The Price of Access: Experiences With Billionaires Prove Promising Lure for Charity By Dec. 5, 2018 4:37 p.m. ET Order Reprints Michael Novogratz. Photograph by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg Text size
There’s a hot new asset class where growth may be outpacing every established market: proximity to celebrity billionaires. For charity!
The charity auction website Charitybuzz is hosting its annual Entrepreneur Auction , in which normal folk like you and me can bid for an interaction with a rich and famous company founder or corporate executive.
The auction of a one-hour conversation over lunch with Michael Novogratz, “billionaire investor, CEO of Galaxy Investment Partners, and ‘King of Bitcoin,’” is ending Thursday, so act fast! Charitybuzz estimates the value of such an hour at $15,000, but it’s currently at a discount—just $12,000! You cannot use the meeting to pitch an investment, but you are encouraged to “Discuss Cryptocurrencies & the Future of Investing in NYC.”
The proceeds from the sale of Novo’s time go to support Hudson River Park Friends, a nonprofit he chairs, dedicated to the care of the park that runs along New York’s Hudson River. Novogratz, newly a crypto entrepreneur, was previously a partner at Fortress Investment Group, after 11 years at Goldman Sachs.
The auction comes with no guarantee that spending time near Novo, or anyone else, will result in some of that success, luck, influence, or money rubbing off on the buyer. It will yield a great social-media post, but, depending on your metrics and priorities, $12,000 is likely too steep for just an Instagram post.
The bidding for Novogratz follows a wild success in the auction of a lunch with Bill Ackman : Forecast to garner $10,000, the lunch went for $57,500 to Andrew Wilkinson , the founder of a technology holding company, who was inspired by Bloomberg Opinion’s Matt Levine ’s analysis . The high-water mark for these charity-lunch-auctions is $3.49 million to break bread with Warren Buffett at midday, in 2016.
This is another example of the commodification of influence. Where previously people enjoyed access through old-boy networks, country clubs, and invitation-only charity galas, like so many things it is increasingly just available for purchase, another frontier for financialization. In some ways, it’s a democratization. And, in an increasingly bifurcated economy, where a splash of fame can make a career, people are willing to pay up.
While there is no central repository for data on these things (as far as we know), and while charity auctions feel as old as time, the auctioning of experiencing time near a celebrity seems to be a recent innovation. And one that’s taken off.
“Not many nonprofit organizations have that type of celeb access,” Charitybuzz’s Janai Speer tells Barron’s . That’s the core of the group’s mission, she says: “To figure out how nonprofits can raise new money and in new ways.”
The group’s president, Ben Erwin , created the Entrepreneur Auction three years ago to capitalize on a charity’s existing supporters, like board members, to fundraise. Such “business experiences” have raised millions of dollars, Speer says; the Entrepreneur Auction alone has gathered $4 million.
“Entrepreneurs and business leaders are celebrities in their own right, as we’ve seen, and that notoriety can be monetized,” she says. “The Entrepreneur Auction has allowed a much larger percentage of charities to use Charitybuzz in new and exciting ways.”
Lunch with Novo is just one option in Charitybuzz’s Entrepreneur Auction. Should you want to use your auction lunch to pitch—something you might could actually write off as a business expense—you can buy a one-hour meeting with billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban , in Dallas, to benefit Champions of Discovery, which provides resources for cancer patients and their children (estimated value of $25,000, current bid $26,000), or a meeting with Mindy Grossman , CEO, and Michael Lysaght , chief technology officer, of WW (formerly Weight Watchers), to benefit the company’s own WW Good (estimated value $10,000, current bid $2,000).
Or pitch Tinder ’s Sean Rad (estimated value of $7,500, current bid $2,000), to help the children supported by the GO Campaign, which helps improve “global lives of orphans and vulnerable children by partnering with local heroes to deliver local solutions.” Or you could meet David Krane , CEO and Managing Partner at GV , formerly Google Ventures, currently for $3,250, to benefit Kids’ Chance of Kentucky, which provides educational scholarships to the children of workers in Kentucky who were fatally injured in work-related accidents.
Or you could fly in a private Gulfstream IV jet with Marc Lasry , co-founder of Avenue Capital, to see his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, Play a Home Game, where you will Enjoy Courtside Seats, for a mere (at the time of this writing) $13,500 (the estimated value is $25,000).
Some of these are obviously undervalued, on a relative basis. For example, an hour w...