The Check-out Where Everyone Leaves Happy

This is the third in a series of posts about running a successful fundraising event night, written by event service professionals. Event service professionals help troubleshoot technology, advise on using event software, and ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible at auctions.

Registration isn’t the only bottleneck point in an event that can leave guests with a negative impression.

With everyone eager to get out and go home at check-out, I’ve seen big delays at check-out that run an event off the rails. Sometimes a guest whose had something to drink is really understanding about a delay—and sometimes they get extremely grumpy when they have to wait thirty minutes for their auction items.

Remember: check-out is the last impression you get to make on guests. It’s the moment they’ll remember all through the year, when they see your invitation again in nine months.

You don’t want them remembering how much of a pain it was to get out and go home… you want them remembering what a great time they had!

Discuss Last Year’s Pain Points

After your event is over and you’ve had some time to decompress, sit down with your auction team and discuss what worked and what didn’t work at check-out and item pickup. Usually, each group’s pain points are unique to their audience. Do your guests like to hang around and dance long into the night? Or do they all try to leave early and go home?

Discuss what went wrong, what you did well, and what’s within your power to change next year. Maybe if people are trying to get out early, your program needs some work at the end. Maybe you should close shop earlier. At one event I attended this year, there was an “after party” for guests who decided to stick around, with acoustic music and more drinks. This is a great way to keep people from rushing out early!

Here are some examples of common check-out problems—and some easy fixes you can pitch at your meeting:

Challenge: Do people try to leave and pick up their items early, distracting staff and volunteers who are trying to prepare for checkout?

Solution: Post official check-out times outside your checkout area, and don’t let people cheat. Have volunteers posted outside to let guests know that if they want to leave before checkout has started, they can always swing by the office on Monday to get their things. (If your guests are just early birds, can you make some adjustments for them?)


Challenge: You have lot of items in your silent auction, so your item pick-up station isn’t always ready in time for checkout.

Solution: Keep item pick-up in the same room as the silent auction, so you don’t have to move everything from one room to another. Set up a table out front and conduct pickup from there.


Challenge: Receipts are never ready in time for people to start checking out. We’ve always got a big line and nothing to show them!

Solution: When you use online bidding, so guests already know what they’ve won—no need to wait if they didn’t win. Then, if receipts are taking a while, print a quick bidder report that shows each bidder’s winnings while you wait for the much longer receipts. Now item pickup volunteers can get started finding bidders’ items.

Optimizing Item Pick-up

silent auction

There are a lot of things that every organization can do in advance to make item pick-up easier. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve picked up after watching a lot of different organizations run checkout over the years.

1. Start preparing well in advance, and discuss with your entire check-out team how the process is going to go. Don’t start thinking about how you’re going to organize item pick-up in the half-hour between your live auction ending, and people coming to check out. Have a plan!

2. Don’t go “shopping,” where a volunteer takes a guest receipt and then wanders around, picking out each item they won.

Instead, take your printed list of each bidder and their winnings, and collect up everything they won into a bag, then label the bags with the bid numbers. When someone comes to check-out, all you have to do is grab the bag with their number on it! It’s much faster.

3. Do you have a plan for getting people to check-out? Item pickup? Why not merge the two instead?

This year, try assigning volunteers with iPads to the item pickup area, so guests who didn’t pay when they registered can simply swipe their card, pay, then pick up their items. Then there’s no back-and-forth between item pickup and cashiering!

4. Be able to improvise on receipts. Receipts can take a long time to print, especially if you’re waiting for those last Live Auction packages or Paddle Raises to get entered into the system.

Instead of making people wait, gather the email or snail mail address of every attendee—that way you can email or mail them a copy of their receipt. Emailing is also a great way to save paper and go green.

Watch Out for Pitfalls

 A couple quick parting notes from me on ways to make sure your guests leave your next event feeling great about participating.

  • Obey a strict schedule. Start moving items the moment your silent auction closes. Move whatever computer systems or tables you need to move as soon as possible, so you can focus on solving problems you couldn’t predict.
  • Volunteers have a tendency to drift out at 9pm. Make sure to heavily staff the beginning AND end of your event! Schedule a second crew to show up halfway through the event, who can hang around and help with item pickup and checkout.
  • And of course, always provide entertainment. If you’re worried about checkout going long, bring in some music, coffee, drinks or dancing to keep people occupied while they wait.

Above all, have a good time, and don’t stress out. Your guests feel what you’re feeling!

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