eBay Bolsters Charitable Effort

Auction giant eBay, moving to shore up its ambitious “Auction for America” charitable fund-raising effort launched after the events of Sept. 11, announced a new round of corporate sponsors, including Microsoft, Pepsi and AOL Time Warner, among others.

There’s no doubt the motivation is pure, but eBay certainly took on a gargantuan task when it launched its relief effort, saying at the time that it “challenged itself,” through its community of 34 million registered users, to raise $100 million in 100 days.

An eBay spokesman told InternetNews.com today that about $5.5 million has been raised so far.

Clearly Americans have been more than willing to pony up to aid the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks on the United States, whether online or by dropping cash into the boots of firemen soliciting on street corners.

But who could have foreseen the criticism now being leveled at organizations like the American Red Cross? That agency now says some of the money from its Liberty Fund, which was set up specifically for victims of the attacks, will be used for other things.

eBay’s effort is scheduled to end Dec. 25, and clearly today’s announcement of the corporate donations for the charitable auction shows that eBay is scrambling. A spokesman said it’s “a bit premature” to talk about an extension of the deadline, however.

It might be just a tad embarrassing for this e-commerce bellwether company to come up short. On the other hand, one can ask whether an additional $100 million is even needed, at this point. The Red Cross has so much money it doesn’t know what to do with it all. The Liberty Fund has raised $550 million so far, according to published reports.

Lawmakers in Washington earlier this week criticized the Red Cross for its handling of the relief fund and questioned whether families of the victims had benefited enough.

But what can eBay do except to press on? When the Auction for America was launched, the company said it was responding to a call for help from New York Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

In its announcement today, eBay said that a slew of companies “will list or have already listed items for sale 100 percent of the proceeds will go to one of six charitable organizations. The items can be viewed at a special “businesses for America area on eBay.

The items donated range from Britney Spears concert tickets to collectible G.I. Joe merchandise. Microsoft is offering several pieces of collectible software in its original packaging, all signed by Bill Gates, including an original copy of Microsoft Word (circa 1983).

The charities to benefit from the auction of these goods are selected by the seller, and include the Sept. 11th Children’s Fund, the Robin Hood Relief Fund, Sept. 11th Fund, the New York State World Trade Center Relief Fund, the Twin Towers Fund and the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross has said only about $300 million of the more than $550 million raised so far will go immediately to families of the victims.

The rest will be used for related projects such as preparation of a frozen blood inventory, telecommunications improvements to aid processing of donations and a reserve fund to be used for relief in any future attacks, according to Red Cross President Bernadine Healy, who, caught in the crossfire, has resigned effective at the end of the year.

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