What are some of the challenges of planning a silent auction event? And how can these challenges be overcome? A critical issue facing the event chairperson is volunteer/staff “burn-out”. Countless hours are involved in the event preparation phase and finding someone to take the responsibility to chair the event from year to year is at times difficult. In addition, chairpersons often place pressure on themselves to meet certain revenue goals. It is imperative, therefore, that the chairperson create an environment in which people (volunteers, staff, guests, and other supporters) want to participate again, even if that might appear to mean “less” short-term revenue. The best chairpersons meet such challenges with a diplomatic combination of effective time/project management and praise of others’ contributions. (AuctionStar offers a comprehensive planning guide that discusses key aspects for the event chairperson, i.e. sample preparation schedules, etc.) Back to Top
How can I better utilize the volunteer base that I have? In our experience, the different job tasks required can be divided up among volunteers or staff. Each job description states the required amount of time and responsibilities so that everyone knows what commitment is involved. When the job task is specific, volunteers are more willing to commit. Appropriate software can help reduce, or sometimes eliminate, the less “fun” tasks, so more time is available for the more creative aspects of event preparation. Back to Top
Are there cases where problems occur in the final days or hours? And how do you handle them? Most definitely; most “last-minute” problems occur for one of the following reasons: (1) deadlines have not been utilized properly, (2) communication with event staff/volunteers falters or (3) tools for the task(s) at hand are cumbersome/inadequate. Often, in a “last minute panic” or “last minute overload” -type of problem, there are shortcuts that can be taken to ease the situation. (AuctionStar calls its clients at certain checkpoints in order to assist them; for example, if a milestone is not met, we can advise the client on options available in order to get the job done.) Sometimes, an outside consultant or other person(s) can assist as the event nears as well, offering solutions and/or extra elbow grease. Back to Top
Are there cases where problems occur at the event itself? And how do you handle them? Yes, of course. The food, which is usually out-sourced to a professional, is virtually never a problem. Almost all of the time, the lighting, the sound, etc. has been well checked and is not a problem. Occasionally, a live auction goes far over-schedule because a professional auctioneer is not being used. Most frequently by far, “check-in”/registration, and most especially, checkout are problematic because of slow methods, inadequate planning and/or a reluctance to professionally out-source this area. Making guests unduly wait to leave creates a negative perception, even if everything else about the event went well. Occasionally also, if a computerized system is being used, hardware will fail. The key to any and all of these potential problems is planning and prevention. Once an event “crisis” ensues, there is usually not much you can do except “fix it” (i.e., prevent it) for the next year. (I consider AuctionStar to be superior to any other solution in the area of event checkout/check-in; it’s “no single point of failure” system allows continued operation even with a hardware failure.) Back to Top
Why would an organization use a software database designed for a silent auction event versus using a generic donor database?
Although the two types of systems may overlap in some of the information tracked, a specialized silent auction system will include a different set of functions than a donor database. A silent auction system should easily create event materials, such as item display signs, live auction bid paddles, an auction catalog, certificates, and so on, from a single source information. (For example, in AuctionStar, simply specify page margins when printing item display signs, and AuctionStar will dynamically adjust the print size to be as large as possible for each and every sign.) Other features of such a system should include the ability to package items (and change packaging), renumber items, arrange (and re-arrange) table assignments, use an automated bid increment formula or customize such formula (or customize bid information for any individual item), “duplicate” items, track ticket sales, report on all of these aspects, produce sales statistics, and so on. (This is not everything, but you get the idea!) For persons working on an event, using a generic donor database is very frustrating, because too much information must be tracked and produced via other methods, which usually means retyping, re-formatting, manually developing post-event statistics, and a host of other cumbersome tasks. Back to Top
What should I consider in order to ensure that the system we purchase will fit my organization’s fundraising event needs? Unless you already have computer hardware, select the software first, then the hardware (It is a mistake to decide you want a computer system and then rush out to buy hardware first!). In virtually all cases, an organization will not be able to recognize all of its needs prior to selecting software. I therefore offer a few guidelines: (1) buy the most flexibility that you can afford (in general, “you get what you pay for” and a “cheap” package typically is unsatisfactory even for a small event), (2) insist on standard import/export features to “feed” a larger donor database, if applicable, or to use information in other ways and (3) consider the support of “at-event” and “post-event” processes in addition to the event preparation. Back to Top
What is the best way to implement a computerized system for event fundraising?
I would recommend that an organization have at least two computer literate individuals, either paid staff or volunteers. One of these is typically needed for data entry and for printing event materials, while often the more “expert” person may handle automatic mailings, troubleshooting, or the more non-routine tasks. Decide which tasks for which the system will be used and streamline your preparation process. Back to Top
Tell us a little bit about what AuctionStar does. AuctionStar provides software and services specifically for events that include a silent auction, casino, or other “collect-at-the-event” fundraising. We consider AuctionStar to have the “world’s best practice” in checkout and check-in, as our system utilizes a unique, patented bar-coded system, combined with procedures developed from servicing hundreds of events. The guests’ bar-coded stickers create an atmosphere of fun, intensified bidding and subsequently enable guests to leave easily and quickly at the conclusion of the event. As a specialized system, AuctionStar includes many features that greatly reduce the time required for “last-minute” tasks. The software also is extremely flexible, with many options for customization. For more information, see our website www.BarcodedAuctions.com, call our sales office at (713) 665-1231, or email us at sales@BarcodedAuctions.com. We look forward to hearing about your event plans and to discussing if AuctionStar might benefit your organization. Back to Top
How much preparation time is necessary to plan a silent auction event?
