe does take a small percentage, it is the most effortless method to get money directly to the recipients. People who dislike paying via online services also can pay Christensen in person, and Christensen will place the funds in the recipient’s GoFundMe account herself, then will send a photo of the receipt to the donating party.

She was very clear that when she set up her auction system that people knew that no funds ever would be held in her name.

Her newest auction is for the Skan family, which recently experienced a devastating house fire in Ketchikan. She has set that auction to start at 9 p.m. July 31 and to end at 9 p.m. Aug. 14.

Christensen said she set the 9 p.m. time for not only her auctions but also for her schedule when she works to sort, label, measure and photograph donated items because that is when her young children are asleep.

Donated items are stored in a warm, dry, safe room in her home. When the auction closes, she contacts each winner by private message.

People collect their purchased items at her home after the auction is over, Christensen said, and for people nervous about face-to-face interaction due to COVID safety protocols, she will place the items outside for pick up.

When asked how she knew how to create her effective online auction system, she laughed and answered, “Honestly, I had no idea.”

She added, “I was so nervous, thinking that this wouldn’t work, thinking that people would be uncomfortable with it.”

She said that the most experience she’d had in detail-oriented organized work was as a fill-in bookkeeper in a local restaurant business for a short time.

“I usually feel like the most disorganized person,” she said, chuckling.

She acknowledged that “it took a lot of guts” to put herself out there by creating her auction group.

The most challenging part of working with her auctions, Christensen said, has been handling out-of-town donations. In one instance, the person who donated a piece sent a completely different painting than what had been promised. When non-local people donate an item, they are responsible for the cost of shipping their items to her, but Christensen has been infrequently left with shouldering those costs, which she and her friends paid in the end.

Another challenge was with how to set up the auction itself, with details such as how much personal information recipients would be comfortable with her sharing on the page. Would posting family photos be acceptable, or sharing personal information about the reasons for the auction?

Each auction takes her about four hours to set up, she said, which is why she chooses to work after her children are asleep for the night.

Christensen described her favorite aspects of her project.

“The most rewarding part is that it’s working and it’s not just me,” she said. “I might organize it, but the people who donate their items, the people who bid on those items, they’re all helping to make Art for Auction a success.

“I’m so grateful because other people — the person who I’m doing the auction for — is getting even just a fraction of what they need and it helps, like, it seems like the community is making a difference for this.”

She added that also a huge reward is “the end result — when I announce how much the auction has made for that person.”

Another revenue-raising tactic Christensen said that was successful through her Facebook page was holding a drawing for a taco-and-margarita basket.

“It was phenomenal,” Christensen said.

For people new to her Facebook group who are interested in becoming involved, Christensen said, “I never mind anybody asking me, ‘I do not understand this, can you help me out?’ because I am more than willing to give step-by-step instructions.”

People who don’t live in Ketchikan are welcome to bid, she said. She will ship the item to them, take a photo of the shipping receipt and send it to them so they can reimburse her.

Christensen said, reflecting on the success of her auction page, “I’m really thankful and grateful, because people need something like this.