Auction Disaster Planning: Expect the Unexpected


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As a professional fundraiser, have you ever attended, or even hosted, a fundraising event where things didn’t go according to plan? Most of us probably have. Mistakes, bad weather, and other disasters happen. A successful event coordinator prepares contingency plans ahead of their event to prevent show-stopping problems. Auction events aren’t immune to unforeseen issues. Use our tips so that you can expect the unexpected. Being ready to solve problems before they arise can be the difference between a great auction experience and a great big mess.

Test Your Tech

Whether you’re running a tech-heavy event or are using a simple microphone and amplifier setup, it can be incredibly frustrating to find out your equipment doesn’t work. Any number of tech issues may pull the plug on your auction event. Prepare yourself with the following tech tips! First, test your equipment ahead of time and take note of how things work and what things won’t work for you. Second, determine battery life and plan for backups or a charging station.

Don’t charge in without a battery backup

While testing your electronic devices, keep an eye on how long battery-powered tech holds its charge. Plan for on-site backups in case battery life is too short to last the whole event (especially if the electronics are getting heavy use). Better yet, scope out your venue to see if you can set up a charging station. This is especially important if the electronics are going to be used by event attendees or are a focal point of the event. For instance, if your guests can place bids electronically via laptop or tablet (like with Qgiv’s auction app or Virtual Terminal), it may be best to keep these devices charging throughout the event. Appoint volunteers to help guests place bids for those who can’t bid on their phones. They are instrumental in making sure devices aren’t t unplugged accidentally (or worse, disappear during the event).

Keep audio equipment safe and sound

If you expect your event to get loud, make sure your sound equipment works, all accessories and cords are accounted for, and that you know how the sound system works ahead of your auction. Nothing is worse than trying to set up your amp and finding out the power cord was left at the office or that the microphone you bought was incompatible with the amplifier. Ideally, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with more complicated sound systems well ahead of your auction. Devise a system to safely pack and transport all the equipment and its corresponding cords. Label your cords so you know what they’re for. For complicated setups, print and pack installation instructions.

Ensure your venue and tech are compatible

If you’ve ever traveled overseas, you’ve likely noticed some countries’ electrical outlets are different than those found in the United States and Canada. While you’re not likely to travel overseas to host your auction event, it’s still important to make sure your venue can handle the equipment you need to run your event.

Your sound system, for example, likely requires a grounded electrical source to work correctly. If your venue doesn’t offer the right kind of outlet, you’ll be unable to use your equipment without a generator or some other compatible alternate power source.

Need to plug in several different devices? Scope out your venue to make sure there are enough outlets for your needs. If power outlets are scarce, or you’re using an outdoor venue with limited access to power, add power strips to your pack list.

Pro Tip: Use power strips with built-in surge protectors to keep your devices safe from unexpected power surges during your event.

Check your network connection

If you need access to the Internet to run your auction, make sure you can connect at your event venue. It’s frustrating to set up your event only to find out you don’t have access to the venue’s WIFI or the space is a cell phone dead zone. While cell coverage has improved significantly, there are still bound to be some places where finding a cell signal is difficult. You don’t want the unpleasant surprise of finding that your event venue is one of those places.

If you’re having trouble getting connected, chances are your guests may struggle too. Ask the venue for access to the space’s Internet (if available) and check your cell signal. If in a dead zone with no internet, use portable hotspots for internet access.

Pro Tip: Make sure you have access to all the files you need on your work computer. Sometimes just being connected to WIFI isn’t enough. You may need your IT team to give you access to your files via VPN. Consult with them ahead of time if you’re concerned with connectivity at your auction.

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Work to weather the storm


Bad weather happens, and sometimes it can really rain on your parade (or auction). But, unless you’re looking at major weather incidents, it is possible to ride the storm out and keep your auction event going strong.

Keep an eye on the sky

If you’re a fan of outdoor events or live in a place that experiences major weather events, like hurricanes or tornadoes, keep an eye on the 5 and 10-day forecasts so you can make plans and venue adjustments leading up to your auction. Being able to foresee bad weather makes disaster planning easier for your organization. In states with unpredictable weather situations (looking at you, Florida), look at the hourly forecast the day of to make sure the weather will cooperate. Even if nothing’s on the radar, it’s best to pack weather-proofing equipment anyway just to be on the safe side.

Have a backup venue ready

If your auction event is taking place outdoors, it’s important to have an indoor backup venue you can quickly switch to in case of bad weather. If your nonprofit has a building that can accommodate your guests in case of a sudden storm, plan for it to be your backup location. While it may not be the ideal space, it will likely be sufficient for your backup location. If you’re firmly committed to your outdoor event vision, consider renting a large outdoor tent or two. These tents are great for providing shelter from rain and give guests a break from the sun. Covering your auction item table is also a great way to keep things safe and dry in case of inclement weather. However, if you’re expecting a lot of wind, these tents are not ideal. Pack rope and sandbags or, better yet, move your event inside.

