A Few Good Tools for Event Registration (Updated!)
These days, most event participants expect to be able to register for events online. Luckily, there are lots of tools to help with that, ranging from simple up to sophisticated and all the way to multi-functional. We asked a number of nonprofit technology professionals what online registration tools have worked for them.
What Are Your Registration Priorities?
Event registration means different things to different organizations. Before you choose a tool, decide what it means to you. In particular, ask yourself:
Do you simply need a quick, inexpensive, and easy way to collect credit-card payments? If you don’t run many events, you may not need all the bells and whistles of a more complex system. But if you’re planning to run complex conferences or events, some sophisticated event-registration tools will help you manage lodging, a conference website, name tags, sign-ups for multiple sessions within the same event, and much more.
Are you going to need to take other kinds of online payments as well? If you are planning to support online donations, sell items, or take other online payments, it’s worth considering tools that will support all your online payment needs.
Is integrating registrants into your database a key concern? If you conduct a lot of events and attendees are key constituents for your organization, think through how you to get registrants into your database. Consider integration methods or packages that support not just event registration but all your constituent management needs. Does the tool integrate with a CRM through data sharing, or can it export data (as a .csv or .xls file) that you can import to your database?
Let’s talk through the tools that might make sense for each of these options.
No-Frills Registration Tools
These tools allow you to set up a basic registration form you can link to from your website, collect credit card and other registration information, process credit card charges, and view (or export) a list of people who have registered. If you only run small, infrequent events, or you have large events where few attendees fit the characteristics of promising constituents (like large festivals), these more inexpensive tools can be just what you need.
As with most types of online payments, if you’re just looking for something inexpensive and solid and don’t need elaborate features, PayPal might work well. At an approximately 2.5 percent transaction fee, it’s one of the least expensive ways to take online payments. It doesn’t, however, integrate seamlessly into your website—which means that registrants can see they’ve left your site for PayPal’s—and doesn’t offer event-registration features like the ability to cap the number of signups. You’ll also need someone with basic HTML skills to help you set it up or update event pricing. Organizations with more technical experience and a larger budget could also consider PayPal’s Pro system, which offers better website integration.
Google Checkout (www.checkout.google.com)
Like PayPal, Google Checkout provides a way for your organization to process online payments, and is easier to set up. At low volumes, Google’s pricing is similar to PayPal’s, but if you process more than $100,000 monthly, the fees are reduced to 1.9 percent.
Eventbrite’s event-registration features extend the payment functionality of PayPal or Google Checkout. It lets you cap the number of attendees, give simple surveys, and easily post your events to other sites like Eventful or Google Calendar. It also supports discount codes and ticket levels, and provides limited ability to tailor a registration form to match your site and your needs. Payment is less integrated—registrants are taken to the PayPal or Google Checkout site to finish the credit-card transaction. Eventbrite bills your 501(c)3 organization service fee of $0.99 plus 2.0 percent of the registration price. You also pay the standard PayPal or Google Checkout fees. If your organization does not yet have a merchant account, Eventbrite now offers use of their own merchant account, for 3.0 percent of the ticket price. You can also integrate an Authorize.net account. Eventbrite does not charge for free events. Eventbrite also shares data easily with databases built in Salesforce.
Brown Paper Tickets is getting some buzz in the nonprofit community as a “fair-trade ticketing service.” While the company specializes in performance-type events with assigned seats and physical tickets, it also supports registration for “general admission” events for which no tickets are issued. The functionality is simple, clean and effective, and includes such features as multiple pricing levels, a 24-hour phone registration line, and support for multiple dates for the same event. Brown Paper Tickets has no upfront setup charges or per-event fees, and offers an affordable and clear-cut pricing scheme—$0.99 plus 2.5 percent of registration. If you’re adding registrants to your database, Brown Paper Tickets can export names and information as a .csv or .xls file for importing into your system. Like Eventbrite, the tool does not charge for free events.
For More Complex Events and Conferences
The no-frills tools listed above may work great when managing straightforward events, but nonprofits planning conferences will likely need additional functionality. A number of tools combine event registration with the ability to track and report on all the details of a complex event. For example, these tools can help registrants to sign up for specific tracks or workshops within a session, support complex discounts such as early-bird pricing or discount codes, offer sophisticated reporting to automatically generate attendance lists by session—or print nametags for attendees—or allow one person to pay for someone else’s registration.
Acteva falls between the more basic options identified above and the high-end event-management tools listed below, with some additional functionality—such as support for workshops and sophisticated discount codes—at a mid-level price. You can brand your registration form with your colors, but it’s not as flexible as some of the higher-end tools. Acteva uses a complicated pricing structure that results in charges of $1 to $2 per participant for events under $50 or so, and 4.5 to 7 percent for events that cost several hundred dollars or more.
123Signup is tailored to those managing large events or conferences, with the ability to set registration limits for each session within a multi-track event, to allow one person to pay for someone else’s registration, for attendees to preview and approve their badge, sophisticated discounting ability and more. The company also offers a basic set of association-management tools (including a constituent database and email functionality), which might be useful for organizations with few programs other than events. Many of 123Signup’s clients are trade associations, and the functionality is geared in their direction. 123Signup charges 3.5 percent per registration, with a minimum charge of $1, in additional to standard credit-card fees of about 2.5 percent.
