The Big Book of Benefit Auctions
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The Big Book of Benefit Auctions

Jay R. Fiske, Corinne A. Fiske

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eBook - ePub

The Big Book of Benefit Auctions

Jay R. Fiske, Corinne A. Fiske

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About This Book

The Big Book of Benefit Auctions is the ultimate step-by-step handbook on how to plan and have a successful and effective auction. Auction committees will find it an invaluable reference as it provides all the tools they will need for complete auction planning and management. From setting the goal for the event, to organizing the committee, procuring auction items, building the audience, preparing the catalog and through auction night cashiering (check out) services, everything you will want to know about the auction process is readily at your fingertips in this resource guide. The book will not only contain important "how to" information, it will also explain why some decisions and activities are not only good practices, they are essential to having a well-run and efficient event. Also, the book will discuss important strategies for maximizing revenue at your event, and will cover common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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You have been planning and working for six months, and now it is showtime! Whatever happens in the next 24 to 48 hours, please remember one very important thing: You are much more knowledgeable about what’s been done during the planning stages and what’s going on behind the scenes than any of your guests will be. They will see the results of your effort. You will see the process. It’s like watching ducks on a pond—while we see the grace with which they glide across the water, the ducks know they are paddling like heck below the surface!
Your event will be very much like that. Your guests will see a flawlessly orchestrated event that will bring excitement and energy and generosity out of your audience. They will not know, or care, what has been going on for six months to bring it all together. They will be impressed, and you will be rewarded, so don’t be too critical of the last stages as they unfold—you are bound to have some bumps and bruises as a result of unforeseen issues; they cannot be avoided. Do not let them consume you. Delegate the details to others on your committee so you don’t have to shoulder all of the last-minute crisis management. Put others in charge and let them handle the details and fix the issues. Your job is to manage the big picture, not to micromanage the details.
One of the best ways to reduce last-minute issues is to avoid leaving until the last minute anything that does not need to be done at the last minute. In fact, anything that can be done ahead of time should be done as soon as possible. You do not want to print bid forms on the day of the event; you have known about the items for months and probably had catalog numbers assigned to them for more than a week. Print your forms the day you create your final catalog, because there is no value in waiting. If you get additional items after that, then create an addendum for those items and print just the forms needed for these additional items. Delaying printing of all auction forms until the last minute just adds unnecessary stress to an already stressed-out committee.
Think about what else can be handled before the day of the event, and make sure none of these tasks drift into that day. It is far better to be all set up and ready to go early, with nothing to do except wait for your guests, than to be scrambling as doors open to get the last-minute items completed.
With this important advice in mind, we now come to the final preparation and execution of your event-day materials and processes.
Preparing for Your Day-of-Event Needs
Each of your auction guests will need some type of welcome packet to guide them on the day of the event. At a minimum, they will need a bidder number and a listing of the Live Auction items. What follows are some suggestions for preparing to welcome your guests, and what you need to provide to them so they can enter the event and begin bidding.
Although we talk about registration packets and discuss the use of envelopes, you might want to consider an alternate approach that has been successfully employed by many committees. Since a bid number and an assigned table for dinner are technically all the guest needs to be able to enter the event and begin bidding, you could bypass the step of handing out packets altogether and just give each guest a business card-size label with the guest’s name, bid number, and table number printed on it. They can use this number for bidding in the Silent Auction, and then use the table number to find their table in the main room for dinner. At the guest tables, volunteers would have placed the actual Live Auction bid card for each bidder seated at that table, along with the catalog of Live Auction items. In this system, guests do not need to carry anything during the Silent Auction and cocktail reception. Keeping their hands free will allow them to hold a drink and still be able to pick up a pen to bid. Obviously, this approach works only if you are using assigned tables for guest seating, but if you do, it’s a good alternative to the standard practice.

