Debbie McLeod could have had Paul McCartney for $US70,000 ($65.7,000) or Jay-Z for $US42,000 ($39,500).
Instead, the Houston resident bid $US255,000 ($239,000) last autumn to spend a day with former US President Bill Clinton.
McLeod's bid led the 2011 list of top celebrity auctions at Charitybuzz.com, the New York-based company that arranges the events to help nonprofits raise money through its Website or at galas. Her money went to support the work of the William J. Clinton Foundation.
“We think Clinton has done an outstanding job outside of his presidency,” said McLeod, 52, executive director of Grant Me the Wisdom Foundation, which aids girls and women in the developing world.
“I wanted to know what his schedule was like. I wanted to know more about his daughter.”
Other celebrity-auction experiences in the top 10 included $US105,000 to meet Oprah Winfrey backstage at the last taping of her popular television show, which benefited the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice & Human Rights, and a private voice or guitar lesson with Paul Simon, to benefit the Children's Health Fund, with two such sessions available for $US75,000 each.
“President Clinton is truly a unique combination of being a global philanthropist and an iconic star,” Holzman said. “He has a larger-than-life personality, which makes him a unique global philanthropist who has universal appeal.”
Since leaving office, Clinton's profile has risen through the work of his Global Initiative, a nonprofit that pairs businesses with nonprofits and programs that tackle issues such as malaria prevention and the empowerment of women and girls.
Charitybuzz noted the Clinton cachet two years ago when a bidder at a Christie's charity auction paid $US80,000 for 18 holes of golf with him.
One reason why Clinton attracted a much higher bid last year was the chance for a “glimpse into the world of an ex- president that you can't get” otherwise, Holzman said.
The $US255,000 bid won McLeod the opportunity to shadow Clinton last autumn on one of the days he spent promoting his latest book, Back to Work.
“What struck me was that Clinton is willing to give up golfing 200 days a year so that he can change the world,” she said. “I wanted to know how he became a vegan. His staff brought him some food and it had some cream on it, and he didn't touch it.”
Last year, Charitybuzz offered more than 5,000 experiences, a 25 per cent increase from 2010, said Coppy Holzman, founder and chief executive officer. It takes a percentage of final bids as its fee.
As the 2012 gala fundraising season begins this month, Charitybuzz has plans to broker other encounters with Clinton beginning in April.