Online Registration Service Fee: Pay or Pass On?

As an event organizer, one of the many decisions you need to make when setting up online event registration is how the online registration service fee is going to be paid.  Is your organization going to absorb it, or are you going to pass the fee on to your event registrants?  From our experience at SignMeUp, we have found that nearly all business and social events absorb the service fee – they view it as a cost of producing the event.  On the other hand, there is no easy generalization as to how participatory sports events handle the fee.  Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you decide.

1. How vigorously do you want to promote online registration?  Asked another way, how much time and money do you have to deal with paper registrations?  When I started a new community 5K, I entered all paper applications myself, so clearly I preferred when runners registered online.  Although my budget was limited, I paid the online service fee and even gave a “discount” to those that registered online (in reality, I simply raised the price for mail-in registration by a couple of dollars).  David Patt, former Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Area Runner’s Association and current Executive Director of the Association of Running Directors, explained, “your event should absorb the online surcharge and not pass it on to runners because everybody who signs up online saves you money.  The people who mail in registration forms are costing you money.  With online registration, you don’t have to do any keystroking – just download the info into your database.  You won’t make any mistakes – informational errors will have been made by the runners, not by you.  And, you won’t be stuck with bad credit card charges, since they won’t be accepted by the online service.”

credit card

2. Is your organization able to afford the hard dollar cost of the service fee?  Carol Atherton, co-owner of AA Sports, Ltd., decided to pass the service fee on to registrants because “we did not feel we could absorb this expense on our race budget.  Additionally, we give the participant an option to get to a downloadable form on our website.  This way they can choose if they want the benefit of registering on-line and paying this processing fee… or to fill out the downloadable and mail it in, and not having that extra expense.”  Nonetheless, AA Sports events achieve “at least 80% [online registration] for running events, and 95% for Triathlon/Multisport events.”

3. How do you want to be perceived by your registrants?  While Carol Anderson feels that “people are familiar with [paying a service fee] with any on-line purchase,” David Patt said, “you wouldn’t want to pay extra to use a credit card at a grocery or restaurant, so why should you do it at a race?”  You need to determine what your own event attendees will tolerate.

A quick Google search for “convenience fee” reveals how consumers feel about paying an extra fee for using credit cards online:

Why Customers Hate Convenience Fees for Credit Card Transactions

8 Stupid Fees Consumers Hate to Pay (But Often Do Anyway)


And for a look at how the credit card industry views convenience fees, check out:

The MasterCard Convenience Fee Program

Charging a Credit Card Convenience Fee on Transactions

There is no correct answer for every organization.  As with any important decision, it’s best to weigh the factors to come up with the best possible choice for you.

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