Checking guests in and out of your fundraising event is one of the most logistically challenging things you will have to do at your event. It’s also one of the most crucial, as these experiences can quite literally make or break the experience for both your guests and your staff.
Now you might be thinking “Johnny, that sounds a bit dramatic…” so let’s dive into the importance of this a bit more:
For the organization, check in and check out are critically important because they allow you to know which guests are at your event, which items a guest is taking home, and how much/where to charge each guest at the end of the evening for their donations. A well-planned check in and check out process also reduces the amount of pressure on your staff during a time that can be extremely chaotic if unorganized.
On the guest side, check-in is the first impression your guests have of your event. A messy check-in process leads people to believe that the check-out process will be just as bad, and can even impact giving throughout the event as guests may doubt your capability to smoothly process their donations at the end of the event. A well planned and executed check-in will give your guests not only a good first impression, but also confidence that the event is going to run smoothly and be fun! A good check-in process doesn’t have people waiting in line for very long and gets them having fun and donating sooner.
While checking-in is the first impression you have on your guests, checking-out is the last impression you give them, and that last impression can be the reason a guest decides to return (or not) the next year. Even if you make a wonderful first impression, have a fun event and exciting live auction, and all of your donors have the best time, if your guests have a poor check-out experience and have to wait 45 minutes to pick up an item,, THAT is what they are going to remember most about your event. Having a smooth check-out process that makes the process simple for your donors is vital for rounding out an excellent fundraising event experience…and makes your donors look forward to coming back again and giving more!
I like to think of check-in and check-out as bookends for your event. Having a well planned check-in process sets you up for success in check-out! And that’s what we’re going to talk about next: how to set-up your check-in/out process from the organization’s perspective! Here are my top tips:
When you are selling tickets for your event, you’re going to want to collect several pieces of information on your guests, including name, address, phone number, email, and payment method. This way, the only information you should need to ask a guest to check them in is their name.
I cannot emphasize enough that it is vital to collect payment information before the event!! You are likely working with an auction system, most of which have mechanisms that allow you to properly store payment information such as credit card numbers (please confirm security with the platform you are using). Then, upon check in, your staff can simply inform guests that the payment method they previously provided will be used at the conclusion of the event for any donations they make (unless they wish to present a different form of payment upon check-out, of course). This is just like a hotel taking a credit card number upon check-in; although you could return to the front desk and pay with cash for your stay, having the card information on file allows you to do an express check-out.
Another critically important step at check-in is ensuring guests are provided with their correct bidder numbers. You can either assign bidder numbers to your guests in advance of the event, or you can assign them on the spot as they check-in. In either case, when the guest is handed their bidder number/bid card,, your staff should be double checking to ensure that their name is correctly associated with that number in your auction system. The last thing you want is to mix up people’s numbers or assign the same number more than once (we have seen this happen, and even once charges are corrected, it leaves a terrible impression on guests). With whatever system you are using, make sure you are able to look up a guest by their bidder number AND vice-versa!
During the Event:
I suggest you create an area to display who the winners of your auction items are. This is especially helpful for silent auction winners if you are not using mobile bidding or a platform that can send emails/texts to notify people if they have won an item or not. I recommend a large TV or projector screen where you can show a list of the winning bid numbers and the items. That way, donors can look at the screen to confirm if they won an item or not. Those who did not win anything now don’t have to wait in a line only to find out they didn’t win anything, and for those that did win an item, they know they need to go to the item collection table.
The final step is that you need to charge everyone for their winning items and donations. Now, if you’ve properly collected everyone’s information upfront (names, addresses, emails and payment information), this is when all that prep-work comes in handy.
I am going to suggest to you that you create two check-out areas: one for financial questions or changes, and one for picking up items. These are two completely different tasks, and when they are done at the same table/area, things can get backed up and cause delays.
With this method:
- Your financial table is there for you to immediately charge those that want to pay while they are at the event instead of later in the evening (rare, but it does occur). This is also where you can help those who want to change payment methods.
- Guests who have no items to pick up can simply walk out,, they will just be charged for any donations with their payment method on file, and will receive an emailed receipt.
- We recommend having 1-2 staff members available to help direct guests into the appropriate line and advise guests who don’t have items to pick up that they are free to leave. Once you have done this for a year or two, guests will come to anticipate this simplicity, but if everyone has previously been required to wait in line to check out, they may need some guidance at first!
- After guests have departed, using your auction software/payment system, you can now charge everyone without feeling rushed, and send them proper itemized receipts via email!
This greatly reduces the amount of stress that is put onto an organization’s staff. And of course, it helps provide a smooth and easy check-out experience for your guests, sending them off with a great last impression.
There is a lot of planning, preparation, and practice that goes into creating a smooth check-in and check-out process, and all of that planning has a great impact on you and your guests. If you want to enhance both your organization’s and guests check-in/out experience, don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at Johnny B. Auction! We are here to help you put on the best fundraising event possible.