In Any Event 

‘Check out’ these auction tips

If you have ever won an auction item at a charitable event, there is an excellent chance you saw Morton Massey when you made payment. Massey talked to EventCheck Knox about why he and his wife, Sen. Becky Massey, devised the efficient checkout process. He also offered tips for planners about best practices for auctions.

Morton Massey and Becky Duncan Massey
Morton Massey and Becky Duncan Massey (Blue Streak photo)

Event attendees have the Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble to thank for the Masseys’ checkout process. Their eldest daughter, Courtney, participated with the group as a youngster in the 1980s, and her parents assisted with auction fundraisers. When auction items exceeded 300, Morton Massey realized he needed a better way to track winners and payment.

So the software developer wrote a program to speed up the process. By the time the auction reached 700-plus items, Massey had four interconnected laptops checking out winners. In the 1990s, the pair added auctions for the Sertoma Center – Becky Massey is executive director – to their clientele.

Those two events were plenty, because they also coached girls’ softball, but that came to an end in 2000.

“We wanted another hobby,” Morton said.

In 2002 the couple decided to offer their checkout services to nonprofits, an endeavor that began with 13 events in 2002 and reached 60 events by 2004. They remain busy now, especially from November to May.

“We enjoy doing them together,” said Morton, who wrote a guest blog for EventCheck Knox about the top mistakes made at fundraisers.

He now shares his expertise about the most common mistakes made at auctions and how to avoid them.

Transition on time from silent to live auction

End the silent auction at the announced time for two reasons – extending it annoys guests who thought they placed the winning bid and puts your event behind schedule.

Guests will linger at silent auction tables instead of heading to the dinner table. If the dinner program runs late, that means the live auction is delayed, and guests can exit before it even begins.

To get guests away from the silent auction, flicker the lights or use a microphone to announce the shift to dinner. Auction volunteers should remove the sheets to prevent late bids.

For the live auction, be sure the sound quality is excellent. If a live auction is planned, pick a venue with good acoustics in the first place. If guests can’t hear, “they will just keep talking during the live auction,” Morton said, and that hurts the fundraiser’s bottom line because of lower bids.

Do not use runners during the auction.

Runners have been used during auctions to do precisely that – run information to attendees at various locations and assist with placing bids during the event. Morton recommends against it.

“Invariably what happens is the runner will miscommunicate to guests,” he said.

The missteps include a guest getting outbid while talking to the runner, submitting a bid on the wrong item or miscommunicating the amount to bid. Events can get loud and that leads to mistakes between guest and runner when they can’t hear each other.

The problems continue after the auction ends. Guests will change tables to go talk to a friend, and the runner can’t locate the winner to deliver the invoice. Guests have gone home thinking they didn’t win when in fact they did.

Morton endorses guests having specific auction numbers and using those to check out at the end of the event. That system allows the computer to track all winners.

Alan Carmichael with Becky and Morton Massey (Blue Streak photo)
Alan Carmichael with Becky and Morton Massey (Blue Streak photo)

Don’t sort items after the auction ends.

Sorting is intended to help guests who win multiple items, “but it typically is going to backfire,” Morton said.

He recommended leaving items in place and retrieving them at checkout. Sorting is intended to bring all items to the checkout area or assist a bidder who won multiple items, but human error becomes a factor. Items get sorted incorrectly by mistake or because a bidder’s number was misread.

“Now, that item is in a stack somewhere,” Morton said. “It’s easier to leave everything sitting on the table where it was.”

This is the time to use runners. To make it easier, group all auction items by numbers, such as 100s, 200s, 300s, etc. That way a runner can read the invoice, see the winning number or numbers and know exactly where to go.

“The runners bring the items, you check out, and you’re on the way home,” Morton said.

Keep it simple.

That is Morton’s final piece of advice, and it’s one he follows, too. He calls it the KISS principle, or keep it simple, stupid.

“Approach everything associated with the event with the KISS principle,” Morton said. “Realize you have little chance to effectively communicate to guests once they arrive. Anything outside the most basic process usually backfires and ends up complicating things for the guests rather than helping them.”

Maria Cornelius, a writer/editor for Moxley Carmichael, populates the EventCheck Knox calendar. Now that it’s fall, she will be watching SEC football and anticipating the start of basketball season.

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