Event Check-Out and Item Pick-Up Best Practices

Are you looking for ways to eliminate long lines as guests queue up to collect their auction winnings?

Do you want to provide a stream-lined, more pleasant experience for your guests? Here are some tips on how to optimize the check-out process and speed your guests on their way.


Set the Time and Place

Whenever you have a large crowd, it’s important to make sure everyone knows what is happening and when. Be firm and clear and state the time and place for check-out in several ways:

    • Have your emcee announce when it’s time to proceed to the checkout area.
    • If you’re using Online Bidding, send the final text to your guests, letting them know when it’s time to check out.
    • Clearly state on your printed program the end time for the event and where the check-out area is.
    • Once or twice throughout the evening, announce when and where to check-out and pick-up items.
Tip: Using Greater Giving GoTime and tablets, your volunteers can speed up the process tremendously: guests can pay on the spot and then proceed directly to the pickup area.

Separate Check-Out and Pick-Up

You can minimize congestion by creating two separate areas for check-out and pick-up, perhaps at opposite ends of the room. That way, guests who are just checking out can do so quickly and won’t clog up the lines for those who are also picking up items. Tell your guests to have their name and bid number ready so they can get pick up their items quickly.

Separate the Space

Consider setting up the Item Pick Up area behind a curtain, out of sight. This allows you to do all the prep work without disturbing your guests. You and your volunteers can get everything in order without interruptions. A curtain also helps eliminate looky-loos or people trying to leave early, which tends to cause others to do the same.

Mind Your Traffic Flow

You’ll need a well-designed flow, both in and out of the check-out and pick-up areas. If it’s structured well, the space will discourage people from huddling in groups and blocking the flow. Proper traffic management will also help ensure that people don’t leave without paying.

Line Up Enough Volunteers

Check-out is just as important as check-in, in terms of how many volunteers you’ll need. There’ll be fewer people working face-to-face with your guests, but you’ll need more people to handle package pick up. Not every guest will win something, and if they prepaid they’ll be able to check out quickly. For those who did win something, you’ll need enough volunteers to make sure everyone gets their packages efficiently.

Also, by the end of the evening, your volunteers will be tired. It’s often a good idea to create two shifts—one for the main part of the evening and another for check-out. That way your guests leave on a happy note, served by rested, helpful people.

Get Your Equipment Ready

Make sure you’ve got all the necessary equipment (in working order) for taking payments and providing receipts:

  • Credit card swipers
  • Printer, ink/toner and paper for printed receipts
  • Computer for emailed receipts
  • Cash box and change

Organize Your Packages

Make sure all items and packages are clearly marked for easy pick up. You can either mark them by package number or, if you have time, by bidder number:

  • Package Number: Arrange all the packages in package number order. When a guest shows up with his package numbers, the volunteers go shopping and find the corresponding packages. This method is faster, depending on how many volunteers you have.
  • Bidder Number: Mark packages by winning bid number throughout the evening, using sticky notes or pre-printed bid numbers. At the end of the evening arrange all packages by bid number. This allows you to group each person’s winnings together, which is more convenient for the guest.

Sell Additional Items

Check-out is a good opportunity for last-minute transactions:

  • Thank your guests and give them a swag bag.
  • Sell the centerpieces and “left over” last-chance items.
  • Sell your merchandise, especially any memento items specific to the event.

Share Your Ideas

What is your experience with the check-out process? What works and what doesn’t? We’d love to hear your ideas. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

18 Responses to “Event Check-Out and Item Pick-Up Best Practices”

  1. Sarah Rahkola

    I really love the point about separate check-out and pick-up areas. This worked really well for our school auction and completely solved our traffic-jam problem. I am curious about selling things during check-out, as most of our guests were ready to leave (though our event DID run a bit late). Do you recommend announcing “centerpieces for sale” at the end instead of including them in the on-line bidding all along? Having items sorted by number is also a key thing. We had a completely separate pick-up room which allowed us to have everything perfectly arranged when pick-up started–so key.

    • Sirenna Heckendorn

      Thank you so much for your comment and question! In our experience, while we suggest to limit the number of sales at checkout, it is a great opportunity to take advantage of clearing out those last few items – centerpieces, bottles of wine from your Wine Wall, or any other multi-sale packages that you’re wanting to sell. Also, having your centerpieces or items for sale through online bidding is an excellent way to sell so that you can streamline the additional transactions at checkout.

  2. This is great information. We are always looking for ways to speed up and streamline check out for our guests. I had never thought to go ahead and have the winning bidders numbers on their pkgs and grouped together. We usually just line them up by pkg number. This is one tip we will use thank you!

    • Sirenna Heckendorn

      Thank you for your comment. We are happy to provide and share suggestions based on our experiences. Arranging by bidder number is a great option; please take into consideration the number of packages you have and the extra time it will take to arrange them in bidder number order. When you have a tight turnaround from the close of auction and checkout, it is sometimes best to arrange as you currently do. We would love to hear your results!

