I was fortunate to grow up in a small town, where everything was usually a few years behind fashion and materialism wasn't as important. (That's my disclaimer so I don't sound high & mighty and judgmental, it's just where I'm coming from...)
When I first came to NY, I was very surprised by the Chinese Auction phenomena. Organizations that imparted Torah and Judaism or espoused the Torah way of life, a life where the material is supposed to be used only in service of the spiritual, were conducting Chinese Auctions as fundraisers, appealing to the materialistic side in us, and making us feel more materialistic. Hmmm... let's see... I'm going to win the sheitel and the iPod and wouldn't it be nice if I got the helicopter lessons and the make-up gift certificate... Oohh! And trip to Florida for winter break! That would be nice. I never thought I needed that stuff (well, except for the wig) but now it gets me thinking. And wishing.
Chinese Auctions are very successful, and its not too hard to understand why. Besides, it even makes you feel good - its tzedaka so everyone's a winner! I doubt that an auction of Artscroll Shases and Kiddish cups would bring in as much money.
It's natural for individuals to want nice things and most people aren't ready for the bread and salt life, but it doesn't seem right when Torah organizations, our beacons of light, take advantage of this human weakness. Or do the gains, the operating funds the organizations receive which allow them to continue their good works, justify the means?