Registration Packets

When guests arrive at your event, it’s important for you to give them all the information they will need to successfully do their jobs (i.e., having a good time and bidding generously) at the auction. Typically, this information comes in the form of a registration packet.
The contents of registration packets vary, but in general they usually include:
• One or more bid cards (more specifics about bid cards follow)
• One or two copies of the item catalog—Live Auction items at a minimum, Silent Auction items optional
• Event agenda
• Addendum for any last-minute items or updates
• Preaddressed business-size envelope
Other items that may be included in the packets, depending on your event are:
• Name badges
• Drink tickets
• Tickets indicating menu choices for the dinner (beef, fish, vegetarian, etc.)
• Map of venue with auctions drawn out, if the flow of the rooms is not intuitive or obvious
• All reserved auction scrip
• Any other promotional materials your organization thinks is necessary, such as a tribute book or materials from key sponsors

Registration packets should be in one or more boxes at the registration desk so that preregistered guests can check in with the registration staff as quickly as possible. For preregistered guests, packets should be labeled with guest’s full name, bid number, table number, and entry level (e.g., sponsor, benefactor, etc.), if there are different levels. Registration packets should be filed in alphabetical order by guest’s last name, not by bid number. This is because guests may not know their bid number at the time of registration, but they always know their last name! If you have many guests attending (100 or more unique buying units), you’ll want to divide the registration packets into multiple boxes across the alphabet (e.g., Box 1 contains last names starting with A-M, Box 2 holds N-Z), for ease in getting to individual packets during the registration flurry.
Depending on your event, you may be faced with the situation in which not every guest that arrives has preregistered. These types of attendees usually fall into the following categories:
1. Attendee is a guest of another registered attendee.
2. Attendee is a walk-up guest who heard about the event and decided at the last minute to attend.
3. Attendee was invited, but did not register prior to event.
4. Attendee was invited and believes he or she had preregistered but the registration staff and database have no record of his/her registration.
5. Attendee is replacing a guest who previously registered.

Each of these situations is handled in a slightly different way, so let’s take a look at the processes for each.

Case 1: Attendee Is a Guest of Another Attendee Sometimes you have the situation where a guest (either a couple or individual) registers and pays for one or more guests besides themselves. One typical example is an individual or corporation who buys or sponsors an entire table. At the time the table is purchased, they may indicate that they intend to fill it with three or four other couples. Yet, as late as the day of the event, you don’t know the actual identities of the hosts’ guests.
The way you handle this at registration is to make up the appropriate number of registration packets to serve the number of people who are guests of the hosts at the same table. This means you will also create placeholder records in your database, so that there are preset bid numbers and records for those couples or individuals ready for the day of your event. Since you don’t know their actual names, however, you will create these as “Guest of” records. In other words, let’s say that Mr. Michael Jacobsen and his wife are hosting a table for 10. They haven’t provided the names of their guests seated with them, but you know it will be four other couples. You know the couples are coming, so you will create four records with a last name of Jacobsen (to associate them with the host), and first name of “Guest One,” “Guest Two,” “Guest Three,” and so forth. When the labels for the bid packets are printed, they appear as “Jacobsen, Guest One,” which allows you to file them under Jacobsen—their host. When the guests finally arrive, they may give their own name, but you won’t have a record of that. Instead, you’ll ask them, “Are you with someone this evening or part of a group?” When they respond that, yes, indeed they are the guests of the Jacobsens, then you know where to find their bid packet—filed under Jacobsen.
The final step of this process is to make a note of the guest’s real last name so you can update that in your auction software. When it comes time for the auctioneer to recognize and thank the winning bidder, you’d prefer he say “Thank you to the generous bidders, Mr. and Mrs. Andreas” instead of thanking “Guest One of Jacobsen.”

Case 2: Attendee Is a Walk-up Guest This case is handled in a manner fairly similar to the preceding one. Instead of “Guest of” packets, however, you will create a number of “walk-up” packets. These packets contain all the same elements of a regular registration packet, except that you have no name or table assignment associated with the bid number until the guest actually arrives.
In your auction software, create temporary records for the expected number of walk-ups. As a general rule, if you create temporary records for about 10% over your currently registered guests, you should be fine. Adjust that number if your event historically has had a higher rate of walk-up guests. Your temporary records will be named “Walk-up #1,” “Walk-up #2,” and so forth. Each of these temporary records will receive a bid number, and, if you already know where you have seats available at tables, you can give each one a table assignment. Store these walk-up packets in a special place with your other registration packets, this time filing these special packets by bid number.
When the walk-up guest arrives you will hand them the first available walk-up packet you created. During the registration process, collect any fees due for the event and capture actual name/address information with which to update the database later.
Continue using this process for any subsequent walk-up guests, always choosing the next available bid packet so the bid numbers remain, ideally, in sequential order without gaps in the number sequence. If they get out of sync, it’s not a crisis, but it simply makes it easier for the auctioneer to quickly scan a list of numbers while thanking the successful bidder when there aren’t gaps in the numbers.

