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(For more resources on this subject, see here.)
Registrant processing and event promotion are often the most challenging, time consuming, and important pieces of the management process. CiviCRM provides flexible event management tools to define the nature of the event, determine the data and fees that must be collected, track participants as they register online or are entered by staff through the administrative tools, and develop the lists, nametags, and other resources you need to present an outstanding professional event.
Why host events?
Before digging further into things, it’s worth taking a minute to ask the questions: why would you host events, and what exactly is an “event” as it relates to CiviCRM?
Many not-for-profits exist as organizations that people donate to, become members of, or support in other ways. The purpose and services many organizations provide are not oriented around “walk-in” support or other face-to-face interactions with constituents, apart from events.
Events provide an important (and often, the only) in-person interaction with your supporters, members, and others committed to the mission and vision of your organization. As such, the face and voice of the organization is most clearly seen and realized during events.
So what exactly is an “event”? In CiviCRM, event management tools allow you to do the following:
- Publish and advertise an event description including date, time, and location
- Register participants
- Calculate and collect fees
- Collect data about participants
- Track registrant’s status
- Use more advanced elements, such as self-registration forms on your site with automated waiting lists
You are not likely to use the event tools for very small group meetings, such as a one-to-one meeting with a constituent, board meetings, committee meetings, and other such no-fee, basic events. For these events, it will be easier and simpler to use a CiviCRM activity, either with the pre-configured meeting activity type, or through your own custom activity types.
Building and promoting your event
The first step in event management is to configure your event in the system. Once configured, you can begin collecting registrations and tracking participants. The event tools all reside under the navigation bar’s Events menu. As with other areas of CiviCRM, the event administration tools are not always provided in a simple, task-oriented workflow. You are likely to find that the creation, configuration, registration, tracking, reporting, and managing happen in a more iterative pattern, rather than a linear one. We will begin by walking through the event creation process, touching on the various options available, and may circle back later to delve deeper into various areas.
Use the New Event option to begin the process of setting up an event. This opens up an initial information and basic settings form. After saving it, you will be directed to a tabbed interface where you optionally configure four other settings areas (or return to adjust this first form).
You should carefully work through each tab in a sequential wizard-style way when first becoming familiar with the event tools.
Information and settings
The first form defines basic information about the event, including its category (type), title, description, dates, and so on. You may notice that the very first field on this form is for selecting an event template. If no event template exists, a notice to this effect will appear at the top of the page.
Event templates are very useful if your organization hosts a number of very similar events, such as a monthly breakfast seminar series, or a bi-monthly training workshop. From one event to the next, the structure, fees, location, and perhaps even the basic description remains similar. In such cases, you can save time and reduce errors by setting up an event template under Events | Event Templates. The template creation tool is almost identical to the five-tabbed form we will be working through now, with the exception of a few fields removed (such as event dates) that are presumed to be unique for each event.
When creating a template, complete only those fields which are common to all (or most) events of this type. For example, if your monthly breakfast seminar hosts different speakers on different topics, you will want to leave the summary and description fields empty.
When a previously configured template is selected while on the Info and Settings form for a new event, the event is pre-populated with any data stored in the template. You will have the opportunity to review, adjust, and fill in any fields in your event. Once a template has been selected for a new event, there is no association back to the template. In other words, changing template settings at a later date will have no impact on existing events that used the template. Its only purpose is to pre- populate the event, and in doing so, to facilitate the event creation process.
Returning to the initial event creation form, we see event type and participant role fields. The event type is used to categorize your events, which can be useful when analyzing and managing events. You can, for example, define an event type for your annual fall conference and later run searches based on the event type, such as displaying all constituents who participated in any of the fall conferences over the last five years. The event type options are managed under Administer | CiviEvent | Event Types.
Custom data fields used to collect information about your registrants can be configured based on these event types. Since events of the same type will often have similar data collection needs, this is a useful and efficient way to repurpose fields for multiple, similarly-structured events. We will discuss custom data later in this section when we review the use of profiles. They are created and configured through Administer | Customize | Custom Data.