  3. Stephanie M

    For many years, our organization’s greatest difficulty was long lines at checkout! Our guests would have a wonderful time – until it was time to check out! For us, online bidding has been a lifesaver – it has totally changed the checkout process to make it streamlined. Last year it just flew by – we could hardly believe it! We also, as the article mentions, separated checkout and item pickup. This made a big difference in speed and ease for guests.

    • Sirenna Heckendorn

      That is awesome to hear Stephanie! We strive to provide you more tips and best practices gleaned from our years of working with non-profit events.

  4. This is a great article and some good tips for us to use at our next Auction to help with check out. Do you allow people to check out early?

    • Sirenna Heckendorn

      Great question Ashley! Allowing guests to check out early can be tricky, and it really depends on your event and the situation of the guest. If the guest is leaving and Item Pickup is organized well enough to allow the special exception, then yes. However, if the guest is not leaving and just wants to beat the line, then encourage them to come back once Item Pickup is officially open. Allowing this guest to take their items back into the ballroom could potentially snowball into a rush of other guests wanting to do the same, setting your volunteers further behind for the true opening of Item Pickup. Please take into consideration the individual guest as well – If this is a major donor, it might be worth making the accommodation.

  5. What do you suggest for gift cards and tickets? How do you make sure the right items get to the right winners? We had a problem with missing tickets last year that I don’t want to repeat. Thanks

    • Sirenna Heckendorn

      Thank you for your great question, Megan. I’m so sorry to hear of your experience, I know how this can be a quite costly situation and leave the guest disappointed if something goes missing. What I’ve found to work best, is having a filing box/crate with folders labeled by package number for each of the packages that have tickets or gift cards. A volunteer should be appointed to be in charge of this box and to hand out the contents of the folder to another volunteer as they are collecting any other packages for that guest. This will help to keep these type of items secure and also limit the number of hands in the exchange, which often becomes confusing in this fast paced portion of the night.

  6. Tara Shadduck

    The last auction I was at they used white plastic bags with handles which could (mostly) stand up, labeled with bid number – any silent items that bidder had won were put inside the bag by the silent auction wrap-up team of volunteers. Then at check out, I gave the volunteer my bid number and she went and found my bag, which was organized by number, and off I went.
    I was thinking as I read this, that it would be great if Greater Giving software could implement a way for the registration table to email (or text would even be better) all guests at about the time of the start of the live auction a very brief list of what they have won so far and will have to pick up. Many guests don’t know if they have won anything or not. This way, at some point before the end, folks could check their phone and see what if anything they have pick up. This would keep folks who DON’T have anything to pick up out of the pickup/check out area,

    • Sirenna Heckendorn

      Great feedback, Tara. I too am a fan of the bags! A lot of organizations actually get these donated by local businesses – it’s free advertisement for them and potentially a sponsor opportunity for the organization.

      As to your suggestion, I love it! Greater Giving is continually looking to improve our software to meet the needs of our clients as the life of silent auctions and fundraising changes. I look forward to sharing your suggestion with our product development team. I would also like to mention, with Greater Giving Online Bidding, you have the ability to keep your guests more aware of what they have won through the bidder interface they use to bid, as well as text messages/emails the organization can send out. If you’re interested, check out some of our blog posts on Greater Giving Online Bidding here – https://blog.greatergiving.com/online-bidding-an-ideal-melding-of-online-auctions-and-mobile-bidding/. Thanks again for sharing!

  7. Darlene

    This is a great article and I have already forwarded to my procurement team so we can implement some of the ideas. I was wondering what everyone does for proof of payment though. Many of our guests do not want printed receipts. When they go to pick up their items, do we just trust that they have already checked out or do we give them something showing they checked out and can claim their purchases?

    • Dathan Montes

      One option is to offer emailed receipts through your fundraising software tool. Another idea is to have their credit card information on file beforehand, which allows guests to leave with their purchases without a receipt and allows you to track down those who may not have fully paid. Greater Giving software allows for both of these options. Thanks for the comment Darlene!

  8. Leslie Buehrer

    How do the Item Pick Up folks know who has already paid? That is, how do they know who they can give items to and who to direct to the Check Out area?

    • Dathan Montes

      Hi Leslie, great question. Generally this is where your MC, auctioneer or host comes into play. Sometime during the second half of the evening, you will have already closed and recorded your auction winners. Simply make an announcement, or provide a list of winners for each item. When the evening closes, have the non-winners proceed to check-out and the winner proceed to item pick-up.
      If you have Greater Giving software we have the reporting capability to provide receipts on the spot for those who have an item for pick up. During check-out those with receipts would be directed to item pick up and those without receipts are free to leave.

  9. Michelle Gardner

    I know this is an older post, but I’m hoping it’s still monitored. My elementary school’s silent auction doesn’t require people to be present at the end of the auction in order to win. Do you have suggestions on streamlining a process for parents to pick up their auction items at later dates?

    • Dathan Montes

      Great question Michelle. We see that some organizations tend to have an agreed up date after the event for item pick up. Not too far out that winner will forget of change their mind, but usually within the first few days after an event. Publish the times and day available for pick up, reiterate it throughout the event and be prepared to follow up via email or direct phone call. Hope that helps or feel free to give us a call for more tips- Phone (800) 276-5992, Email sales@greatergiving.com.


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