Like 123Signup, RegOnline is focused on managing large events, with a similar or even more sophisticated set of features, and has all the same features plus support for more of the “back-end,” or operational processes, such as invoicing. RegOnline charges a fixed price—either $4.75 per registrant, or $150 per event plus $3.50 per registrant—in addition to standard credit-card fees of about 2.5 percent, making it an expensive choice for low-ticket-price events, but attractive for those that charge hundreds of dollars or more.
This sophisticated online event-management tool includes event-registration functionality, plus support for multi-day, multi-track events; seamless integration with your website; and the ability to export data or create a programmatic feed from Cvent to your database. As Cvent typically has a substantial setup fee to get started, this option makes more sense for those looking to invest in a long-term solution rather than one-time events.
Online Payment Generalists
We’ve already discussed tools that specialize in online event registration functionality, but a number of packages support a variety of types of payments—such as donations and online store sales—in addition to events. If you’re hoping to collect payments for more than one transaction type, it can make sense to consolidate these functions into a single vendor, like Click & Pledge, IATS, Greater Giving, QGiv, GiftTool, MemberClicks or Contribute.com.
Integrating Registration with Other Constituent Functions
Organizations that offer events for core constituents will need to think carefully about how to integrate registration data with other constituent information, such as who has donated or volunteered. Nearly all registration options provide the ability to manually export data (for instance, via an Excel spreadsheet), but exporting data by hand and then manually importing it again can be time-consuming.
A number of packages support different constituent functions, including event registration, in a single system. If you’re already using one of these tools, then certainly start by evaluating what event-registration functionality it can provide. If you’re conducting a lot of events, or want to ensure a clear, 360-degree view of how constituents are involved with your organization, one of these generally more-expensive integrated packages can be worth the investment.
For instance, the vast majority of online membership and Association Management Systems—like Tendenci, Avectra netFORUM or CDC gomembers—support online event registration. For more information on these types of systems, see Idealware’s article on membership organization databases.
Integrated e-communications packages like DemocracyInAction, BlackBaud Sphere Events (formerly Kintera) and Convio also provide event-registration functionality. In particular, both Blackbaud and Convio support group fundraising events and pledge-based event models (to provide online support for walk-a-thon pledges, for instance) that may be hard to find in other types of systems. Salesforce might also be worth a look for those willing to invest some time tailoring their event-registration needs within a sophisticated CRM platform.
Those using open-source content-management systems like Joomla, Drupal or Plone should take a look at the add-on modules that will support event registration. They’re not likely to be as feature-rich as the most sophisticated event-management tools above, but they may be a straightforward and fully integrated addition to your website.
Finally, web form tools like Wufoo or Formstack are growing in popularity as a low-cost way to handle registration, and integrate easily with online payment processors like PayPal or Google Checkout. The data reporting and export functions of these tools let you add new event registrants to a CRM or other database quite easily.
How to Choose
There are a lot of options. How should you decide? Start by determining how many events you are planning per year, and approximately how much the registration fee will be for each. A tool that has very affordable fees for a $40 event could be unreasonably expensive for a $400 conference.
Then think through your needs. Do you just need to get some basic online registration capability up and going, or do you have more sophisticated requirements? For instance, do you need to seamlessly integrate the registration form with your website? Allow registrants to register for multiple tracks or workshops within an event? Tailor complex discounts for particular audiences? Copy events or event templates to support frequent similar events? Do you want a package that can not only facilitate registration, but help you manage your event?
Keep in mind that many of these tools have free evaluation periods. This can not only give you a clear picture of the features offered, but also a much better sense as to how usable a tool is for your organization, and how accessible and helpful the vendor is when answering your questions.
Finally, as with pretty much any constituent tool, consider how you’ll integrate the registrant information with the rest of your data. Is your volume low enough that you can manually import and export? Should you consider a package that will handle more than just event registration, or a registration tool that will allow you build an automated connector to your database?
At the end of the day, there are a lot of reasonable options for online event registration. With the right tool in place, you should be all set to let your event be the star, and your software just a way to watch the registrations roll in.
Thanks to TechSoup for financial support of this article, as well as to the nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice and other help for the original article and the update:
Evan Callahan, NPower Northwest (formerly NPower Seattle, 2007)
Brad Struss and Patrick Tewson, NPower NorthWest (2011)
Andrew Cohen, Forum One (2007)
Eric Leland, Five Paths (2007)
Cary McQueen Morrow, Center for Arts Management and Technology (2007 and 2011)
Shawn Michael, The Nonprofit Association of Oregon (formerly TACS/NPower Oregon, 2007)
Norman Reiss, Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (2007)
Margie Roswell and Dan Shenk-Evans, Community IT Innovators (CITI) (2007)
Jon Stahl, Groundwire (2007)
Peter Turner, Episcopal Diocese of Washington (2007)
Heather Gardner-Madras, gardner madras | strategic creative (2011)