Online registration is quickly becoming a necessity for faith-based events. It makes your job easier, and it’s what attendees have come to expect. Selecting the best online registration platform for your meeting can be a daunting task with the myriad options available. Understanding the technological capabilities of each option and the range of customization your program requires can be an additional challenge. Whether you are starting out in selecting a system or considering an upgrade to your current platform, there is an option at every level that can be flexible for your needs.
First, consider your goals and objectives, not only for the current event you are planning, but for future programs. This might be easier if you manage annual meetings with parameters that don’t change dramatically from year to year. If your organization is in expansion mode and looking to add new programs of various sizes, determining the right system can be more challenging. However, most systems have the ability to expand their options and add features as your events grow.
At a basic level, online platforms offer attendee management and registration services with or without a financial feature needed to capture registration fees. Reports downloaded into Microsoft Excel can be sorted by attendee type and by each question asked during the registration process such as choice of activity, dietary restrictions and more.
If your event process includes the management of transportation—both air and ground—your system will require the next level of options. SignUp4, a provider of strategic event management software based in Atlanta, offers a Travel Management System that integrates event registration with travel planning processes. The TMS connects to the Global Distribution System, which acts as an inventory to the airlines, allowing the system to provide flight statistics for each attendee including flight delay information. “The system creates real-time itineraries and accurate hotel exception reports,” says Mark Hubrich, founder and vice president of industry and client relations for SignUp4. “If someone is flying in on a different day than the hotel stay is scheduled to start, it will appear on the exception report.” This alerts the planner that the check-in day might need to be changed and avoids a hotel no-show fee. Hubrich says that because the system is tied directly to the GDS, it also saves on third-party costs that travel agencies might charge.
Cvent, an event management software company headquartered in McLean, Va., also provides different system levels with options that can be purchased a la carte. The software’s Enterprise level includes more sophisticated features such as travel management, calendars, seating modules and differentiated registration processes by attendee type. From these features, both standard and custom reports can be created including registration reports, financial reports and travel reports. “The Enterprise version also includes customizable dashboard views and the ability to deliver specific saved reports to different stakeholders in a custom portal on a set schedule,” says Brian Ludwig, vice president of sales for Cvent.
Many online registration systems also include an HTML design
element that allows your registration site to look identical to your event site. When attendees click on the registration link, they are taken to a new site that is branded with your system provider’s logo. By using the design element, attendees won’t know they’re leaving your site, which increases your event’s branding and that of your sponsors. Additional advanced features include integration with your sales force and human resources databases.
Once you’ve chosen the system level that accommodates your current programs and is expandable to future meetings, it’s important to consider the amount of training and support required to manage the system. Hubrich used a focus group to determine areas of the system that were difficult to use. “Where people got confused, we re-designed those areas,” he says. SignUp4 offers instructor-led, face-to-face training as well as pre-recorded training classes and webinars. It recently launched a user community where event planners can search a knowledge base of issues and network with each other on how to use the system. For example, you can post a question about name badges and planners will post answers on their experience with using the system. “We also offer unlimited support,” Hubrich adds. “You can call 100 times a week if you need to.”
Some registration software suppliers charge a flat fee for their services while others charge on a per-registrant basis. Determine what works best for your event budget and select a system that is most adaptable to your environment.
Monica Compton, CMP, is an event specialist with Pinnacle Productions Inc. based in Atlanta. She has 20 years of experience as a global meeting planner, managing a variety of programs both domestically and internationally.