Processing and Managing Participants in CiviCRM

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Using CiviCRM

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Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM

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by Brian Shaughnessy Joseph Murray | March 2011 | Open Source

CiviCRM is a web-based, open source Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system, designed specifically to meet the needs of advocacy, non-profit, and non-governmental organizations.

In the previous article by Joseph Murray and Brian P. Shaughnessy, authors of Using CiviCRM, we focussed on the primary tasks and responsibilities involved in event management.

In this article we will take a look at the following:

  • Processing and managing participants
  • Tracking, searching, and reporting
  • Integrating events to your CRM running reports

 

Using CiviCRM

Using CiviCRM

Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM

        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on this subject, see here.)

Processing and managing participants

You've configured your event, tested it, and publicly promoted the online information page and registration form. Before you know it, event registrations start rolling in. Now what?

As with so many other areas of CiviCRM, these records may be viewed collectively through search tools or on an individual-contact basis. In this section, we'll walk through the event registration as it is viewed through the contact's record and then briefly review importing participant records.

Working with event registrations

A contact's history of event attendance will appear in their Events tab. From this tab, you can view, edit, or delete an existing registration, or create a new registration for the contact.

Notice that there are two buttons above the event history listing, namely, Add Event Registration and Submit Credit Card Event Registration. The first is used for registrations that do not involve real time credit card processing through the system. This may include free events, payments by check, cash, EFT, or a credit card that was processed outside of the system. The second button should be used if you will be processing a credit card directly through CiviCRM. If you have not configured a payment processor, or your payment processor does not handle integrated payments (for example, PayPal Standard or Google Checkout, which redirect you to an external site to process the payment), then that button will not be visible.

The new registration form allows you to select the event you wish to register the individual for, the fees and fields specific to the event, payment options, and receipting options. The following screenshot shows the top half of the form:

There are several things to note about this form:

  • The event drop-down list will only show current and future events. If you wish to register someone for an event in the past, you must click the Include past event(s) in this select list link, which will reload the form with the full list of events. This is done to reduce any confusion and simplify the event selection process.
  • If you have created any custom data fields attached to participants, they will appear and be available only when the selections match their "used for" criteria. For example, if you have created custom fields for the participant role Guest, they will only appear when you change the role on this form. If you have custom fields attached to the event type Conference, they will only appear if the event selected is associated with that event type. If you are expecting, but not seeing a certain custom field, make sure your selections match how that field is configured to be used.

Directly below the event fee block is an option to record a payment with this registration. Checking the box reveals a series of contribution-related fields, as shown in the following screenshot:

It is important to understand that an event registration in which fees are collected involves both an event participant record and an associated contribution record. While you could process these separately, we strongly advise that you manage them through this single interface. In addition to being easier than entering them separately (since you may handle both records at once), doing so creates a link between the two records. If you return at a later date to view this event registration, you will see the related contribution record summarized below it. Likewise, if you enter the associated contribution record, you will see the event record summarized below it. Revenue totals for the event in reports will also reflect the linked records. Entering them separately will not build that connection.

Handling expected payments

Inevitably, you will receive event registrations by mail, fax, or phone, in which payment has not been submitted with the event registration. Though you have not actually received the payment, there is an expected payment and consequently, the best practice is to enter the payment as a pending contribution. Use the Record Payment option to log the contribution, but do not complete the Paid By field, and change the Payment Status field to Pending.

Why is this recommended? For two reasons: first, it captures the reality of the data better. You have received a registration that implies a commitment to pay. This is different from a registration for a guest, speaker, or other VIP attendee for whom you do not plan to charge a fee. Secondly, it provides better tools for tracking payments due. If each registrant in the above scenario has a pending contribution payment, you can easily run a search to find out the total due and process invoices or follow- up communication accordingly. In essence, it gives you a better overview of your actual financial position, and a clear data path to those who owe you payment.

Registrations received through your public-facing event registration page will also have both an event and contribution record created. Pay later registrations will have contribution records with a status of Pending, indicating that a payment has not yet been received. When you receive payment, first record the details in the contribution record and change the status to Completed. Doing so will automatically change the status of the associated event registration record to reflect that the payment has been received. Note that the reverse action does not have the same effect: changing the status of a registration to completed does not likewise change the status of its associated contribution record. This supports situations where you want to allow people to attend the event (marked completed) even though they will pay after the event (marked pending).

