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STYLE | Talking The Walk

By DIANE HAITHMAN

Mellisa Nielsen, founder and chief executive of Charity Angels, a Westwood-based event enhancement firm for nonprofits, has added an unusual new identity to her charity-minded efforts: For the past two years, she has served as a licensed benefit auctioneer, booking her services via Mellisa Nielsen Co.

Nielsen carved out a niche in the fundraising world in 2003 when she founded Charity Angels, a group of women available to raise money and awareness for nonprofits. Dubbed the Giving Girls by the press, they are easy to find at charity events wearing hot pink, the company’s signature color.

Nielsen said Charity Angels grew organically. “(I saw) young women move to L.A. to live a dream,” she said. “If we could plug in the new women moving to L.A. with their own community, and provide them with supplemental income to survive, it would be a dream.”

Nielsen began serving informally as an auctioneer in 2012 at the request of a local client. Then, a new client requested her services as auctioneer at an event in New York. Problem was, New York required her to have an auctioneer’s license. Having fallen in love with auctioneering, Nielsen decided to study and obtain her license from Missouri Auction School, which Newsweek once called the Harvard of auctioneer training.

Nielsen was an unusual student for two reasons: One, she was one of three women in a class of 100 people. Plus, she was the only one there to learn the ropes for philanthropy. One woman was there to learn to auction livestock, and the other to perfect her skills for estate sales.

Nielsen is unusual in that she charges a flat fee of $5,000 to $10,000 for auctioneering services, depending on the scope of the event. She will turn down requests if she doesn’t believe her services will produce an adequate return on investment. “If I am charging a nonprofit $10,000, in my head I need to be able to multiply that by 20,” she said.

Nielsen said audiences demand the fast-talking patter. “I turn very Southern when I get into my auction voice,” she said with a laugh. “I say ‘sebben’ instead of seven.”

Still, she added, philanthropy auctioneering can be vastly different from selling auction items. “An auctioneer might be selling a piece of art; they are selling a thing,” she said. “I am not only selling what they might have given me to sell − I am selling the cause.”

Nielsen has learned to turn her unusual status as a female auctioneer to her advantage. She favors fashionable dresses and high heels, and tailors her attire to the season, the crowd and the relative formality of the event.

And she always opens by talking about the charity’s mission. “It’s just a different feel. I can really relay compassion, and I think it’s refreshing,” Nielsen said. “When people look at me, they don’t know I’m the auctioneer because I’ve been talking about the cause. They are really intrigued.”

Added Nielsen, “It’s fun, kind of shocking the crowd.”

Nielsen chose this Jonathan Simkhai dress for an upcoming Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation fundraiser for teen suicide prevention and awareness; Graduation gift: Nielsen received
this gavel from the Missouri Auction School; first story on Charity Angels in Bloomberg
Businessweek (photo by Thomas Wasper)
Donors sponsored 200 vets at a charity event for the Semper Fi Fund, based at Camp Pendleton (photo by Thomas Wasper)
Par-fection: Nielsen won Ladies First Place at 2018’s American Jewish University Golf Classic. (photo by Thomas Wasper)
Angels Flight: Nielsen commissioned this sculpture from a Miami street artist during the prestigious Art Basel show in 2014, Charity, Angels’ first logo mug; Group Hug: Charity Angels spread philanthropic inspiration with Jarr?ng Questions buttons. (photo by Thomas Wasper)

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