By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Kyle Bell uses his autograph collection to raise money for charities
Kyle Bell vividly remembers his first autograph: legendary San Francisco Giants centerfielder Willie Mays at Scottsdale Stadium in the mid-1990s.
“He was sitting at a table, signing autographs,” says Bell, who grew up in Fountain Hills. “After that, I was hooked.”
He continued to collect and sell autographs to finance his habit, and his time at ASU, from which he graduated in 2003.
“I graduated college and wondered if I should keep doing what I was doing or get an entry-level job somewhere,” Bell says.
The decision was easy. He continued his hobby but parlayed it into a career for a cause.
He founded the Scottsdale Airpark-based Bell Sports Marketing in 1996, followed by Charity Benefits Unlimited, which provides memorabilia for events helmed by local and national charities.
“People would always ask me to donate something to their events,” Bell says. “I always did. It’s just the right thing to do. Finally, I realized there was more I could do. I could help raise more money for charity.”
He consigns items to charities at no risk. Charity Benefits Unlimited donates 25 percent of each opening bid to the organization, therefore it is guaranteed to raise funds with even one bid. For every dollar bid thereafter, 100 percent of the funds go back to the charity. Because all items are on consignment, any items that do not sell in the auction are returned to Charity Benefits Unlimited.
“We have a great group of people who care,” he says. “When you’re at a charity event, there are people running around like crazy, trying to do too much. We do all the work.
“We do Larry Fitzgerald’s events, Goldy’s (Paul Goldschmidt) events, Celebrity Fight Night… when Steve Nash was with the Suns, we’d do his events. We just started with the San Francisco Giants. We also work with the Rams, Suns, Coyotes, the D-backs and a little with the Cardinals. It’s very organic. We have a partnership with OdySea Aquarium and its auctions as well.”
Charity Benefits Unlimited and OdySea Aquarium have generated more than $65,548 from silent auctions. Proceeds raised go to the OdySea Aquarium Foundation, which enables hundreds of students from across the Valley to attend field trips at the aquarium at no charge.
“We’re always looking for new avenues and different foundations that need money,” Bell says. “It’s rewarding and fun.”
Bell and his staff have raised more than $5.1 million. On top of it, a charity of the month is chosen to receive a portion of the showroom proceeds. “It’s an incredible milestone for our company,” Bell says of hitting the $5 million mark. When we started our memorabilia company 21 years ago, I never imagined we would grow it to 35 employees and give back more than $5 million to charity.”
The Phoenix Suns Charities has been impressed with Charity Benefits Unlimited’s work. “The items they include in their auctions are of the highest quality and are presented in a way that make them truly collectible,” says Robin Milne of Phoenix Suns Charities.
“We have been very impressed with the social media savvy and ‘reach’ of CBU. Suns Charities was able to launch ‘text to bid’ for the first time to establish our first online auction site as well. In the end, it’s about how they help us raise money for children in need in Arizona.”
Bell is sometimes taken aback by his work. Each morning, he walks into his 20,000-square-foot showroom/warehouse and is stunned by the walls, hallways and display cases filled with memorabilia. Paul Goldschmidt, Linda Blair, Gordie Howe, George Harrison, even Alexander Graham Bell – anyone and everyone are there.
“My house has nothing whatsoever in it – not one piece, which my wife is very excited about,” he says with a laugh. “Here, we see so many cool pieces. On the high-end side of the business, we have Babe Ruth game-used baseball bats, and a contract signed by The Beatles, a jersey that Michael Jordan wore in a game. There is a lot of historical significance here.”
Bell guarantees that his pieces are authentic and provides certificates of authenticity. “We do the autograph signings ourselves,” he says. “We’re involved in them. This last year, we had hundreds of signings – some were here, some were elsewhere in the country. We had Emmitt Smith a few weeks ago. We had Dennis Rodman, who was wearing a dress down to his ankles. He’s a really nice guy. He has a huge heart.”
Bell has a keepsake of his own, namely a wall in his showroom adorned with guests’ autographs – Smith, Muhammad Ali, Dez Bryant, Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving, Jerry Rice, George Brett, Alice Cooper and Ralph Macchio.
“I enjoy what I do,” Bell says. “Monday is my favorite day of the week because I like to go to the office. I have a passion for what I do, especially the sports and charity collectible sides of it. I find myself walking around here after everybody’s gone.
“I tell myself, ‘I’m doing OK here. Look at what we’ve become.”’
Charity Benefits Unlimited
15849 N. 77th Street, Suite 1