Before leaving the event record displayed within the contact record, we want to point out one additional feature. From the event tab, click on View to see the registration details. From this screen, you'll notice a button to create a name badge. Clicking on this option will direct you to a form where you select the template to be used and trigger the creation of a PDF file with the name badge.

In the following Tracking, searching, and reporting section, we will review how to create name badges for all event participants in bulk. For now, it's useful to see how an individual name badge can be created.

Importing participant records

As with other areas of CiviCRM, the event functions include a tool for importing event registrations. This is particularly useful when you are initially migrating data from an external database such as MS Access or MS SQL Server. It may come in handy at times depending on your organization structure and how CiviCRM is being used.

Let's say your organization consists of five chapters geographically oriented to cover the entire state. Each chapter hosts local events and handles all onsite management through volunteers. The registration process is centralized through the state-wide organization using CiviCRM, so the contact participant list is generated and e-mailed to the chapter coordinator the day before the event.

Suppose some of these events allow walk-in registrations and others include continuing education credits that must have verified attendance in order to be earned. In other words, the organization must not only track if people have registered, but must also track whether they actually attended.

You choose to handle this by sending a .csv (comma-separated) export file the evening before the event to the chapter coordinator. The coordinator welcomes people as they arrive at the event and uses spreadsheet software to mark each person who attends in the .csv file. They add new rows for walk-ins. That file is sent back to the main office at the conclusion of the event and is imported into CiviCRM in two steps: existing registrants are imported using the Update option, where the participant status value reflects who attended; and the new registrants are imported using the Insert option, and then are matched with existing records using their name and e-mail.

The import tool is very similar to what we saw in other areas. The four-step wizard consists of loading a file and configuring the import settings, mapping the file's fields to CiviCRM fields, previewing the results, and completing the import. An error file will be generated and will be available for download if any problems are discovered with any records.

To access the import tool, visit Events | Import Participants. There are a few things to note that are specific to importing events:

  • Participant import only accepts .csv files. You cannot connect to a MySQL database as with the contact import.
  • The most significant difference between importing participants and importing contacts is the behavior of the Update option for handling duplicates. The Update option requires the presence of an existing participant record, which must be identified using the unique participant ID value. Consequently, you will only use it in scenarios similar to the one we just discussed, where the participant list is exported from the system, changes are made, and it is then imported back into the system. If the Update option is used, CiviCRM will not process new registration records. In this way, it differs from the contact import that matches and updates existing records and creates new records for those that do not match.
  • As one might expect, the field mapping options available for the participant import include a number of registration-related fields. Take note of those in red, as they are required in order to successfully import these records. They include the Event ID and Participant Status. The former can be obtained from the Manage Events page. Several of the fields highlighted in red are used for matching to the contact record. Not all of these are required; only ones sufficient for making a valid match are required. For example, you do not need the internal contact ID and the first/last name. Either of these is sufficient for making a match.
Using CiviCRM Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM
Published: February 2011
eBook Price: $35.99
Book Price: $59.99
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        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on this subject, see here.)

Tracking, searching, and reporting

In the last section, we worked with an individual contact record to see how the registration is created with an associated contribution record. In this section, we will begin working with multiple participant records.

Tracking registrations using the dashboard

One of the most important things for you as an event manager is the ability to quickly see how many people have registered for a given event. CiviCRM provides you with a snapshot to these details on the Events | Dashboard page.

Similar to other areas of CiviCRM, the Dashboard provides a snapshot into key data in a summarized fashion. For events, this consists of a listing of upcoming events with registrant counts broken down into various categories, and a list of recent registrations received.

The registrant counts are very useful and bear some explanation. Review the following screenshot:

CiviCRM helps you understand your participant records by breaking them down into categories. We begin with the number of Counted registrants, in contrast to those Not Counted. Counted participants include those who have registered, including both those who have paid and those who will pay later. Not Counted is broken up by status and role. By default, registrants with a status of no-show, cancelled, pending from incomplete transaction, on waitlist, rejected, and expired, will all be excluded from the registrant count. Why? This is because they are not expected to attend or are confirmed to not have attended. In a similar way, participant roles may be configured to be included or excluded from the total counts. In the example we saw earlier, we had created a participant role entitled "Staff" which should not be included in the count.

