A formal receiving line awaited dinner guests on June 3, 2014, in a scene inspired by the PBS series Downton Abbey. “You can never be too classy,” explained the host, Charles Olson, Professor of the Practice and Director of the Business Honors Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
His guests for the evening were four MBA students, who outbid their classmates for the privilege of a black tie dinner with their professor and his wife in their Potomac, Md., home. Two more MBA students served as butlers, doing their best to execute the Downton Abbey theme.
The event was one of nine featuring the personal side of Smith professors, who opened their homes for bidding in a charity auction organized by the school’s MBA Association on April 3, 2014. Overall, the students and faculty raised more than $13,000 for Special Olympics.
“The Smith community came together,” said Barney Guacheta, MBA ’14, who organized and cohosted the auction with his classmate, Joe Baker, MBA ’14. “This was an opportunity to spend time with our professors, who we love.”
Guacheta said the professors embraced their roles at the auction, driving up the bidding with PowerPoint slides and good-humored teasing of the competition. Eight faculty members offered private dinners in their homes, while Associate Dean Ken White organized a limousine trip to a Washington Nationals baseball game.
“You felt the Smith love in that room,” Guacheta said. “The appreciation for Smith professors was on display.”
Guacheta, who hopes the auction grows into an annual event, said the idea took shape in 2013 when Duke University invited the Smith School to participate at the Fuqua MBA Games for Special Olympics North Carolina. The minimum donation to participate was $3,000, so Guacheta turned to the Smith faculty to help implement a simple strategy.
“The students would fork over their cash, and it would go to the charity,” he said. “The professors would fork over their time, efforts and cooking skills.”
Associate Marketing Professor David Godes stepped on the auction block first in 2013, setting the bar high with a PowerPoint presentation that included fake reviews about his dinner. “It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen,” Guacheta said. “It kicked the thing off right.”
MBA bidders raised $8,000 the first year, and a Smith delegation presented the check at the Fuqua games. As a bonus, the Smith students also won the team dance competition.
Guacheta set the fundraising goal even higher in 2014. He also made arrangements with Duke University and Special Olympics officials in Prince George’s County to keep the Smith donation in Maryland.
In the end, the Smith students not only won the team dance competition at the 2014 Fuqua MBA Games, but they also won the prize for largest charitable gift. “We outraised all of the MBA programs at the games,” Guacheta said. “Our plan is to do even more next year.”