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Tips For First-Time Auction Chairs

by Kathryn Schwartz

First of all, congratulations! Your new job may look daunting, but it can be incredibly fulfilling. And you have help available to you - there’s a lot of good information and advice available on the web (including, I hope, these articles!) This first article is a collection of some deceptively simple actions and choices you make ahead of time can save your sanity the night of the auction.

Attend Other Auctions!

Once you know you’re in charge of an auction, your experience as a guest at other auctions will never be quite the same. And that’s a good thing. Attending auctions of other organizations will help you get new ideas for items to procure, ways to decorate, procedures for check-in or check-out and room setup arrangements. If you can, attend at least one auction being held at the same venue as the one you’re planning, this is the best way to see the flow of the space in action before your event. Volunteering at other auctions is another way to get ideas. Some of my favorite ideas for organizing volunteers the night of the auction came from my experience as a volunteer at large auctions organized by very experienced auction planners.

Number Your Items assigns each item a tracking number as soon as it is entered, and an item number when the final order of items is set. Once you have set the final item numbers, (using the Tables feature), use small stickers (I like white, 1” circles) to mark every item with the item number. The removable stickers are less likely to leave their mark on items, but if you use them be sure to press hard so they stay on.

Label everything - you cannot have too many items numbered. For example, an auction item that is a single bottle of wine will have one sticker with one number, an auction item that is a case of wine will have 12 bottles each with a sticker that has the same number.

These numbers will help when setting up the auction tables to quickly match the right item with the correct bid sheet. Even more important, at the end of the evening when everyone is working quickly and people are connecting items with winning bidders, volunteers will have an easier time making sure people are given what they bought – not something that looks a lot like it. I have volunteered at several auctions where items intended to be part of a package weren’t included when delivered to the guest. While that may still happen with the labels, those numbers will let your volunteers match up orphaned items with the correct person.

Imagine one of your volunteers has donated to make a pie a month for a lucky buyer. The donor did not give you a gift certificate and there is nothing tangible to hand the buyer. Fast forward to check-out time, the guest is at the cashier table collecting their items and one of your volunteer is searching at will-call for a gift certificate that doesn’t exist. Also, unless the winning bidder is well acquainted with the donor, without something tangible in their hand, guests feel as though they’re paying for something they are not receiving.

Preventing this is easy. Every single auction item should have something to hand the buyer - even if that something is a piece of paper that says to call you (or, even better, the generous donor of those pies) for more information. Even when a gift certificate isn’t required to redeem an item, an informational gift certificate can save a lot of headache and hassle later. You can print gift certificates easily from within - go to Reports > Printouts to find the link.

Don’t Give Yourself an Auction-Night Job

The Auction Chair should not be the person overseeing check-in, check-out, setting up the auction items or managing volunteers. In fact, on the night of the auction, the Chair should have no assigned responsibilities. There will be more than enough last minute details and questions to deal with, keep yourself available for that.

More Auction-Night Tips

If your set up crew is complaining that the hall is too cold – that’s probably a good thing. When those dozen bodies have a couple hundred people added, it won’t be cold any more. Suggest volunteers bring a sweater.

Have a volunteer lined up to take home any unclaimed items. Yes, your catalog will tell people they have to pick up their items that night, and you’d never leave an auction without getting your stuff – but others will. Some people will leave without realizing they placed the winning bid, some won’t wait in line, and others will have to leave early. Whatever the reason, you will have unclaimed items at the end of the evening. A volunteer with a large vehicle who has a secure garage where they can park (no one wants to unload items late at night) can be a lifesaver.

Have food available for your volunteers and schedule time to eat – this includes you. I recently attended an auction as a guest (that was different and fun!) and was seated at a table with the auction chair - or, at least, with her plate of food that she never had a chance to sit down and eat.

If the auctioneer cannot be clearly and easily heard by all of the guests, you will not raise as much money. If the location you’ve chosen to have the auction has a sound system, check it out, make sure it is powerful enough – and that there are enough speakers properly placed – to be heard by your guests. Whatever sound system you are using, you need someone who knows the system who will be at the event and handle any sound issues that arise. The sound system used for your auction can make or break the entire event. This is not the place to cut corners.

Last But Not Least

Good planning and organization saves you time, eliminates problems before they happen, and creates an event attendees want to participate in (and volunteer to help at). Be business-like in planning the auction and managing your meetings. Delegate responsibilities, make sure everyone knows what is expected of them, and follow-up to make sure tasks are completed. On auction-day, have people who can focus on set-up, check-in and check-out and at the end of the night maybe you won’t be saying “if I had a dollar for every time someone said my name today I’d be rich!.”

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