Case 3: Attendee Was Invited, but Did Not Preregister In this case, you probably have a record of the guest in your auction software, but you didn’t assign them a bid number, because you didn’t know they were actually coming. Also, they don’t have a “real” bid packet prepared for them, again, because you weren’t expecting them. From the perspective of giving them a bid packet and number, you’ll handle this in the exact way you would handle a walk-up (previous case), giving them the next sequential walk-up registration packet. The only significant difference is that, before you add the guest’s name, you will need to first check in your auction database to see if there is already a record of the person, so you don’t add them a second time. Once you have found them or added them, if necessary, associate the bid number you just gave them with their name record in the software.
If they haven’t preregistered, you probably haven’t collected any monies for event tickets or the dinner, so ideally you’ll need to take care of that, either by collecting the money at registration or getting a card on file so you can charge them later as part of their evening’s purchases.

Case 4: Attendee Was Invited, and Believes They Have Preregistered, but You Have No Record of the Registration If you have no record of a guest preregistering, you probably didn’t assign them a bid number, nor did you generate a specific registration packet for them. This case is similar to Case 3, because you likely have the guest’s name record in the database, so you won’t need to add them again. What you don’t have is a bid number associated with that guest. Again, handle this type of guest just like you would a walk-up guest—give them the next sequential walk-up packet after apologizing for not having them on file.
How you handle dinner tickets or entry costs at this point is largely up to you. It’s possible that this guest simply mailed their RSVP late and it has arrived in the mail over the weekend or will arrive in the next day or so. If they place a card on file, you can take their word that the “check’s in the mail” and worry about how to settle their dinner charges after the event. If you are unsure about who the guest is or how reliable their word is, you can ask for some form of payment at time of registration. Our recommendation is to assume the guest has truly paid, give them their registration packet, and wish them a good time so they leave registration impressed by your customer service and in a happy and, hopefully, generous mood. Sort out the dinner charges and invoice them after the event if it turns out they haven’t paid.

Case 5: Attendee Is Replacing a Guest Who Previously Registered This happens all the time. You may have the Morrises on file as attending the event and have prepared their registration packet, which is waiting for them. Yet, the attendees before you are Mr. and Mrs. Lee, who have indicated they are taking the place of the Morrises, who were unexpectedly called out of town. The temptation might be to just give the Lees the Morrises’ packet and call it good, but you don’t want to do that. Even though the Morrises didn’t show up, you really want to retain the information that they did accept your invitation and they did support your organization by paying for their event tickets. If you simply changed the name of the attendee record associated with the bid number from Morris to Lee, you’ve potentially lost that history.
Instead, treat the Lees as a walk-up, but assign them to the Morrises’ table, rather than giving them a new table assignment. Add the Lees as new attendees, corresponding to the bid number on the walk-up packet, and the Lees are on their way to enjoy the evening, to be generous, and to bid heartily. They do not need to pay for the dinner, since the Morrises already paid for theirs and have sent the Lees in their place. The Morrises’ packet will remain unclaimed and they will simply be a “no-show” at the event. Any purchases or donations the Lees make that evening will be recorded on their own unique bid number, so you have a record of their generosity and can invite them to attend your event next year.

About Bid Cards

Bid cards are readily available for sale from many auction companies...

Table of contents

Citation styles for The Big Book of Benefit Auctions
APA 6 Citation
Fiske, J., & Fiske, C. (2009). The Big Book of Benefit Auctions (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2009)
Chicago Citation
Fiske, Jay, and Corinne Fiske. (2009) 2009. The Big Book of Benefit Auctions. 1st ed. Wiley.
Harvard Citation
Fiske, J. and Fiske, C. (2009) The Big Book of Benefit Auctions. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Fiske, Jay, and Corinne Fiske. The Big Book of Benefit Auctions. 1st ed. Wiley, 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.