Keep things comfortable

Another weather-related issue you may find when it comes to outdoor events are sudden changes in temperature. If your auction is taking place during hot or cold months, or even a period of time where the outdoor temperature can vary pretty wildly, you’ll want to ensure your guests’ comfort. Renting an outdoor event tent provides you an opportunity to bring in portable heaters or fans to keep guests comfy while they enjoy your auction event. Make sure you’ve got a way to power your heater or fan or they won’t do much good.

Wind-proof your auction items

One thing to consider during your outdoor auction event is wind. Strong gusts may wreck auction items or blow away bid sheets. Having an event tent to keep auction items displayed in can cut down on the wind’s influence. But, if you need to power fans or are risking the wind with a tent-less event, it’s important to secure everything on your auction item table. A bid sheet blowing away in the breeze may cause a lot of confusion or create a big missed opportunity. If there are fragile items, consider keeping them boxed and display a picture of the item instead.

Easily secure your bid sheets by attaching them to clipboards. However, if one flies away, print and pack extras to replace it. This is also important if your silent auction gets intense and one sheet isn’t enough for a popular auction item.

Pro Tip: Use auction and bidding software (like ours) instead of paper bid sheets to create a paperless auction experience.

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Be a people pleaser


Nothing can derail an auction quite like personal conflict. Disaster planning wouldn’t be complete if the human element wasn’t factored in as a source of possible problems. Most people who attend your auction will behave appropriately, but what if someone goes rogue? Prepare yourself to deal with all sorts of people.

Prevent party crashers

The best way to stop people from crashing your auction is to control event entry. Secure the perimeter of your event and direct guests to specific entry points for check-in and registration. Another way to prevent party crashers is using hand stamps, bracelets, or name tags to identify guests easy.

Hire emergency services to guarantee safety

Because you can’t always see a medical emergency coming, it makes sense for larger fundraisers to hire an ambulance crew to be on standby during your event. A quick response in case of medical emergencies or accidents is essential for ensuring the well being of your guests. If you have valuable auction items or are serving alcohol at your event, it’s beneficial to hire off duty police or private security to help keep your guests and auction items safe.

Impose limits and stick to them

Alcohol can contribute to a lively event, but overserving guests can lead to disasters that are easily preventable. Impose a limit on the number of drinks a single individual can be served throughout the evening and be sure those serving drinks have been trained to identify signs of intoxication in your attendees. It’s better to refuse to serve a drink than to regret serving it later!

Consider hiring a licensed bartender or students of a bartending school to handle drink sales on your behalf. Imposing limits can be hard to monitor in person. However, in Qgiv’s auction store, you can set purchase limits on store items. If you sell drink tickets in the auction store, you can easily set a purchase limit. This makes it significantly easier to keep the consumption of alcohol in check.

Pro Tip: Show your guests you care by offering to order an Uber for them. Make it easy to request a ride so that those who drink don’t have to drive home after your event.

Set up a non-payment plan

One of the most likely auction disaster situations you’ll face is a bidder who wins an item but can’t pay (card decline, not enough cash on hand, etc.) or refuses to pay after the auction ends. This scenario happens more often than you’d think – especially if an attendee bids more than the value of the auction item and finds out about it.

If their credit card is declined, offer a solution that reduces embarrassment and results in receiving payment. For starters, try a different payment method. Then, ask the donor to set up a payment plan. Do this simply by creating a pledge or setting up a recurring donation after the event. Charge the donor until they’ve paid for their item. Capture the donor’s information and arrange to release the item after it’s paid for. Cards declines happen for a lot of reasons, so avoid blaming the bidder. This will help keep the buyer calm while you create a contingency plan.

In the second scenario, you could argue, or you can offer the item to the next highest bidder. Arguing likely won’t result in getting you what you want and can hurt your reputation. Instead, offer the item for purchase to the next highest bidder. This route still makes your organization money. You may make less, but making something is better than making nothing (in most cases).

Pro Tip: With Qgiv’s auction tools bidders input their payment method through your secure auction website. If they entered credit card or eCheck information, they’re charged automatically when the auction ends. This helps prevent nonpayment due to buyer remorse as they’re charged automatically.


Auction fundraisers require disaster planning like any other event. There’s a lot to plan for, but it all boils down to knowing the ins and outs of your venue, watching the weather, and doing your best to create a safe, pleasant environment for your event.

Want more advice on auction events? Learn how to run a silent auction in 3 simple steps.

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