In most cases, these tips have nothing to do with the software; they are just common sense strategies we have collected from our incredible, smart customers over the years. . .
1. Collect the numbers you need for emergencies AND BRING THEM WITH YOU TO YOUR EVENT!
Everything at YOUR event will go smoothly, and without a hitch - especially if you plan in advance what to do if things go horribly wrong. (They won’t. But plan for it anyway.) We suggest you have these telephone and account numbers on hand:
- The person who set up the Internet access, who can restart the router in case it crashes. Plus, all of the passwords to get back on the network, keys to the room where the router is, etc.
- The person who set up your merchant and gateway accounts, as well as the account numbers, logins and passwords.
- Our support team! Our toll-free support number will appear on your Dashboard a few days before your event.
One more tip - make sure you bring your cellphone charger with you to the event. Just in case.
2. Set up each volunteer with a unique user account, then have them log in using that account on auction night. It's not unusual for questions to arise about a specific transaction, sometimes days after your event. Unraveling the puzzle is often easier if you can determine which volunteer handled the transaction and seek any insight they may have. . .
3. Think through certain processes to avoid delay and surprises.
Three weeks before the event, take some time to sit down, think about the flow of guests on event night, and make a few decisions about how you would like that flow to happen. Build your event-night routine around these decisions.
- How do guests get their paddle numbers? Do you need an extra volunteer to dig through a stack and quickly produce a pre-printed paddle? Where should that person be located?
- If you sold items (such as drink tickets or raffle tickets) alongside tickets or before the event or will be selling any items at check-in, does the guest need a proof of purchase to receive these item(s)? How will the item(s) be distributed?
- How close to the door is your check in table? Do you need a "traffic cop" volunteer to circulate among chatting guests to make sure they know there is an available check in station?
- At the end of the night, where do guests go to claim their items and/or gift certificates? Is it far enough away to avoid a traffic jam at the checkout desk? Make sure everyone understands your plan for Will Call.
4. Consider using the Advance Check-in and Self Check-out features to allow your guests to check in online prior to your event and/or check out on their smartphone. Even if most of your supporters are "old school," allowing those who'd appreciate these shortcuts to check in and check out online will reduce lines (and stress on your volunteers). Setting it up is quick and easy, so it's worthwhile, even if you think only a few people will use the features. And imagine how happy it will make your supporters who just need to pay for drinks, raffle tickets, and a paddle raise. . .
5. A week or two before your event, scan your User page for duplicate user records. Duplicate records are most commonly created with multiple imports/migrations and with heavy use of the Donate Now page. The software is designed to properly handle duplicate users, but may display unfamiliar screens and messaging. Merging Duplicate Users prior to your event can reduce confusion for your event night volunteers.
6. Set up a Help Station and have it manned by you or your most competent lieutenant.
The most common Front Desk set-up has 3-4 check-in stations, which will double as check-out stations at the end of the night. This will help you process your guests quickly and efficiently. You’ll do better still if you set up an extra station, slightly off to the side, and make that your Troubleshooting Station. Put someone there who is authorized to make decisions about guest payments and returns and disputed bids, and who knows the software well. When a situation arises that your volunteers have not been trained to handle, and which threatens to bog down their line, instruct them to refer the guest to the Troubleshooting Station.
Your guests will appreciate that fact that the “regular” lines are moving, and you avoid the appearance of everyone huddled around one computer, trying to help a high-maintenance guest while everyone else has to wait. Your volunteers and guests will thank you.
7. Make a plan for distributing raffle prizes (and calculating any "share-the-pot" prizes). Double-check each raffle item to ensure there is a prize item set up to "sell" to winner for $0. If you have a share-the-pot prize, bookmark the report showing raffle sales (after all sales have been entered!).
8. Discourage early check-out! One of the most common (and preventable) causes of delays in the check out process is the disruption caused by guests wanting to check-out early. Trying to help someone early by figuring out what they won, then getting it entered so they can check out early will suck critical time away from getting everything else entered, so that all guests can be helped in a timely manner.
Post signs stating "Check-Out Will Commence at XX:00." If someone insists they must leave, ask if they vaulted a credit card. If so, assure them it isn't a problem for them to leave. You can process their order with the vaulted card, and email their receipt the next day (or on Monday). If they did not vault a card, you can quickly do so using the check-in screen. And the beauty of non-profit auctions is that you often know your supporters and where they live, so the risk in letting someone leave without checking out is often negligible.
An alternate approach is to have a single station open for early check-out (and/or to offer option to vault a credit card before leaving). This works best when the other stations can be protected from public view. It is very hard for helpful folks to ignore lines of waiting people. . .
9. Standardize what to do and say when a credit card fails at check-out.
NOTE: Credit Card processors do not reward persistence in the face of rejection.
Before the event, you (and our support team) will test your credit card account to make sure it is working. But even if the account is set up correctly and working, you may still see some transactions get declined. Know how to read the message that comes back from the gateway, and decide how to handle the most common situations in advance.
- Look at the failure message (it will be in a red box near the top of the screen). If it says "declined" without any more specific message, it could be many things but most often, the card company is saying that the cardholder is over their limit. (Suggested response: “Hmm. It doesn't seem to like that one. Do you have another card we can try?”)
- If you don’t get a specific message, confirm that the information grabbed by the card-reader matches the name, etc on the card, and try one more time.
- After second failure, confirm that the billing address matches address entered in the system and then manually key in the card and try again.
- If it fails again, and the guest does not offer a second card, say: "There are so many reasons why these things don't go through. If you call the number on the back of the card, they can probably give you more specific information than we can."
- If the guest is well known to you and/or your organization, consider resolving the problem in a less public manner by suggesting you/they follow up on Monday. . .
10. Take care of your Volunteers.
On event night, your volunteers at the desk will be working hard, and dealing with a lot of people. Be nice to them.
- During the event, when your volunteers are entering sales, have another person who "Knows Things" available to handle all inquiries, so that the volunteers who are entering sales can concentrate on their task.
- Make an effort to always have someone available who has authority to make decisions on returns, disputes, lost tickets etc.
- Feed your volunteers. Hot food is really nice. A glass of wine does wonders.
- If you can recruit enough volunteers to do shifts, this allows for breaks - and perhaps a little bidding - by these valued members of your team.
11. Make sure you have reviewed and addressed any issues noted in the Pre-Event Review that our support team emailed to each person listed on your site at: Admin > Site Settings > Customize Your Site > Organization. Pre-event reviews are done one week prior to your specified event date.
12. Know where your ICE spreadsheet is located.
ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. (Lost Wi-Fi. Lost Electricity. Etc.)
Your time is almost always better spent getting things restored than going to paper, but switching from one to the other and back is possible if you are prepared. Of the tens of thousands of events that have used our software, we can count on one hand the number that have even temporarily resorted to paper. (However - losing access to your credit card gateway DOES happen, so make sure you have your account info with you at your event so you can reconnect. See #1 above. And yes, the fact that we recommend this in 40 different places is indeed significant and intentional. . .)
- Admin > View Reports > Post Auction > Excel Backup gives you a spreadsheet with a Guest list with space to record sales and an Item list with space to record buyer or track inventory. Both are in a single document that can be used as a spreadsheet or printed.
13. Have these supplies on hand:
- An extra ream of paper for the printers.
- 8.5 x 11 card stock and a Sharpie (for Emergency Bid Paddles).
- Pens and staplers and scissors.