According to what I knew from research, the software had to register people, collect payments and be easy for Mel to set up (they don't have an IT department at her organization). Mel told me she also needed it to be easy for her attendees, and her goal to increase attendance also called for some kind of promotional tools. To this end, I developed the following criteria, on which I scored every company I found:
- Ease of Setup (for Mel)
- Ease of Use (for the attendees)
- Depth of Features
- Payment Options
- Email Options
- Customization Options
- Reporting Options
- Support/Sales Staff
- Promotional Tools (besides email)
At first I eliminated any companies that I didn't think really served events like Mel's. I found numerous companies that specialized in sporting events, leagues and golf tournaments, but none of them really fit what Mel was looking for. She needed something that was very customizable because her events included everything from raffles, to dinners, to weekend camping trips and trade shows! This "first cut" left me with the following list of possible matches:
This was the list I ended up scoring on the scale I determined above.
UPDATE: Some people have pointed out that Active is a sports-oriented company and that I had eliminated that type. While it's true that Active is geared toward sporting events, they actually have an entire suite of products that can handle any type of event.
I'm an Excel fanatic, so the first thing I did was set up my checklist in a spreadsheet and start visiting each of the sites in order, filling in the table based on the information available on their websites (later Mel actually called the companies in question and filled in more info based on her talks with the sales-staff). Here is the comparison we ended up with:
|Ease of Setup|
|Ease of Use|
|Depth of Features|
|Responsiveness (Load Time)|
|Promotional Tools||Total Points||
My final recommendation to Mel (and to you, if you're looking for an online registration system) is to go for Wild Apricot or Eventbrite. Who should use which? Some more in-depth analysis may help make the distinction:This software excels in a couple different areas. First of all, it can probably handle the most diverse types of events, because their forms are super-customizable and they have every feature you could imagine (don't believe me, take a look!).
Second: they have a ton of sales and support options. Their website has great learning tools done in super-cool (super-nerdy) Flash, and they also offer support forums and tutorials. All of this is in addition to their support hotline.
Also of note: Wild Apricot cleanly integrates membership management, and is therefore a great solution for associations or clubs who also need to track membership. They also offer a free, ad-supported version which is great for tight budgets.
If your organization can make use of their specific featureset, Wild Apricot is my #1 recommendation.
Wild Apricot, Eventbrite is your next best option. Of course, "you get what you pay for" applies on some level, and you won't find all the bells, whistles and personal-support that Wild Apricot offers. However, what Eventbrite lacks in extras they make up for in having built a very-responsive, well-written product. Eventbrite is smooth like butter.
Because Eventbrite is cheap (or free in some cases!) they don't support as many types of payment (mostly PayPal) and their email capabilities aren't nearly as sophisticated as the other offerings. However, if you have a lot of events or attendees, a small budget, and can sacrifice some of the extra functionality offered elsewhere, then Eventbrite will be a great match.
One More Quick Note
Although Mel and I have tried our best to evaluate each of these programs the best we can, you should definitely shop and compare for yourself. Every event is unique and what works for Mel probably won't work the same for you. My recommendations are based on things I think would be important to meeting planners, but I'm not a CMP and I don't plan your meetings!
So which software did Mel choose? Actually, both! For the smaller events (day hikes, weekend trips, etc.) Mel's company saves money by using Wild Apricot. For the bigger, more complicated events, Mel uses Eventbrite because she can sell sponsor-ads, print agendas and name badges, do different attendee types, etc. They're both working great!
I hope you've found my research as helpful as Melissa did. Now go out there and be EVENTSIBLE!