Planning an event for your organization? Then you may be faced with the tech challenge of figuring out how people are going to sign up for it online. Don't fret! We put together these 5 user-friendly and flexible online registration options that make signing up for your event online simple for you, your staff, and your attendees.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Online Event Registration Solutions – From Simple to Robust

In this podcast/post, we offer a handful of online event registration solutions, from simple to robust. This is one of many nonprofit-focused posts, but it can apply to anyone who’s running an online event. So to my small business audience, don’t abandon me yet — I will definitely be giving you some nuggets of goodness for your online event signups. The examples I use, however, will be for my nonprofit friends, who are trying to pull everything together and switch all of their fundraising events online during this current season of social distancing.

Depending upon what kind of event you’re planning on running for your organization, you’re going to have to tackle a tech challenge, which is allowing people to sign up for your event online. We’re going to talk about the functionality that allows people to go online, type in their information, and register for your event. Now, there are lots of different ways you can do this. I’m going to go over five different ways you can do this today. I’ll tell you when you should use each one and how they work.

  1. Form on Your Website – Formidable Pro, Gravity Forms
  2. Event Plugins Paid & Free – WP Events Manager, The Events Calendar
  3. Free Third-Party Solutions – Survey Monkey, Google Forms
  4. Paid Third-Party Solutions –  SignMeUp, SignUpGenius
  5. Paid Third-Party Solutions with Marketing – Eventsmart, Eventbrite, Facebook 

What’s the difference between first-party solutions and third-party solutions? 

I consider third party solutions things that are not on your website. They might integrate with your website, but they are not physically housed on the server that houses your website. That’s why it’s called third party solutions. The other options are physically on your website. So you have a little bit more control over those and the interface of them. So those are your first-party solutions.

1. Form on Your Website – Formidable Pro, Gravity Forms

Let’s start with our first party solutions. The first one is you can put a form on your website. You can build your form however you want to build it. There are tons of different form builders out there. We build all of our websites in WordPress, so the examples I’ll give you today are for WordPress websites. 

Formidable Pro 

Our favorite one is Formidable Pro, we love it. It integrates with multiple different types of payment gateways and it allows a lot of flexibility for the events sign up. It has things like conditional fields, for example, say you wanted a t-shirt, it would ask you how big you want it to be. It all depends on how you set up the form. So that form can be as lengthy and intense as you want it to be. 

I could go on and on about the power of these types of form building plugins because we have made them do so many different things in our years of building websites. The very first year we ran the CoMoGives campaign, which is a collaboration of nonprofits in our community that come together and run an online giving campaign during the month of December every year, we brought in over $20,000 using just Formidable Pro to manage all of these organizations donations! So it can do some really powerful things.

Gravity Forms 

Another plugin you can use to build forms on your website that will also collect payments is Gravity Forms. It does a lot of the same things Formidable Pro does, we just prefer Formidable Pro. Both of them are very powerful plugins. A WordPress site is required to use these, they’re great if you need lots of flexibility in your signup form.

If you host many events, these forms may not be the right option.

 I would not use them if I have a ton of events every year. So if I’m hosting five events a month, these are going to get a little crazy because they’re forms, right? They don’t have a calendar or any of the other things that go with an event section. You have to create your event section separately and then you implement these contact form plugins as the way people physically sign up for your event. So if you’re hosting tons of events, you’re going to need somebody to program that out for you, or you’re going to need to use an event plugin. 

These are really great if you’ve got a few events every year, less than once a month. So you run five events a year, and you want to have a pretty specialized signup form for them or if you’re just having one event a year, and you have a very simple signup form, this is great, too. 

How do these forms work? 

How we feel when our website form submits the sign up information into a database for us.

So the way it works is you install the plugin in your WordPress site, and then you build the form. You’re going to add the form to a page, and people go to that page, they fill out the information, and the information submits into a database.

That’s very important. Some of these form building plugins do not submit into a database, which is nothing short of a hot mess because then all you have are a series of emails sent to you by your website telling you that people signed up and then you have to move all the information from those emails into an Excel spreadsheet. This is ridiculous, time-consuming, and downright evil—you never want to do that. Now Formidable Pro and Gravity Forms and a number of other ones absolutely submit into the database, which is exactly what you want.