Participant roles categorize the nature of the participant. For example, your event may have attendees, guests, speakers, staff, volunteers, and other types of registrants you will track, but also want to classify. Participant roles are managed through Administer | CiviEvent | Participant Roles. Similar to event types, custom data sets may be constructed based on the participant’s role. In this way, speakers can be prompted to provide a title and description of their talks, exhibitors can be asked questions about their needs for space, power, and equipment, volunteers can be asked their preferences for an assignment, and basic attendees can be asked their breakout session preferences.
When defining a participant role, you have the option of deciding if a role will be counted. We will see later in the event management tools that CiviCRM provides up- to-date counts of your participants, organized into various categories, one of which is the main participant count. Typically, you will want to “count” any attendees who have paid or have committed to pay, but exclude from your count any attendees who have canceled or are in a non-attendee role. Many organizations will not count speakers or staff when reporting the number of attendees for a conference. By creating a staff role and choosing to not count it, you can still track the fact that they were present at the conference and generate name tags from the system for them, but exclude them from the counts provided to your Events Committee or Board of Directors in various reports. Be clear on who is included in your counts as there are some purposes for which you will want a “full” count, such as the number of meals required at the event.
Returning to our form, the selection of a participant role in this location determines what role will be assigned when participants register using the event registration form. In most cases, you will select the Attendee role, as that is the standard role intended for event participants.
Peer pressure may be a useful tool in your event promotion toolbox. CiviCRM provides the option of exposing a participant listing to site visitors. When visited, a current list of all participants will be displayed.
There are three listing templates included in the standard installation, namely Name Only, Name and Email, and Name, Status and Register Date. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no interface for setting up alternative collections of fields to be included in listings. If you have the ability and resources to edit PHP and Smarty .tpl templating files, you can create more templates and tell the system about them through Administer | CiviEvent | Participant Listing Templates.
While participant listing pages may serve as an effective peer-pressure promotion tool, they may also be perceived as invasive to privacy by your attendees. Make sure the nature of the event (and the nature of your constituents) supports displaying such a list. In particular, be sensitive to the use of the name and e-mail template, as some contacts may not want their e-mail information disseminated in this way.
Enter the title of your event, keeping in mind that it will be publicly visible in the event information and registration pages. You also will want the event to be uniquely named to avoid confusion with other events. For example, if you host an annual conference, you might name it: Annual Conference 2010, Annual Conference 2011, and so on.
Use the Event Summary and Complete Description fields to describe the event, such as the topics covered, speakers, audience, and so on. As the name suggests, the Event Summary field should be brief and succinct. It will be included in RSS and iCal feeds generated by the system, which you may use for promotional efforts. The Complete Description field should be more complete, and is displayed on the event information page.
Your RSS feeds allow other websites to automatically pull content from your site and display it on their site. The event feeds include information about your events, such as links to send their visitors to your registration pages. iCal feeds are another similar format for publishing your event information. People can set up their Google Calendar, Outlook, and other similar calendaring applications automatically to read in these feeds and display your events on the right date and time.
Define the event’s start and end date/time. For a single-day event, it is sufficient to just complete the start date field.
We’ll spend a bit of time in a moment on the waitlist option. Proceed to the final set of fields on this first step of the event wizard, and click to enable or disable the following options:
- Include Map to Event Location?: Inserts a Google or Yahoo! map on the information page with the event location plotted. You must have a location defined on the second step of the wizard and must have geocoding configured in your Global Settings to make use of this function.
- Public Event?: Determines if the event appears in RSS/iCal feeds, in the HTML event listing page, and in Drupal’s CiviCRM Upcoming Events block. Turn this off if you have “invitation-only” events that you don’t want to publicize through the automated methods.
- Is the Event Active?: Enables or disables the event. A disabled event will be hidden from RSS/iCal/HTML listings and cannot be visited through event information pages or registration forms. Be careful about disabling past events thinking they would not be accessed by site visitors. If you have older content articles on your site that reference the event information page, it’s possible that people will visit older events to learn what information was covered. We will see later on that there are options for limiting the date/time window when people may register for the event, so you do not need to be concerned about people registering for past events inadvertently.