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posted: 6/10/2016 1:00 AM

Westmont firm's auction program aids nonprofits

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  • Jim Alvarez

    Jim Alvarez

  • Gesture founder and CEO Jim Alvarez, second from left, celebrates helping charities raise $100 million in 2015 with team members, from left, Steve Greanias, senior vice president of sales and operations, Rich Aquino, chief technology officer, and Dianne Kleber, director of sales.

    Gesture founder and CEO Jim Alvarez, second from left, celebrates helping charities raise $100 million in 2015 with team members, from left, Steve Greanias, senior vice president of sales and operations, Rich Aquino, chief technology officer, and Dianne Kleber, director of sales.
    Photo courtesy of Gesture

  • Mobile bidding, that allows people to bid on an auction item and notifies them when they've been outbid, is a key feature in the company's fundraiser system. A dashboard monitors the entire process in real time,

    Mobile bidding, that allows people to bid on an auction item and notifies them when they've been outbid, is a key feature in the company's fundraiser system. A dashboard monitors the entire process in real time,

 
 

Consider it a Gesture of good faith.

While attending a charity fundraiser in 2011, Jim Alvarez saw room for improvement in the process of the silent auction being held during the event. In addition to tracking bids that were being written down on paper, Alvarez was wary of the long lines winning bidders had to face to pay for their items.

Alvarez is the founder and president of Gesture, a Westmont-based company that has automated the fundraising process for nonprofits. From using mobile phones for the bidding process to automating the payment procedure, Gesture has proved to be a valuable resource for charities and foundations to raise funds efficiently.

Born in his basement five years ago, Gesture has grown to a 60-person company that is expected to see $10 million in revenue this year, Alvarez said. It has partnered with more than 2,000 nonprofits nationwide, from the Ronald McDonald House Charities and American Cancer Society to small, local private schools and foundations. The company works with the Chicago Blackhawks, Cubs and Fire charities, as well as the foundations of the last four Stanley Cup championship teams and, most recently, the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

Key to Gesture's success is a mobile bidding system that will text a bidder when he has been outbid and ask if he wants to submit a new bid.

"In the olden days, people would come and make a bid, then they'd start socializing and never really have a chance to go back to check and see if they've been outbbid," Alvarez said. "What we do now is, as soon as they get outbid, we text them and ask if they want to bid again, and this dramatically helps the charities raise more money."

In addition, the software accepts and holds credit card information during the check-in process, which helps speeds up the payment process at the end of the night.

A dashboard monitors the entire process in real time, Alvarez said. The client can see how many bids they are getting, what the revenues are, and can break information down by item, such as how many raffle tickets are sold or what an individual item is selling for. A custom website is also created for the specific event, which opens the process to a wider group of donors.

"People who might not be able to attend the event can now participate," Alvarez said, adding that several events in the past have hit their fundraising goals before the event even starts.

"More time, more bidders, equal more revenue," he said.

While technology is a big part of Gesture, Alvarez is quick to point out the human factor also makes it successful. For each event, Gesture has a team work with the organization to handle the fundraising efforts.

"An account manager walks through every step of fundraising," he said, adding that process alone can take 10 to 13 hours. "On the night of event, we send a team of 4 to 20 people to take the credit card information at the beginning of event, store that information and collect at the end of night. We also help with the bidding throughout the night and handle the check-out.

"It's not only our technology, but our team that makes sure everything goes well."

And while it helps nonprofits raise funds, Gesture does not take a cut from that money. Instead, it charges a flat fee to the organization beforehand, based on the complexity of the event.

"It never matters if they raise $10,000 or $10 million at an event," he said. "Ours is a flat fee."

Gesture's goal, Alvarez said, is to handle the fundraising portion of the event, so that the nonprofit can focus more on its donors.

"At a charity event, there's a lot of moving parts. What we want to do for our charity partner is to simply take the fundraising portion of the night off their plate," he said. "Now, from a charity standpoint, they can spend time with their donors."

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