Getting fully reimbursed for the cost of an event is the biggest concern that organizers raise in discussions. Most people send their payments promptly and take paying the organizer very seriously, but when problems arise, you want to make sure the cost doesn't come out of your own pocket!
Please don't let the following discourage you from organizing. The majority of people pay organizers promptly and fully, but there's a very small percentage that take multiple emails, phone calls, and a very, very few that just never send their money. Most likely you'll encounter very little to no difficulty in collecting money, but just having one "problem participant" for an event can really sour the whole experience of organizing. The following has been developed to help eliminate or at least reduce the incidence of collection difficulties.
To avoid coming up short, we recommend that you also read PayPal Pitfalls if you are considering accepting payment via PayPal.
Please keep in mind that these are recommendations not requirements. They reflect the combined experience of many experienced organizers, but please make any adjustments necessary to making this system work for you!
Collect payments in advance.
This is most important if your event has a minimum attendance requirement. If you don't have the money collected and enough people fail to show up, you will be faced with covering their fees out of your pocket, begging the participants who did show up for extra money, or sending everyone home disappointed (assuming that the site even permits a last-minute cancellation without a financial penalty). Of course, most people take their registration commitments seriously and show up if they've signed up, but it can happen (and it has). If you can't afford to cover the cost yourself, don't take the risk that you'll end up needing to do so.
Collecting cash and checks on site can be incredibly chaotic, especially if you're also trying to check in the entire group with the location, organize people into smaller groups, keep track of your own children, hand out name badges, direct people to the bathrooms, and answer the phone calls from people calling to say they are lost or staying home sick or whatever. Given the chaos, you're likely to come up short. Not because anyone is trying to short you intentionally, but because everyone else is also immersed in the chaos. People forget checkbooks, they forget cash, they have to rush children to bathrooms and forget they haven't paid; they decide to pay you after the event and then forget to do so, so they decide to mail you a check when they get home, and then forget that, too. Since it is so chaotic, it's quite likely you won't know who it was who didn't pay you, so you'll need a very easy and reliable method of checking off payments if you do decide to collect money on site.
Even if the location is the one collecting payment, it takes a great deal of time for all those families to stand in line while checks are written, change is made, and credit card transactions are processed. If you do decide to have everyone pay the location individually before the start of the event, ask that everyone show up well before the start of the event in order to get that task accomplished. (Many locations will not be willing to accept individual payments for this very reason, but some do.)
Sadly, some people will interpret permission to pay the organizer on the day as the event as permission to show up unregistered, which is a problem if the event is full, if there isn't sufficient staff to cover the extra people, or the location has allocated just the right amount of supplies for the registered number of participants.
More sadly, there have been a small number of reported cases of people interpreting permission to pay the organizer on the day as the event as "attendance is optional." They don't show, and they don't feel any obligation to reimburse the organizer after the event since they didn't attend.
Fortunately, all that can be avoided by collecting payments in advance, which is easy to do if you follow the advice below.
Rather than including payment instructions with the Event Notice, we recommend that you send payment instructions as a separate email after a participant has registered.
Note: HomeschoolRecess automates this step - when someone registers for an event, they are immediately sent an email confirmation with payment instructions.
While you may choose to continue to include your payment instructions in your Event Notice if you wish, taking them out allows you to ...
- Keep your home address private
- Provide more detailed instructions
- Prevent people from sending you payment after the event is full
- Prevent those same people from showing up because they "paid" and never read your email telling them the event was full.
- Save you the bother of having to return those extra payments
Click here for a discussion of and some examples of payment instructions.
Some organizers also prefer to request that participants acknowledge that they received their payment instructions. This confirmation step ensures that the organizer can successfully communicate with the participant via email, and communication between organizer and participants is vital to the success of any event!
The acknowledgement step also helps with event reminders — or any other important emails you might send about the event. Most events will go quite smoothly and there will be no need for additional communication beyond the event reminder, but things can go wrong — time or date changes, location changes, even cancellations. Knowing that everyone will get those important emails can reduce the stress of having to make major or last minute changes to an event.
It the participants' responsibility to ensure they are receiving emails from the organizer of an event, but many problem participants (who really are the minority of participants overall) don't take responsibility for their own email situation and really believe that the fact that they gave you an email address they rarely check or that their spam filter caught your email is a legitimate excuse for failing to send their payment or for not knowing important information about the event.
We recommend that your registration database include a field for a phone number. If an overly aggressive spam filter is blocking your emails, you can call the person. Of course, it's not your responsibility to call anyone who doesn't acknowledge receipt of your payment instructions. It's that person's responsibility to notice that the those instructions are missing and go and look for them (including in the spam/junk/bulk mail folder). Many organizers choose to call, however, especially for first-time participants. That's a kindness you can only extend if you have the phone number to call.
