For Associations New to Online Member Payments

There are lots of associations online that do not take payments online… thousands of them.  And there are lots of reasons why that may be the case, but over time those reasons get salted down, and every year more and more associations decide to take the step of accepting online payment for event registrations and membership dues and other items.

Sometimes, though, even in 2013, an association can discover they are a bit ahead of their membership in this regard.  Part of it can be due to behavioral engineering – an association has ALWAYS sent print materials to their members for either event registration or membership dues.  The content requested in the form is actually influenced by the printed process – sometimes I see two page event registration forms in print, providing SO MANY registration options and data fields, and I wonder how long it takes the registrant to complete the form.  Speed and ease of registration was never a concern because of the mail return process and the check-cutting process.  Registrants would finish it over time.

The registrant would receive a slew of other materials along with the registration form – education session breakout options, entertainment choices, hotel accomodation priorities, etc.  It all had to be referred to when filling out the registration form.  Sometimes the materials might be 50-60 pages long.

And when an association begins to offer online registration, often they start by simply converting the print application into an online application.

Sometimes that works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

If an association is going to offer a lengthy registration or membership dues process online (which I do not recommend) they are probably going to see a slow transfer of actual change from print to online.  This is not in the association’s best interest, as they should want to accelerate the change to online for purposes of long-term labor reduction (record management, payment management, contact management, etc.) and for short-term cashflow improvement (it’s better to deposit those payments before the conference rather than after the conference).

Of course, members are used to what the association has done in the past, and although adding a new registration option (online) isn’t that threatening, changing the registration materials to streamline that option may be seen that way.  So in the first year, the association may feel it has to stick with the long forms.

If that’s the case, I’d recommend that associations consider a cost difference between offline registration or dues payment and online registration or dues payment.  If online registration is going to seem a little more labor-costly to the registrant because they have to do their 20 minutes of registration work all at one time, rather than 5 minutes here and the rest later, then some sort of price incentive might be useful.  And not a meager one.  Offline registration is likely costing an association more in labor and materials per transaction.  There’s no real reason pricing has to be the same price as an online registration, or online membership dues.  And providing an incentive is a good prod to get members more active into the association’s online transactions.

Eventually associations will realize that they need to make the online registration and payment process more streamlined than a convoluted print registration/payment process in order to get members engaged.  That evolution is inevitable if an association is to be successful online.