First, make a great first impression at check-in (and avoid the scene above).

Organizing bid sheet auctions

Bid sheet auctions are awesome and bidders love them! If you’re organizing a silent auction fundraiser and want it to run smoothly and without long lines, then read on. I’m going to share some tips and tricks to help you run your best auction ever, starting with registration. In part one, I’ll be discussing the check-in (auction bidder registration) process and build out the plan from there. In the following parts, I’ll go into more detail on the setup and execution.

The check-in (registration) process

What’s so special about organizing the auction registration process?

  • You may notice that I use ‘check-in’ and ‘registration’ interchangeably. Both terms are used to describe the process where your guests are going to get a bidder number and anything else they need for the event.

Your check-in sets the foundation for the organization of the rest of the auction, right up to check out and item pick-up. If your check-in is not set up in time or with the proper materials, mistakes will be easier to make and they might not show up until the end of the night – then you’ll have real problems on your hands! So read on, take notes and call us if you’d like to chat about your auction plans.

Designing a line-free check-in process

In this post, I’m going to be discussing the processes that help to organize a speedy, smooth and line-free guest check-in or bidder registration for the auction. Full disclosure: I’m also going to link in how our silent auction software for fundraisers, BidStation and PayStation, helps with each step.

Managing guest expectations

Managing guest expectations is important, and perhaps something to write about in a future post. But it’s worth noting here that guests will arrive with certain expectations in mind; some might arrive braced for lines and disorganization. Check-in is your opportunity to thrill them by exceeding their expectations and send them out into the silent auction happy and ready to bid like there’s no tomorrow. So let’s ensure that first impression is a great one.

Managing guest expectations at auctions

Start with ‘Greeters’

When your guests arrive, the very best way to welcome them is a smiling face and a customer-centric attitude. Recruit enthusiastic, energetic and friendly “greeters” (volunteers, kids from the school, staff, board members, local bank employees, etc.) to be able to welcome and thank each guest for coming as they arrive. Don’t leave them wondering where to go and what to do next. Your greeters will be the ones to perform that function, instantly putting your guests at ease.

Greeters’ pre-registration role

Your greeters will serve some important pre-registration functions as well: be sure to equip them with clipboards, a printed attendee list, and registration cards. I ask my greeters to welcome guests, ask their names and check to see if they are on the list. If they aren’t, then they need to be manually registered (more on that below).
If guests are socializing with friends, greeters can also help keep the crowd flowing by politely interrupting with their welcome greeting, inviting guests to check-in and escorting them to the registration table. Along the way, they can also describe the benefits of the ExpressPay credit-card pre-swipe payment system for auctions so that guests are pulling out their credit cards before they even get to registration. Greeters introduce the guests to the registration staff and leave them to return to greet other guests.
I’ve found that guests are thrilled with small gestures such as offering them a drink as they arrive. So, consider having a waiter nearby offering wine, champagne, beer or a non-alcoholic beverage, but be aware that guests will need to use their hands to get to a credit card so be prepared to have some space where they can set their drinks down at the check-in as well. High-top cocktail tables work nicely here.

The registration area layout

Registration must allow for the quick entry of attendees and the assignment of their bidder numbers. This sets the tone for the guests’ expectations of what may be to come at the end of the night for checking out. If they see long lines and chaos at check-in, they may hold back on bidding to avoid the lines.
Space maters, registration is your guest’s first impression so it’s very important that the area is large enough to allow a group of people to enter at once without feeling too crowded. If it is at the top of an escalator, have someone stationed at the top to ensure people move forward and keep the path clear for others who are behind them. But be sure your greeters are able to keep people moving to register and enter the event.

silent auction registration table with programs

Registration Tables

For registration tables at your auction check in, we recommend one-eight foot table per 150 registered guests as sufficient space for working. The tables should face the guests as they enter the area so that arriving guests can quickly proceed to the first available volunteer. However, if you’re going to ask your greeters to be prepared to register the “forgotten” guest with the manual registration card, consider having high-top cocktail tables or other stations near the greeter area for writing on.

  • The table must be adequately staffed with a recommended 2 volunteers for each 100 registered guests, plus 1 grabber for every 2 or 3 staff.
  • If possible, another table should be available behind the registration table for catalog or bidder cards, and one or two staff standing by to retrieve and hand to the check-in team for each guest.
  • There should be sufficient space for ExpressPay registration, the pre-registration of credit cards by the guest, which is explained on the next pages.

I place extra staff to stand behind the seated check-in team, who will be swiping credit cards, to be able to locate the guest registration package, i.e., program, bidder card, etc. I call this the “grabber”. They will listen carefully as guests step up to the tables to hear what their bidder number is (tip: it should be the greeter who tells them). The grabber will look up the bidder’s registration package to give to the check-in staffer. I find this saves a lot of time and allows the check-in person to focus on the interaction with the guests and the process of re-swiping their credit card. One or two grabbers can service four check-in stations quite well and will keep things moving smoothly. In the photo, there is one grabber for four cashiers.

