3 Ways to Improve the Flow of Large Silent Auction Events

by Joe Garecht

People at a Silent Auction

Even the best silent auction events can prove to be a logistical nightmare.  Between bidsheets, registration, checkout and keeping track of items, there’s a lot that can go wrong.

I’ve worked with a number of organizations successfully running large silent auctions (50-250 items) and today want to provide some very practical advice on how you can improve the flow of your next auction event.

1. Use Sections and Close Them One or Two at a Time

One of the best things you can do to improve both the auction experience for your bidders is to break your items up into categories and place each category into its own section.  You may have bidders who are interested in sports tickets but not restaurant gift cards, or people who want to bid on gift baskets but not jewelry.  If someone knows what they are looking for at a large auction but has trouble finding it, they may give up and instead focus on the food stations and the bar.

My suggestion is to break up your auction items into anywhere from 4-10 categories and place these items together at the event with signage indicating what each section is.  That way, when someone comes into your large silent auction, they can glance around and see signs that say, “Jewelry and Gift Baskets,” “Restaurants and Nightlife,” “Sports Tickets and Memorabilia,” and “Gift Baskets,” or whatever categories make sense for your event.

To improve your check out flow, close your sections one or two at a time, depending on how many classifications you are using.  For example, if your event ends at 9 PM, you can close the first section at 8:20, and then close another section every 10 minutes until the event ends.

This helps break up the checkout process and stretch it out over time.  It also allows you to up your bids by announcing a last call for each section prior to its closing, which will allow people to make one last effort to win items without worrying about hitting up every section at the same time.

2. Segregate Your Checkout

Long checkout lines are the bane of large silent auctions everywhere.  No one wants to wait in a line 40 people deep to pay for the $50 gift card they won.  The best way to combat this problem is to segregate your checkout lines.  Here’s how I do it:

First, you have a payment table with multiple people processing credit cards and taking cash and checks.  When someone pays for an item, they get a receipt listing the item numbers they won (preprint a stack of these that your payment volunteers can simply fill out and hand to the winners after payment).

Then, rather than having people wait at the payment table while you search for their gift certificates or fetch the items they won, you send the winners over to the items table.  They hand in their receipt and your volunteers give them their gift card or gift certificates, or your runners go and collect the items they have won.

Segregating your checkout in this way works because you have lots of volunteers working at your checkout tables, and they only have to worry about one thing – either processing payments or handing out items.  Things move smoother and faster, and that results in happier bidders.

3. Overdo it with Signage

I have found that when it comes to silent auctions, the more signage the better.  Good, clear signage keeps people moving and makes the registration, bidding, and check out process move much more smoothly.

The signs I like to use at my large auctions include:

  • Registration – Signs showing where to register / check-in
  • How it Works – One or two large signs explaining how the silent auction process works
  • Categories – As explained above, signs showing where various auction categories can be found
  • Checkout – I like to use lots of signs at checkout, including signs that show where checkout is located, where payments are accepted, where items can be picked up and what type of payments can be accepted
  • Restrooms and Coat Check – When necessary to enable visitors to find the bathrooms and coat check room

Make your signs large, bold and clear.  Have them printed up at FedEx Office or another quick print shop, put on a foam board backing and use easels to display them around your event venue.

Using these three strategies, you can keep your silent auction events running smoothly without exhausting or confusing your staff, volunteers or guests.


Photo Credit: Moonlightbulb

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