By Carolyn Schwaar
As associations ramp up their education and event offerings, keeping track of registrations and payments is a huge task. Automation is essential, but which piece of software or online app fits your needs and budget? REALTOR® AE took a look at some of the systems associations use and the features that save the most time and effort.
As you might expect, the universe of registration technology is vast and complex. Offerings range from simple online sign-up sheets to self-service portals that track members’ education progress, process payments, and communicate with attendees. Technology focused on events differs slightly from that for classes, but associations often use one system for both needs.
Where to start
If you’re hoping to move away from taking registrations over the phone or signing up event participants on-site and dealing with forms and cash, start with requiring preregistrations and payments online. Although members may balk at first and need time to adjust, the benefits in the long run are worth it. Members are more likely to attend events for which they’ve prepaid, and staff avoids the liability of handling cash.
A good starting place to transition your members to online event registration is to go where they already are, such as Facebook. Facebook offers a range of options for promoting your event but doesn’t let people actually register there (unless you’re using Eventbrite or a similar plugin—more on that later). You’ll need to set up a link from your Facebook event page, which you can create under the event tab of your association’s page, to another site, such as these free options below.
The free online app Doodle is as simple as it comes for sign-ups. You can list the event time, place, and a short description, and members type in their name to indicate their attendance. That’s about all it does. Doodle is not practical for a convention, but if you’re just looking to capture which directors are coming to the next meeting or how many volunteers are planning to help out at the next charity event, it saves you from taking phone calls and managing paper lists. Similar to Doodle are Evite and Wufoo, and even Google Forms will enable you to create an online form where the data is saved to a convenient spreadsheet.
Another free registration option with a few more bells and whistles is Event Smart. The basic version comes with a customizable URL that you can put in your social media and print marketing. It also enables you to set up an unlimited number of events, offer tickets, and collect and export all of your data to an Excel sheet or your membership management software. The free version even offers automatic email confirmations and password-protected, branded event pages.
Similar sites with a free version plus paid extras include CourseStorm, Guestlist, and Ticket Tailor.
Spend a little to save a lot … of time
Once you’re ready to start spending money on software for events and class registration, you want to get the most for every dollar. That means knowing what you need—and what you don’t—from the technology.
Because only the paid options offer online payment ability, you’ll want a system that takes credit cards, bank cards, and PayPal securely, quickly, and without charging exorbitant fees on each transaction. Some systems charge a flat $1 for each ticket sold, some charge 2 to 3 percent per transaction, and others charge an annual fee for unlimited sales.
The more self-serve an app is, the more time it saves you. Ideally, members should be able to easily navigate the platform, view their own registration confirmations, and see all the classes and events offered plus the classes they’ve taken in the past.
Popular with REALTOR® associations is Eventbrite, a cloud-based event management and ticketing platform that enables users to organize events and sell tickets online. The system integrates with Facebook, so attendees can buy tickets without ever leaving the site. Note, however, that your events have to be open to the public to sell tickets though Facebook. If your event is for members only, you can redirect attendees to complete their order on your Eventbrite listing page.
Lee Cooley, communications manager at the Arizona Association of REALTORS®, says he has looked into using Eventsquid, a solution with a funny name but a robust set of event tools, including many ideal for managing larger conferences. Eventsquid tools include an agenda-creation dashboard with built-in conflict resolution to keep you from double-booking rooms and speakers.
Kira McNeil, member communications and outreach coordinator at the Memphis Area Association of REALTORS®, has been experimenting with Picatic and says it’s user-friendly and attractive. Picatic is free for free events, charges for paid events, and offers a simple, single-page checkout and tools to help you promote your event.
Member management integrated systems
Many membership management systems, including Rapattoni, MMSI, and RAMCO, have event registration systems and education tracking solutions or offer them as an option. Yet associations report using stand-alone solutions, such as those mentioned above, for better ease of use, especially when it comes to building custom registration forms and tracking payments. Many of these systems are attractive and easier for members to navigate, AEs say.
“It seems as if the member databases used by most REALTOR® associations are missing the mark by not providing an event registration module that is clean and easy to use,” says Melanie Green, communications director at the Northeast Florida Association of REALTORS®.
Member management systems have to perform a wide range of functions, so they often don’t do one thing as well as a single dedicated solution can. However, to avoid tedious manual input of data from your event solution to your member management system, look for options that offer easy integrations or at least reporting in formats (like Excel) that you can then upload to other pieces of technology in your association arsenal.
As with any new technology you use or buy, ask your vendor about data security and who owns the data you or your members upload to the app. Read your contract carefully to uncover any hidden charges or automatic renewals.
Make it Easy for Members to Give you Money
Many associations are moving away from accepting cash at events (or keeping stashes of petty cash around at the office) for easier tracking of payments, convenience, and avoiding any situations in which it could go missing.
Most online event and class solutions offer credit card and bank card processing services, but innovative mobile credit card reader technology has made accepting payments on the go, at your association office, or at a live event easier, faster, and safer.
Danielle Boutin, vice president of communications and emerging technologies at the REALTORS® Association of the Palm Beaches, uses Intuit QuickBooks Payments coupled with a card reader device attached to a smartphone or tablet for on-site event payments. She pays an annual fee instead of a per-transaction fee to swipe credit cards and scan computer-chipped bank cards.
For about $50 a month, Lydia Govoni Perham, AE at the 400-member Strafford County Board of REALTORS®, N.H., uses Square, a mobile app and device with integrated payment processing for a 2.75 percent fee. “We use our Square through our iPad Mini,” she says. “We have both the chip reader and the swipe unit, and it’s easy to set up and link to our association checking account.”
Kevin Juliano, digital director at the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®, uses Square to accept RPAC investments at events. “We’ve issued Square readers to specific staff members and state leaders who can assist in taking RPAC investments at events. We have them set up as staff so we can track who took which investment. They also have to go through an annual training to ensure they are following the rules,” he says.