Then you’ll get an email when people sign up. If you set it up correctly, the registrant will get an email too. Then when it’s time for the event, you just go out and you download your spreadsheet, and you have a list of registrants. So this is really great if you don’t have a ton of events, it has lots of flexibility! An awesome bonus is they even let you know someone submitted the form but didn’t finish paying.

You’ll need a payment gateway if people have to pay to attend your events.

Now, these particular plugins will require you to have an extra piece to allow people to pay for your event. If it’s a paid event, you can use PayPal, Stripe, or Authorize.Net. All of them work but you will have to set it up separately. Ultimately, you’re going to have to set that up separately for any first party solution you use because none of them have a payment gateway included. 

I really liked using Stripe because it allows people to check out on my website, it doesn’t make people leave the website like PayPal does to check out. Now PayPal can be really cool too. We’ve used it so many times, it just depends on your preference.

 So once again, for the first option, you can place a forum on your website and you’ll use a form builder, like Formidable Pro or Gravity Forms.

2. Event Plugin Paid & Free – WP Events Manager, The Events Calendar

Now let’s say you have lots of events, you’re going to be offering paid events all the time. Then you’re probably going to want to move on to something like an event plugin. An event plugin might be a free plugin or it could be a paid plugin. And two we’ve worked with before are WP Events Manager and The Events Calendar

WP Events Manager 

WP events manager is beautiful, it’s flexible, and it has tons of different options in it. It lets you put lots of events on there and shows them in a calendar. You can add maps to every single location, little pictures, and everything comes out nicely formatted for you. You can use a number of different payment gateways to have people pay for your events. 

Now the free version of this will not let you have a paid event. If you have the pro version of it, then you can have people pay for the event, and you would use PayPal, Stripe, or Authorize.Net for the payments. It’s really not expensive. It’s around $75 for a site; it’s not a bad investment.

The Events Calendar

My programmer, Tyler, his favorite events plugin when he doesn’t build them himself because we build some crazy events plugins is The Events Calendar. He likes it because it’s straightforward for him to use and modify. And it’s actually really stable; he hasn’t had a lot of problems with it. 

This one has a nice calendar feature if you need it. The Events Calendar also allows you to export things, change the timezone, and make events recurring, which is really important. If you’re going to have an event every single Wednesday, you’re going to want that recurring events feature so you don’t have to put it in all the time. 

High Functionality

The Events Calendar has a ton of different functionality and you can also have these different add ons they offer. They offer things like tickets, like if you want people to have specific tickets, then it sends out tickets for them. And it allows for third parties to submit different events to your calendar. For example, some of my clients will want to have a huge calendar that’s really just a whole bunch of events from everywhere in their community. So they need to have other people be able to submit events on their calendar they control. This plugin allows them to do that. 

How do they work? 

Similar to the last example I talked about, you would install the plugin on your website, and configure the events and the signup forms the way you want them to be. From there, you’re going to get an email when people sign up for the event and they would get an email too. You would have a section to download your rosters and see if people had made their payments or not. These plugins are fully functional and really cool. 

Now, as you can tell, each one of these has its own set of pros and cons. So before picking your event plugin, outline all the things you need and then evaluate which one gives you the most.

Need a TON of functionality? Try WooCommerce. 

We have some online events that are just so incredibly robust and have so many things going on we actually just use a shopping cart for them because they’re extremely flexible. So we use a plugin called WooCommerce to power those events. WooCommerce is what powers our CoMoGives event, but we’ve also used it for others as well because there’s just so many things you can do with it that’ll extend functionality. For example, if you’re going to have people sign up for multiple pieces of your event at the registration like event add ons (you could buy a T-shirt, dinner, or maybe a taxi from the hotel), then you’re going to need more functionality because you don’t want them to have to check out every single time. And you also don’t want to build a shopping cart for it, right? So if you’re imagining this event sign up feels like a shopping cart, then you might just use the shopping cart as your solution.

Alright, so those are the first party solutions, they’re things that are going to be on your website. You would have a form on your website, or you might use an event plugin, and you would pick the one that best fits what you need.

3. Free Third Party Solutions – Google Forms, Survey Monkey 

Now let’s look at some third-party solutions. The first one is a free third party solution. We have all filled out a Survey Monkey form before and we’ve probably all heard of Google Forms. Now both of these are free and they work well!

Just like the form on your website, you give people a link, they fill out the form after you’ve built it, of course. From there, you get an email that says, someone filled out the form. And then you can export the information in the form out to an Excel spreadsheet, and use it as your event list. 