A minimum of 3-4 months is recommended before the event. Many clients begin up to a year prior to the event. During this timeline several tasks should be completed. Date, time, location and theme for the event must be chosen. Volunteer jobs need to be assigned. Item categories need to be identified so that item solicitations can begin. Guest invitations are sent out about six weeks prior to the event. A tracking system needs to be put in place for guest reservations and donated items. This is why a comprehensive full-featured software package is recommended. Back to Top
What does an organization need to run a silent auction?
To run a silent auction event, an organization needs people that can devote time and energy to planning and organizing. Back to Top
How can I get my volunteers to use new methods or technology?
Change sometimes can be difficult for organizations that are set in their ways. However, once volunteers and staff appreciate that technology will actually make their jobs easier, they will give it a chance. Back to Top
How can I ensure a smooth transition from one year to the next? And more importantly, finding a chairperson? If an organization has conducted a silent auction before, you probably are well aware of the effort involved to pull off such an event. Making a smooth transition from one year to the next is possible when each job task is established. Allowing each volunteer to perform their tasks, the chairperson is not going through Herculean efforts. Finding a chairperson is much easier when the organization has fully utilized its volunteer staff so that the chairperson’s work is more delegating and managing the process. Back to Top
What makes AuctionStar unique as a fundraising tool? AuctionStar is a comprehensive full-featured software package designed specifically for silent auction events. This database creates event materials for item display signs, live auction bid paddles, and an auction catalog by entering the data once. Just a partial list of some time saving features AuctionStar offers are the ability to package items, renumber items, arrange table assignments, customize or automate bid increment formula, do item duplication, track ticket sales, print mailing lists, mailing labels and name tags. Back to Top
How do you work with a client organization from start to finish? The client organization is provided extensive documentation on using the software and planning their event. There are also several quality checkpoints that we use with our clients. Our scheduling coordinator contacts the client organization 4-5 weeks prior to the event to discuss the details of the event. This would include: review the schedule for the event night, the floor plan and staffing needs. The technical department will contact the client organization at 4 weeks prior to the event and at 2 weeks prior to the event. At these times they will insure that data entry has been started, test data samples, request print samples and check that data entry has been completed. Back to Top
Discuss how the bidding process works with AuctionStar. The AuctionStar software package offers a unique solution to the checkout nightmare. Its unique bar coded system makes bidding, fun, easy, quick and error-free. All guests do is slap AuctionStar’s patented bar coded sticker onto the bid sheet. The winning bid is then quickly scanned at the silent auction closing and AuctionStar expedites and prints a complete two-part invoice. Guests who choose to prescan their credit cards provide just a quick signature on their invoice and move on to pick up the items won. Back to Top
Discuss how check out works with AuctionStar. The winning bid is quickly scanned at the silent auction closing and AuctionStar expedites and prints a complete two-part invoice. Guests who choose to prescan their credit cards provide just a quick signature on their invoice and move on to pick up the items won. Back to Top
How does the event look? At any event there would be some basic “areas”. These would include the check-in area, the silent auction area, computer room and the check-out area. At check-in, guests may be given registration material, bid stickers and an auction catalog. They are also encouraged to prescan their credit card. The silent auction section is best organized with a single point of entry and exit. This insures quality control so that guests leave with the correct items. The computer room is a separate area from the festivities. In this section, AuctionStar’s computer stations are set up to print additional bidder stickers, bid sheets and close the event. The check-out area is set up so that prescan invoices are placed in alpha order. Prescanned invoices need only a guest signature. Remaining invoices printed are in alpha order at a different table. These guests will either pay check, cash, or imprint credit cards depending on the organization’s preferences. All winners then return to the silent auction area to pick up their items. Back to Top
Who runs the auction? AuctionStar gives clients the option of full staffing or minimal staffing. Clients may even choose to run the event on their own if they are fully trained. The level of staffing is really up to the client organization’s needs. Item solicitation, event publicity and cash collection responsibilities fall upon the client organization. Back to Top
What kinds of back up services are provided at the event? AuctionStar comes prepared. There is always backup equipment in the event of equipment failure. Back to Top
What type of technical support is available?
In addition to the extensive documentation available to clients, the technical support staff is available to answer any questions. Back to Top
Can the software trace proceeds so that each part of an organization gets its share of proceeds? The added benefit of implementing technology for a silent auction, is the ability to produce statistical reports and track different activity. High bidders, cash donations, specific cause proceeds can all be traced with AuctionStar. Back to Top
Does the program allow for credit card usage by attendees? What options is available to the client?
Yes, the program does allow for credit card usage. During the check-in guests are able to prescan their credit cards. Their credit card is swiped and the credit card number and guest name is stored in the database program for the evening’s event. We also allow clients to have the option of swiping credit cards prior to close out time. That way guest that change their mind, can expedite their check out. Back to Top
How is payment secured from guests?
The client organization has the option of using credit cards at their event. We highly recommend this for quick check-out. Final payment is strictly between the client organization and the bidder. Back to Top