Erin Doherty Ward is a third generation auctioneer who has spun the auction industry on its head to fit her passion. Growing up she loved her family’s company, but she knew she didn’t fit the auctioneer mold. In an industry that is only 14% female, and the majority of auctioneers are from the Midwest, she felt her life was spent apologizing for being different. She left the family business, received a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree from SUNY Purchase in Women Studies and Art History, and set out to travel the world.
As she grew, she learned more and more that her heart yearned to work in the nonprofit industry. She wanted to change the world. She knew her home was still New York, even after living in many countries. Erin realized that her history and experience meant she could help thousands of nonprofits. She created a company that specialized in fundraising auctions. Erin told her family she didn’t want to be the type of auctioneer they showed on TV, she wanted to work in the glamourous world of New York and make a difference in the world using a talent she didn’t want to apologize for any more. Follow her journey at www.starbenefitauctions.com.
City where you’re from: Islip, NY
Hobbies: Traveling, Stand-up Paddle Boarding, Yoga, Swing Dancing, Vespa Driving, Raising Millions to Save Lives*
Favorite quote: “To the world you are just one person, but to one person you can be the world.” -Anonymous
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
Erin Doherty: Several years ago, I founded Star Benefit Auctions. At the time, there were only a few companies in the world that were strictly focused on fundraising auctions. Most auctioneers conducted benefit auctions on the side to promote their other auction companies. I wanted to only specialize in benefit events. I knew that with great dedication I could find what was really needed at organization’s special events. I could use my history and life knowledge with that need and I could really affect the world. After endless hours of education and experience with nonprofits and their special events, I have recently realized a major shift and my past of fast talking might not be the best service I can provide. I realized my skills in reading the room and consulting with nonprofits is the real value; and the new trend of special appeals at events is really going to be the game changer for organizations. So now I’m working as hard as possible to create magic moments at every event and breaking their fundraising goals that will make the change.
How is your company different?
Erin Doherty: I’m a member of the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) and I attended the I attended the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Iowa and sat in a class with cattle auctioneers. Back in New York, the auction world was a stuffy English style and at my galas it was class and style, but looking for fun. I was able to provide all of that. I talk fast, but I am certainly not a cowboy. Because of that, I never fit in with any groups. There lies the internal battle of most entrepreneurs. Where do we fit?
What’s your dream with your company?
Erin Doherty: I want to help as many nonprofits as I possibly can. Each event I work for makes a tangible difference in the world. I never leave an event feeling bad about the difference I helped create. In years to come, we will be growing and using more auctioneers that provide the high level service in addition to my consulting services. We do not just show up the night of an event, we work months before an event with our clients to make sure the short amount of time we have on stage is set for maximum fundraising.
How do you creatively advertise?
Erin Doherty: I am mainly word of mouth. No one thinks auctioneer. No one thinks female auctioneer. And no one thinks New York City female auctioneer. So the best way I have found to advertise is just getting out there and providing the best service I can. I also host seminars and have vast amount of videos of our auctioneering. Recently, I partnered with Eataly in NYC to create pop-up show auctions and we aired them on Facebook live to thousands of fans. It was like a short, modern reality TV show. That got me a lot of attention!
What have you learned this year?
Erin Doherty: To stop apologizing! Like I said, I never fit in. I am a minority in my industry. So I tried to fit in. To dress like someone that fit in with the Midwest style or to try to slow down in the New York audience. I realized trying to fit into molds that existed was not helping anyone. Once I decided to just be my greatest version and hold my head up that’s when I started seeing my company really blooming. I am one of a kind. Growing up, many people tried to put my mom and my family down telling us we “weren’t normal” and today I am more proud of that than ever before.
What were your biggest failure and biggest success? What did you learn from them?
Erin Doherty: *I guess my biggest failure (so far) was a divorce. I know that wasn’t a business fail, but I worked really hard at the “normal life” and when that failed I was crushed. It took me a while to come back from it, but that is when I stopped trying to fit into something. My ex one day in a fit yelled “you don’t have a career you have a b%@@$#*t showboat hobby.” At that moment, I realized how much “normal” was holding me back. That weekend I raised almost half a million dollars for a group that saved and educated orphans in Haiti. My “hobby” saved lives. I learned that I needed to stop holding myself back to fit into other people’s opinions.
My biggest success was a recent compliment from a guest at an event. After a great fundraising evening, a donor stopped me in the hall and he said “I go to these type of events all the time and you are wonderful. I love to give, its easy to give, but you got me to do something I’ve never done. I will donate a lot tonight, but I will also sign-up to volunteer my time and my physical labor. You opened my heart and spoke with such passion that I will do more than just donate money.” That success for me reaffirmed my choice. I was given many challenges and advantages in life and they all created a part to make me great at this job. I know I’m on the right path.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
Erin Doherty: I know it’s said all the time, but stick with your passion. Follow your heart as honestly as possible. Be a good person and act with honesty and integrity. Your heart and passion will shine through and help you grow your dreams to reality. If you lose site of your dreams find a friend and set-up an accountability call with them. Don’t give up, but always be honest with who you are to yourself and to the world.
Teach us something useful
Erin Doherty: LISTEN! All too often we speak or we spend time thinking about what we want to say when someone else is talking. Listen to others before you speak. Practicing active listening will help you in all areas if your life. It will increase your relationships. Your memory of moments will be more sincere and you might learn something.
What’s something new you’ve learned in the past month?
Erin Doherty: I learned how to outsource. I thought I had to do everything myself and I have felt very guilty when I didn’t get it all done. There are places you can outsource and get help easy and quick. I haven’t been able to really utilize this yet cause I tend to be a control freak, but knowing they are there has been very relaxing! Haha!
Teach us something we don’t know (it’s vague and open-ended on purpose)
Erin Doherty: Auctioneers use filler words. In between the numbers they are saying the rhythm and fun sounds come from some basic filler words. Such as “bid ‘em at”, ”I have”, “bid to buy”, “anybody bid”, “gotta get”, “can you bid”, “wanna bid” or “wanna buy” those sounds can create tongue rolls and fun beats.
What do you think you do better than most people?
Erin Doherty: Connect people, solve problems and buy presents. I’m really good at figuring out what people want or need and finding a way to help them get it. Not as good at this for myself, but I can find great answers for other people.
What should an entrepreneur focus on?
Erin Doherty: The why behind the why. Why are you doing what you’re doing. Not I bake cookies because people like cookies, but why you. Why are you a baker. Focus on your core and make sure its clear and strong because you may end up alone with that core and sometimes it’s all you have.
What are some of the best books you’ve ever read?
Erin Doherty: Recently reading the book of Joy and it’s pretty special.
Where do you see yourself and your product in a couple years?
Erin Doherty: I think there will be some major growth and innovations because the fundraising climate has changed and I want to help events change with it. I think I will be very busy and I think I will have more services to provide. I am excited for the future.
Also published on Medium.