High rating conceptHow to Have a Great Silent Auction: the check-in process

Rounding out the smooth check-in plan

In part I on How to Run an Auction Fundraiser for Charities, I described the process for running a good check-in up to the point of handing out bidder numbers and materials and how to tie it all together with ExpressPay. If you haven’t read that post yet, be sure to start there as this post continues on from where we left off.

In the following I will discuss details on the bidder package, paddles, and carrying out the ExpressPay process. While in some cases I will refer to our silent auction fundraising software (BidStation and PayStation), this post also goes beyond auction software solutions and offers a many general lessons from my hard-earned years of experience working with charity auctions myself.

Issuing Bid/Paddle Numbers

The organization and tracking of your auction bid and purchases revolves around the use of bidder numbers. Your guests will be able to use their bidder number for all purchases, making a cashless evening.  This means that it’s vital that they will be able to recall their bidder number (and table number) when and where they need it. There are of course a number of methods for handing out this information to attendees but one thing is consistent with any event and that is that many guests will understandably not be able to remember their table number or bidder number. Be sure to consider your event and what method will work best for your auction so you can build it into your plan well ahead of the event. Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Reception style card – Small but elegant, easy to place in pocket or purse.
  • Label on the catalog or program – Efficient but bulky.
  • Live Auction paddle – Very effective for the Live Auction, but often difficult to distribute and difficult to carry around. Consider numbering the paddles using a felt marker as guests arrive instead of having to sort through a large number to find the right one.
  • Wristbands are also an option, if you can print or write clearly on them. Or, there are also several printable wristband options now on the market.  Check the Internet for these.

And lastly, once guests are checked in, consider printing a few copies of the updated guest list and have them available for volunteer/staff to be able to use to look up numbers for guests.

Bid number procedure

Whatever form you use for assigning bid numbers, you need to create extra numbers to hand out to unregistered guests. Designate a numbering group that is unique from your pre-assigned bid numbers. If your numbers end in the 300s, then use the 500s for your unregistered numbers. Here are some examples of guests that you may not have pre-registered before the event:

  • Guests of attendees whose names were not given at the time the table reservation was made. This is particularly true of corporate tables where tickets are often given away at the last minute. In most of these cases table assignments have already been made.
  • Walk-ins, while rare do occur and there must be a list of available tables.
  • “The forgotten guest”: usually a board member or prominent donor whose name was left off the list. It does not matter whose fault it was or if the guest suddenly decided to arrive, they must be dealt with politely and quickly. A quick glass of wine and a friendly phrase often go a long way in overcoming any problem.

    Sample bidder registration card with handy tear off bidder numbers

    Sample bidder registration card with handy tear off bidder numbers

In part 1 of this post, I raised the problem of the unregistered guest. This guest can actually be any guest who was not on your attendee list (someone gave them a ticket perhaps?) and therefore will not have a bidder number or possibly table number. Whether forgotten or just not-registered, you’ll need to be prepared to turn the troublesome problem in to an opportunity to impress.

Handling ‘Unregistered Guests’

My recommendation is to avoid trying to add them (typing) into BidStation, or your auction database, at the registration table while guests stand by. Instead, create simple, pre-printed forms with a range of unassigned bidder numbers and that have fields for the information required using BidStation. Most auctions only need to have a name, phone and email but if you would like mailing as well, add those lines to your form. BidStation comes with a 4×6 index card template that you can use to create attractive, customized registration cards but really anything will do that has enough space for the information to be written in.

Using BidStation and PayStation to provide the ExpressPay experience

If you’re going to attempt to organize manually pre-swiping credit cards, I would say “Don’t do that!”.  I don’t know of a “good” way to do this manually and it’s exactly what we made PayStation for.  This is a complicated procedure that is handily organized by our apps BidStation and PayStation.

Offer to swipe guest’s cards at registration with PayStation. It takes about 2 seconds and their account will be marked in BidStation as ExpressPay.  These bidders will not need line up to pay and end of the night as their payments will be completed at a later time when all is quiet. Payment receipts and invoices can be mailed or emailed with BidStation and PayStation after the event.

ExpressPay Procedure

I know of many groups that like to include ExpressPay information in communications with attendees to raise awareness of what it is before the event. I also know of just as many groups that simply ask for credit cards to pre-swipe at the auction registration with no prior notice given to bidders. I believe the right approach is the one that you feel comfortable with and that you feel your guests will as well.

Either way, I once again refer to the important role the greeters can play here. In addition to welcoming and pre-screening and manual registration, greeters can also engage the guests in brief conversation about the exciting opportunities the night has in store such as the silent and live auction, raffle, wine pull, etc., leading into asking them to check in with their credit card as they walk them over to the registration table. Again, this leaves less for the check-in team to deal with and requiring less time for the guest to complete the registration process.

PayStation does not use an Internet connection or a network connection so you don’t need to worry about those delicate and error-prone issues. Simply take the guest’s credit or debit card, swipe it through the card reader, add their bidder number and press the enter key. It takes about 5 seconds.Swipe credit cards with PayStation

While you’re swiping the card, your grabbers (discussed in part 1) will be gathering the guest’s bidder package and should be ready to hand it to the check-in staffer as soon as the card is swiped. If the guests have no additional questions, they will have completed registration in about 1 minute (or less!) and be on their way.

Consider adding a sticker or some other indication on the bidder card or program to indicate they are ExpressPay registered. This will help them remember that they are, and will show any of your raffle, wine pull, etc. sellers that they can make their purchase with their bidder number (if your limiting this to ExpressPay only)

Summing up

Any auction, even the smallest, can employ basic planning and preparation to coordinate a smooth, line-free fundraising silent auction event with ExpressPay credit card pre-swiping. Using some inexpensive auction database organizing and payment tools such as BidStation and PayStation, you can do it yourself and save time and money in the process.

The entire process begins with the auction check-in/registration process. Plan and run this well and the rest will fall into place. I will write more on the other aspects of running your auction, but hope you find this article to be a good start!

Try our Auction Fundraiser Software Solution for Free

You can download our BidStation and PayStation auction free to learn for yourself how easy it can be to organize a dead quick auction check-in registration process. This free trial package comes with a merchant account already setup for payment simulations and sample database records to work with.

If you have any questions, we have great support and how-to videos here that we add to regularly and I am more than happy to walk you though setting up your charity fundraiser!

Please contact us for help, support, or sales either online or call toll free: 1-866-410-6865 (within United States and Canada).

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