Event Payment Options 

Now here’s the deal though, Google Forms as of June 22, 2020, does not accept payments, so you can only use Google Forms if you have a free event.

Now Survey Monkey can accept payments with stripe. So you integrate the two solutions. You have a Stripe account and a SurveyMonkey account, you make them talk to one another, and then you can accept payment for your events through Survey Monkey. Now you’re still going to have to pay the Stripe fees because you can’t run credit cards for free. Stripe does let you have a nonprofit discount, which is pretty awesome.

If you have a super low budget, or you don’t have a website at all, or maybe you don’t have a WordPress site that you can easily add a forum on to sign up for your events, SurveyMonkey or Google Forms are great solutions. 

And once again, this is not a sustainable solution if you have tons of events all the time, this would be great for if you just have a few events a year or maybe just one event that you’re rolling out right now.

So another type of third party solution would be a paid third party solution. So these offer you a more comprehensive package. Two examples of these are SignMeUp and SignUpGenius

Now, I’ve only used SignUpGenius and I only interact with it when my daughter’s school sends it to me, and I fill it out. So I’m not 100% sure how it all works. I know some of these options do come with a little bit of marketing behind it, and you’ll get an email or be able to send texts. They all promise there are reports for your data and they’re pretty cost-effective.

As I said, I don’t have a ton of experience working in the paid third party solutions. I generally end up working in one of these other categories I’ve spoken about today. However, I didn’t want to leave these off because if you don’t have a WordPress site or a website at all, and you need to have a little bit more than free third party solution like Survery Monkey offers, then you can find some pretty simple ways to allow people to sign up for your events that might be more streamlined. 

5. Paid Third Party Solutions with Marketing – Eventsmart, Eventbrite, Facebook 

Alright, so the last one is a paid third party solution with marketing. So those are things like Event Smart or Eventbrite

How do these work? 

These allow you to create a landing page with a description of your event and you have the form there, people can purchase multiple tickets, and it acts a little bit more like a shopping cart. So you have more opportunities for functionality within these systems. You also have the opportunity to integrate your marketing with them. 

So this would be really good for somebody who doesn’t already have an email marketing software. Or maybe they’re really focused on growing their social media presence because a lot of them prompt people who sign up to share the event on social media. 

Eventbrite Flexibility 

The one I have worked with the most in this case category is Eventbrite and we’ve worked with it for many of our clients. It’s quite flexible. I just found you can actually integrate it with Facebook to sell tickets to your Facebook event. They’re rolling out some new features all the time and especially for people who need extra marketing support and don’t care if it’s on their website or not. These two options can be an awesome solution if you’re not comfortable with that technology. 

Now, I have not used these for people with lots of events. The clients I had used a paid third party solution with marketing included. They are just doing one event a year or a few events a year because you do pay Eventbrite and Eventsmart for the service. And you also pay for your payment processing for the credit cards. So they’re giving you a great service, but you’re also paying for it. Lastly, it’s not going to offer you the calendar that some of those events plugins will offer you if you are doing lots of events.

Cool Integrations! 

Another cool thing about using some of these bigger providers is they have lots of integrations available. So you can integrate it with your current email marketing platform, your Facebook page for marketing, and also your client relationship management software. It’ll talk back and forth and record information into the software so you don’t have to go back and add all the information about the people who went to the event into the software. Additionally, they offer more robust features, if you need that for your organization. 

Now get out of here. That event signup form is not going to build itself. 

 Hopefully, you’re not like, “oh my gosh, Monica, you just made me more confused than I was before I read this blog post,” because I really do love technology and there are so many different options out there! My intention was to make sure I could provide you with the groundwork to start evaluating these different event registration solutions for your event. So from simple to robust, those are my five event registration solutions. 

If you are currently moving through the process of planning your own online fundraising event, but you’re short on time tech or creativity, check out our new downloadable resource, 14 tech easy online fundraising event ideas. We pooled ideas from nonprofits who are successfully raising donations online with their success stories, to give you some inspiration and ideas to run your own. So give it a glance and see if there’s an event you can wrap your head around and put into action for your organization.


Links Mentioned

Forms on Your Website

Free Third Party Solutions
Paid Third Party Solutions

Paid Third Party Solutions with Marketing

Referenced Assets

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