Curio Auctions - The COVID-19 compatible fundraising for Jewish nonprofits

Although charity auctions are nothing new, during the pandemic, in-person fundraising events have been halted, necessitating the need for creative ways to reach donors.

Auction gavel, illustrative (photo credit: PIKIST)
Auction gavel, illustrative
(photo credit: PIKIST)
The Am Yisrael Foundation has an impressive track record of developing and sustaining innovative projects, such as White City Shabbat, which hosts large communal Shabbat meals in Tel Aviv, Adopt-A-Safta visits to elderly Holocaust survivors and Torah Tech, which integrates intensive Torah study with business internships.
The Tel Aviv-based foundation is run by what president Jay Shultz called “an army of young people, young Jews in their 20s and 30s,” noting that his foundation is “the largest community organization in Israel.”
Its newest venture, Curio Auctions, is equal parts Zionist history and nonprofit fundraising. Although charity auctions are nothing new, during the pandemic, in-person fundraising events such as gala dinners, auctions and parlor meetings have been halted, necessitating the need for creative ways to reach donors.
Curio Auctions offers a cutting-edge program that allows Jewish nonprofits worldwide to provide a fun and philanthropic experience to their donors that is consistent with their brand, while raising much-needed operating funds.
It works like this.
Curio Auctions, operating as a nonprofit under the Am Yisrael Foundation, partners with another Jewish nonprofit to create a customized online auction featuring “highly sought-after treasures not generally available to the public,” according to its website.
Shultz, who worked as an attorney before he made aliyah from New Jersey in 2006, is also a life-long collector of curios. “I always loved the name ‘curio.’ It’s a refined translation of ‘tchotchke’ and a shortening of the word ‘curiosity.’” He referred to a dictionary definition which extends the definition of curio to include “rare or interesting bric-a-brac from anywhere.”
The twist with Curio Auctions is that the items it offers to donors are from the world of Jewish and/or Zionist history. So instead of, for example, an Israel-based Jewish nonprofit auctioning off a cruise to Greece or a flat-screen TV to raise money to feed hungry Jews, by partnering with Curio Auctions, that nonprofit can auction off items that are more closely related to its mission.
Curio Auctions is a brand-new venture. Its first auction will take place just before Rosh Hashanah in support of the Am Yisrael Foundation’s own Adopt-a-Safta program, which takes care of lonely elderly all over Israel, with a special focus on Holocaust survivors.
Shultz explained that, 72 years after the founding of the State of Israel, “the Israeliana, the ephemera from the pioneering phase of the country, are still readily available.” These items are largely in the hands of private collectors.
One of the items in the upcoming auction is an original 19th-century calling card of Theodor Herzl and his wife, Julie. Herzl (1860-1904) was an Austro-Hungarian Jewish political activist and writer. History considers him the father of modern Zionism for his efforts to create a Jewish state in Palestine. According to Shultz, many consider Herzl to be the most important Jew of modern times.
Other items expected to be available at the first Curio Auctions event include an original Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, issued by the provisional government and dated May 14, 1948, and a 1943 petition signed by Jewish schoolchildren in pre-state Israel in solidarity and support of their brothers and sisters suffering in Europe.
Shultz commented, “You want to hug this item. Who has a heart for Israel and the Jewish people and wouldn’t also have a heart for the treasure representing that story?”
Since the beneficiary of the first auction is Adopt-A-Safta, the items for the auction were curated to represent what Shultz called “the greatest generation” of pioneers who contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel. The auction site will go live two weeks before the auction date, and the auction will be open online for 24 to 48 hours.
CURIO AUCTIONS is a nonprofit being run for the benefit of Jewish nonprofits worldwide. Shultz expressed great pride in this venture, which combines two of his passions – collecting curios and supporting Jewish nonprofits.
“It’s a project that is a piece of my identity and my soul. I’m wildly passionate about tzedakah and collecting objects. I’m a passionate personal collector of artifacts and antiques, arts and archaeology. I’ve always been inspired by collecting and the story behind an object, its historical and sentimental significance. I delved into the world of Israeli collectors when I first moved here.”
Through his own activities as a collector, Shultz developed a network of hundreds of serious collectors. The objects Curio Auctions will feature are expected to come from private collectors throughout Israel with whom he is already familiar.
“We’re still living in the moment of the birth of the country. Virtually everyone in this country has people in their family who fought in the founding wars, helping to create our infrastructure. The treasures that tell a still-vibrant story are still with us today.”
Shultz emphasized that “not everything is a museum-quality artifact. It’s important to have a wide range of prices to satisfy the taste and wallet of all donors.” Nevertheless, he reassured that “everyone can own something that Ben-Gurion wrote, that Rav Kook owned, that Menachem Begin held. It’s something that is inspiring to me. We’re still in the phase of pioneering. These things are still so accessible.
“People get inspired by objects of historical importance. Donors can buy a living item that will inspire their children more than a gift certificate or plaque on the wall.”
As an experienced collector himself, Shultz knows that “collectors can’t buy and hold everything forever. They want to pass things on in their lifetimes, to help and benefit the Jewish people, to share their treasures with the rest of the world who aren’t collectors.
“Collectors have a flow of objects in and out of their collections all the time,” he shared.
Each auction will feature five to 10 objects, priced from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Curio Auctions will curate a catalogue appropriate for the donor base of the nonprofit and will work with the nonprofit’s staff on developing the marketing, branding and social media strategies for the auction.
Curio Auctions online auctions can help partnering nonprofits expand their donor base and raise awareness of their mission in what Shultz called “a cool, exciting way, even giving the nonprofits international reach.” The personalized auction catalog will include “high-resolution images, reserve price, expected bidding range, a detailed historical description, as well as a certification of authenticity.”
Curio Auctions is a fully nonprofit platform offering “complimentary sourcing and authentification” of items to be auctioned, “complimentary auction management and complimentary donor engagement consulting.” The platform even offers professional shipping of items to winning donors. For a nonprofit with no experience in running charity auctions, Curio Auctions offers full support.
When an item is sold, the proceeds are divided among the collector, the Am Yisrael Foundation and the partnering nonprofit.
Shultz was initially inspired with the kernel of this idea five years ago, but he was dissuaded by how labor-intensive the project would be. To address this, the Am Yisrael Foundation is partnering with Passion for a Purpose, a nonprofit consulting company that operates in Israel and the US. “They are the professionals in nonprofit consulting for branding, marketing and resource development. They will do the heavy lifting in that space,” he said.
COVID-19 provided an ideal time to launch. “Auction houses are doing huge business online,” Shultz explained. At the same time, he noted that “this model would adapt well to the traditional charity auction model,” when COVID-19 becomes a vague memory.
To learn more about Curio Auctions, email