Spotlight on Heart for Ethiopia
In July at the eBay OPEN Seller Celebration, longtime Terapeak user Lauralee Lindholm, Volunteer CEO of Heart for Ethiopia, was announced as an inaugural winner in eBay’s SHINE Awards for Small Businesses.
eBay’s SHINE Awards recognize several special categories of small businesses: those owned by women, those that are family run, growing business, global business, and charitable business. Lauralee’s Heart for Ethiopia eBay store falls into the final category—charitable businesses—and we caught up with her just before eBay OPEN. We asked Lauralee about what motivates her, how she runs an eBay-based charity, and how Terapeak helps her to achieve her goals.
Lauralee Lindholm and her husband Ray spent eighteen years in the African mission fields before returning to Texas, where Lauralee founded her eBay store.
Over a decade ago, after eighteen years in the mission fields of Africa, Lauralee Lindholm and her husband, Ray, received news that they would have to return to the United States after an oppresive government decided not to renew their eligibility to do missionary work. They had a difficult time leaving the place they had grown to call home, and while coming back go the United States was the right choice, they didn’t want to entirely abandon the communities they’d come to love.
One day, Lauralee was looking at some items around her home and decided to try selling them on eBay as a way to raise money for the communities back in Ethiopia. What she didn’t know is that she had just started an eBay business that would fund her charity, Heart for Ethiopia, over the many years to come.
Since beginning to sell on eBay, Lauralee’s charity—Heart for Ethiopia— has raised over half a million dollars. One hundred percent of the funds raised go towards those in need: funding education for children, offering business loans for entrepreneurs, and building wells that supply essential drinking water for communities. To make sure the money is spent in the right places, Lauralee and Ray visit Ethiopia once a year to speak with project leaders and ask what they need, then allocating the funds where appropriate. In a country like Ethiopia with a low literacy rate and little government funding, this money changes the lives of those it touches.
So, how is it that a small charity like Heart for Ethiopia can raise over half a million dollars, and averages over two-thousand dollars in revenue each month? Well, it boils down to the charity of others around them, hard work, and good research.
The first key to Lauralee’s success is that the majority of the items she sells are donated to her. Members of her community donate gently used items, and local thrift shops have partnered with Heart for Ethiopia to hand over items they are unable to move. “We sell books, magazines, DVDs, and other media,” she says. “We have no brand name or valuable items to advertise, other than the occasional valuable book.” This means that Lauralee’s store looks quite similar to an online thrift shop or garage sale. For Lauralee, this is an advantage.
In America, we have access to garage sales and estate sales. It’s part of our culture. Internationally, they don’t have that access, which creates an opportunity for sellers like me who list ‘garage sale’ items for affordable prices. The largest cost is shipping, which my clients cover so that we retain profits for our charity.”
For many sellers, shipping is make-or-break for the value of a sale. Having clients cover shipping means that Lauralee can afford to list some items for lower than five dollars. Not having to turn away the less expensive items adds up over the long run. For example, many magazines start at just a few dollars and may at times sell for as little as a dollar each. Though these may initially seem like insignificant amounts, over the last three months alone one dollar items have accounted for over $1,000 in sales for Heart for Ethiopia. Meanwhile, items over $100 make up less than five percent of sales.
Lauralee uses Terapeak every day to ensure that she's earning as much as possible for her communities in Ethiopia.
When shipping thousands of goods every month, a good reputation is essential for maintaining the buyers trust. Since 2003 Lauralee’s store has accumulated over 35,000 ratings with a 99.9 percent positive feedback score. This consistently positive feedback is made possible by a throng of volunteers who come to her house—where she stores her inventory on 48 separate bookcases—to help with packaging, shipping, and customer service. It is through the dedication of her volunteers that the whole operation becomes possible.
Keeping operational costs at zero by running her business out of her home and using volunteers to help with shipping is just one of the ways Lauralee ensures that she raises as much funding as possible for Ethiopia. To make sure that they are getting the best possible return for donated goods, Lauralee and her group of volunteers use Terapeak to determine the historical value of each item they list.
I don’t list without Terapeak. I want to make sure that I get the most for the items donated to us. If I have a book, I make sure to find out what the value is so I don’t underprice our inventory and lose out on money for our charity.”
Terapeak’s Product Research tool allows her team to see what has sold in the past, and for how much. They then list their item at that rate, lowering the price incrementally only if the item doesn’t generate significant interest over a two-week period. “I start high,” Lauralee says, “and reduce on a regular basis if necessary.”
Having a clear, market-driven starting price means that Lauralee and her team never underprice an item or leave money on the table. Additionally it gives them peace of mind that their hard work and donated time results in the highest revenue possible for the charity they work so hard to sustain.
It takes a special type of dedication to start a personal eBay business, but another to dedicate thousands of hours for the benefit of people half a world away. Terapeak is grateful to be a part of Lauralee’s eBay journey, and congratulates her on her big win!