Organizing unregistered individuals

A separate area or line should be designated for unregistered individuals, guests of registered attendees and “forgotten” guests so they can be politely and quickly processed. If your greeters are pre-screening with guest lists, they should be able to escort the guests to this area without having them go to the registered guest area first, just to be told to go somewhere else.  A glass of wine can be very helpful in soothing the angry guest whose RSVP was somehow misplaced. Every effort should be made to enable all arriving guests to participate in the evening as quickly and smoothly as possible. The angry guest does not bid and influences other attendees with their attitude.

For more details on the check-in process for unregistered guests read that section on part II here.

Sample bidder registration card with handy tear off bidder numbers

Sample bidder registration card with handy tear off bidder numbers

Keep the computer our of sight

Here’s another insider tip: I’ve talked to more than a couple of users out of trying to use BidStation, our silent auction database software, in plain view on the registration table to register guests. I don’t like this practice because guests don’t like standing and shouting their name, address, phone and email over a computer monitor while someone types. It may seem like it would be more efficient for the organizer, but it is a lot better for the guest and the auction if you can keep technology as hidden away as possible and simply write down their information on pre-printed cards with unassigned bidder numbers on them. Run them back to your “clerking” room for inputting into BidStation.

Offline credit card processing (pre-swiping)

I’ve run entire auctions where no guest was registered and all had to be manually entered. By utilizing a higher number of greeters with low-tech mobile registration systems (clipboards and pre-numbered registration cards), it went very smoothly.

Each bidder came to the registration table ready to check in with a completed registration form and credit card in hand for Express Pay credit card pre-swiping. Cashiers simply swiped their card and the number on the form. As the forms came in, a runner took them back to the clerking room for data entry into BidStation software. A team of two entered the card data and were able to keep up without much difficulty. There was never a line up and guests only briefly were exposed to computers when swiping their cards with PayStation offline credit card processing program. Superb!

Use PayStation for Express Pay card pre-swiping at your for offline credit card processing

Use PayStation for Express Pay card pre-swiping at your check-in table.

Using ExpressPay card pre-swiping at registration

Use a system that allows you to offer ExpressPay or Express Checkout credit card pre-swiping. Once a card is pre-swiped, the guest’s payment information is on file so they don’t need to provide it at the end of the night.  Once checked in with ExpressPay, guests can use their bidder number for any payments. Invoices for purchases and winning bids must show ExpressPay was used in order to keep track of non-ExpressPay.

  • PayStation and BidStation excel at ExpressPay. Pre-swipe credit cards at registration and allow your guests to make all purchases with their bidder number for a “cashless” event. At the end of the night, they’re prepaid and go directly to pick up items. Or, if they only purchased raffle tickets or other non-catalogue items, they don’t even need to checkout at all. They can simply leave and when you process their payments, PayStation will automatically send them e-receipts.  BidStation syncs with PayStation so each bidder’s invoice will clearly display if they used ExpressPay or no.

Pre-swiping payments for ExpressPay only takes a few seconds per guest so it won’t slow you down. I find that two PayStations are enough to keep up with 250 people that arrive in a steady flow, but might not be enough if they are arriving all at once time. You’ll need to take into account how the guests will arrive. For example, are they all coming in one big crowd? Or are your guests arriving over the course of an hour or so? Depending on the estimated traffic flow, you may need to consider adding additional check in staff, each with their own PayStation setup.

Tools and materials you’ll need.

Be sure you’ve got the right tools for the job and that they are put in place and fully set up well before guests arrive. There’s always a few who arrive early (most likely a board member!).

  • A printed statement of the various fees for the evening should be available for those guests making payment that evening.
  • Duplicate lists of all guests in alphabetical order. List should be cross-indexed with table seating and bidder numbers.
  • Paddles, place cards or catalogs with labels showing individual names, bidder numbers and table number, ready to be retrieved handily by the grabbers.
    Unassigned bidder cards & table numbers for unregistered guests. Available seating list must be available to assign these guests to tables (see sample registration card further down).
  • Additional catalogs and event’s schedule, if printed.
  • PayStation and BidStation software and equipment for ExpressPay registration.
  • A complete listing of all rules, timetables and regulations should be readily available. In addition, these listings should be printed in the catalog or displayed throughout the area. This will be an invaluable resource to guide your guests and help resolve disputes.
  • Printed signs explaining ExpressPay and what credit cards are accepted are helpful. They can be placed on the registration tables in frames.

Get your greeters, grabbers, and cashiers organized and resourced to have a well-organized registration and the rest of the auction will fall right into place.

UPDATE: In part 2 of this post, I discuss some of the details on the bidder package, paddles, and carrying out the ExpressPay process.

Try our Auction Fundraiser Software Solution for Free

Download our free BidStation and PayStation auction software to get started and learn how easy it can be to organize a super fast auction check-in registration process. The trial package comes with a merchant account already setup for payment simulations and sample database records to work with. It’s fully functional, limited to 20 records, which allow you to try it for your self risk free!

If you have any questions we have some great support and how-to videos here, and I am more than happy to walk you though setting up your charity fundraiser! You can get in touch with me online, or call toll free: 1-866-410-6865 (within United States and Canada).

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