Whether your event is a one-time activity or an ongoing effort, being able to gather and store information in an organized manner, use what is collected to make decisions and plans, and then return the information to others in reports or online information, could make the difference between a challenging event that requires multiple people to manage, and one that is relatively easy to plan and operate.
Some school districts may have individuals with appropriate skills as well as the server software to create online application pages in-house. However, if the appropriate personnel and equipment are not among your district’s resources, there are a variety of online services that can provide much of what is needed to move your event management towards less paper, less work and more information.
Some companies offer their services for free while others have a variety of fees (one-time, annual, subscription, by the entry). As with all software, they have similarities and significant differences, especially in the way that the manager finds and retrieves the collected data. Choosing one over the other will hopefully have more to do with features than with finances.
What features do you need and what do the various platforms offer? Here’s a breakdown of the primary features contained in most registration software versions:
Attendance Management: Tracks who is coming, who is attending each aspect of your event, who is arriving early or departing early, who is attending as a presenter, guest or participant.
Branded Website: A provided customizable website that you can use to advertise your event, one that is able to include your event or organization’s logo, event information and documents, and possibly payment information.
Calendar Management: Not only an online listing of events, but can provide access to additional information, registration and listings of event participants.
Contact Management: The contact information for your participants and presenters – address, phone, email and ease in contacting groupings through various resources.
Group Registration: If you’re using your software to manage a facility or allow attendance to your event to groups, this feature allows signups and processing of applications by group.
Online Registration: This key feature provides you with the means to offer most if not all aspects of your registration through web browsers to a broad audience and is the primary reason for using this software. This is the feature that needs to best align with your needs to ensure a successful event.
Onsite Registration: The ability to add participants to your event, and include them in your schedule at the start of your event, may be the second most important feature to consider after online registration.
Payment Processing: If your event has a fee (or schedule of fees), the ability to receive payments online (PayPal, credit card, debit card) and process invoices as part of those transactions or for mail processing with a check, can provide the convenience that allows more to attend.
To determine which software you need for your event, you need to look at what your event entails, where your management group’s comfort level with software is, and what balance there needs to be between cost and time savings to make its use viable. Looking at the paperwork your event generates on an annual basis, estimating the number of man-hours managing that paperwork, the avenues that you currently provide for participants to learn about and sign up for your event, and the total costs, will give you a better idea of what you need and how online registration software might be able to meet those needs.
Perhaps the most important factor would be the support provided by the software company. Given the timing of most events and the critical nature of being able to provide for your participants, companies that provide immediate, 24/7 support through various connections deserve serious consideration. A before-purchase chat with the support team is certainly something to consider.
While some programs have limitations on the media devices that can be used to access your event’s registration or information sites, most are able to do so through a broad variety of devices – computers, tablets and smartphones. However, it is always a good question to ask if there are any limits on how you and your participants can access your information.
Finding software suppliers is easy with Google. Through each provider’s website, a list of the features provided, limits on number of events, participants, etc., and the cost of use for your event (likely based on number of participants) is readily available. Finding true evaluations of how well each does its job and how well it will work for you is a bit trickier.
There are several evaluation sites for software (www.capterra. com for one), blogs (www.techsoup.org) and online magazine review articles (www.onlineregistrationreview.com) that can help you with your decision. Contacting others who use this type of software (others in education or non-profit event coordination) can also be invaluable.
Making this purchase and change should not be done quickly, but requires a bit of effort, mostly in the self-evaluation of your own needs, wants, objectives and funding. Involve as many people in choosing the software as you do in managing your events paperwork to get a broad spectrum of what is being done and where software can improve everyone’s efforts. Time spent upfront will reap benefits down the road, so don’t shortchange the investigation before your purchase.
Steffen Parker has worked with computers since the mid-1970s and has been a Macintosh user since its introduction in 1984. Owner–operator of Music Festival Software Solutions, he develops online registration and information Web sites for music festivals, state organizations and professional societies. Serving as an IT support person for the Vermont Principals’ Association and the Information Support Specialist for Lamoille North Supervisory Union, Parker supports computer use for adults working in education, administration, finance and publications, including the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee serving as the performing arts representative.