Be aware that you can fall victim to an overly aggressive spam filter as well. If you haven't received an acknowledgement, you might want to check your own spam/junk/bulk mail folder before calling the participant or canceling a registration.
Set a payment deadline about three days before the date that you need to make your payment to the location. This will also make it easier to follow what is probably the most important piece of advice:
Don't pay the location for anyone who hasn't paid you.
Just don't do it. It will save you so much heartache in the end.
Anyone who is so disorganized, distracted, or distressed that they are not able to pay you by the deadline date is probably going to be too disorganized, distracted, or distressed to get it to you after the deadline date as well. Non-payers are usually not mean people or even uncaring people. They probably have no desire to stiff you, but they are disorganized, distracted, or distressed, and they will stiff you in the end. Don't put yourself in a position to be shorted.
People who are too disorganized, distracted, or distressed to make payment promptly are also more likely to be too disorganized, distracted, or distressed to actually arrive at the event. They get lost. They double-book themselves and choose the other event over yours. They simply forget. Even though they may fully intend to pay you at the event, they can't do so if they're not there — and they will continue to be too disorganized, distracted, or distressed to mail you payment after the event. If they do make it, they are likely to have forgotten to bring their checkbooks or to not have any cash on hand. If they do bring cash, they likely won't have exact change, so you'll either need to be prepared to make change or task yourself with remembering to send them a check for money you will now owe them — a check that is likely to sit in their wallet un-deposited for months. It's not worth the hassle
I repeat, don't float anyone — not unless you're willing to cheerfully take the loss. Cancel their registration instead. (Since you've given yourself an extra couple of days, you can even post to the HSAdventures Yahoo Group that you have a last minute opening.)
Please do not let the above dissuade you from organizing. The vast majority of people will send their payment promptly, but following this advice will help keep you from becoming a bitter and resentful organizer!
Let's be clear — it is not your responsibility to send out a payment due reminder. It's your participants' responsibility to send payment promptly upon registration and/or receipt of payment instructions. Sadly, while most people will do just that, sometimes it doesn't happen. We recommend that you check your payment records a week to five days before your payment deadline, and send a payment due reminder to anyone who hasn't paid you yet.
Note: HomeschoolRecess allows you to easily send a reminder to all unpaid registrants via the Signups tab. HomeschoolRecess does not automatically send payment due reminders to give organizers the chance to record all payments before they are sent.
Let people know that you received their payments.
This can be a simple emailed, "Got your check." You can even do a combined email for everyone whose check you've received to date.
This email can also function as a receipt for tax deduction purposes if it includes basic information such event date, location and either the cost per child or the amount you received. We recommend that you also include your your cancellation policy and deadline. Some organizers prefer to also include a few event reminders such as where to meet, when to arrive by, and things to bring along.
Note: HomeschoolRecess also automates this step — when you mark registrants as paid, they are automatically sent an email letting them know you received their payment.
Manage Your Friends
Ask your friends to put their check in the mail.
Many organizers find that they are least likely to be promptly reimbursed by their closest friends.
You see them every week, maybe several times a week, maybe every day. They really do mean to pay you the next time you get together, it's just that you're all having so much fun that they forget — and you forget to remind them.
Also, if someone hands you cash at the park, you have to remember when you get home that there's a payment in your pocket that needs to be recorded. It's too easy to forget to do that, and then you and your friend are at odds over the status of the registration.
Plan for Late Registration Requests
When you make your payment to the location, ask if you can add a few more people later.
Some locations will say it's not possible, but many will will be okay with this, although they may give you an upper limit (usually the limit at which they need to add another staff person or they run out of supplies).
At least one person, perhaps more, will contact you the day after the deadline to ask if they can still register. It's nice to know right off the bat if the answer is yes or no.
This also it lets you add anyone who sends a late payment. Once again, don't pay the location for anyone until you've received payment yourself!
Set a cancellations deadline and don't offer refunds after that deadline.
This is usually the day before the day you must pay the location. (If you know the exact time you will be making your payment on the day it is due, you could also say that the deadline date is a short time before then, but most of us don't know the exact time, and prefer to know that if we check for messages in the morning, we can be confident we haven't missed a last minute cancellation request.)
Unless you are maintaining a waiting list, make it clear that after the cancellation deadline, it will be the responsibility of the person who needs to cancel to find a replacement and arrange to be reimbursed. This shifts the responsibility and the time commitment to participants and frees you up to focus on organizing the event.
If someone cancels after you have received a check, let them know that you will void and shred the check -- and then do so. (Legally, only the word VOID on a check will void it, which means a torn up or shredded check is still legally valid, so do write VOID on the check before shredding it.)