Settings for the participant statuses and roles can be configured through Administer | CiviEvent. What we see in this section is the impact of those settings and how they are used to help you understand the nature of your participants.

The Registered, Pending from Pay Later, and Cancelled counts you see in the screenshot reflect the various participant statuses represented by the records. If other statuses were present, they would be listed as well.

Note that each of these counts is a live hyperlink; selecting the link displays the relevant registrants in that count. This is, by far, the fastest way to view and work with a segment of your participant records.

Searching for participants

While the dashboard provides a quick window into a single event, you will undoubtedly want to search for records based on more refined criteria or across multiple events. We do this through Events | Find Participants, as shown in the following screenshot:

The fields available through this tool are fairly self-explanatory. You have options to search within a single event, across multiple events within an event type category, by date ranges, or fee ranges. The search fields are restrictive; all criteria must be matched in order to return results. Entering a large number of criteria will result in a smaller number of records returned. The two exceptions are the multi-select fields, Participant Status, and Participant Role. Multiple selections within that field are inclusive, though its interaction with other fields remains restrictive.

Similar to CiviCRM's other search tools, you may take action on bulk records after running a search. First select all records or choose selected records and then initiate your action from the drop-down menu.

Most of these are standard options we will not review. Take note of the Change Participant Status option, which is unique to events, and the Print Event Name Badges option. You will use the latter to generate bulk name badges and follows steps similar to what was noted earlier—you select the format for your name badges, and then trigger the creation of a PDF file, which can be used for printing.

Recall that component searches will retrieve the associated related records, and not the contact records, in their results. This means that a single contact may be duplicated if they have multiple event registrations matching the selected criteria. Further, the export tool provides options for including details about the related records; in this case, the participant details, as that is the "lens" through which the data is retrieved.

Though this search tool will generally fill most of your needs for isolating records, you may find one particular area where it falls short, namely, the handling of price set fields. Price set fees are tricky because they result in a series of sub-fields associated with a single registration record. When searching and exporting registrations, it becomes difficult to effectively search on and export that data within the context of this form.

To overcome this, CiviCRM ships with a custom search that will break down your event by price set fields. To access it, visit Search... | Custom Searches…. Click on the Custom Searches... menu item to view the full list of available tools (the submenu only includes a small selection of available tools). From this list, choose Price Set Details for Event Participants. Select an event and trigger the search to return a grid-based breakdown of participants by their price set fees.

A second custom search may also be of value: Event Aggregate. This search displays registration fee summary calculations for events. More robust reporting tools that we will review shortly may prove more useful as this report is somewhat limited.

Event reports

Before wrapping up our discussion of event functionality, let's look at how the reporting tools can help you share the story of your event's success. We will now briefly review the three event-specific reports available to you.

CiviCRM ships with four reports that involve event records, two of which are based on the same report template. From the Reports menu, they are as follows:

  • Event Participant Report (List)
  • Event Income Report (Summary)
  • Event Income Report (Detail)
  • Attendee List

The Event Participant Report and Attendee List are both based on the same template and basically provide options for retrieving registrants based on the role, status, event(s), event type, or date range. It is great for generating a list of attendees for staff to keep on hand during the event, or to publish an attendee list for distribution to attendees. One of the unique things about this report is that you can include blank columns before or after the data columns. This could be used to track attendance by checking off registrants on the list as they check-in to the event or to collect other information to be imported later.

The Event Income Report (Summary) displays event income details and breaks out the participant status categories in the event. Using this report, you gain a sense of how your registrants versus cancelled or other non-counted statuses may have impacted your net income.

Event Income Report (Detail) generates a detailed breakdown of all major categories of the event, including statuses and roles, and generates counts and income totals for each line. It provides an excellent "final report" tool for your event file.

Integrating events into your CRM strategy

One of the challenges of writing a book about software like CiviCRM is that it's really easy to remain modularized – and consequently, it would be easy for you to approach the software in a purely modularized way. That's fine to a large extent; you will naturally think and be structured around these blocks of functionality such as events, members, donations, case management, and so on. However, every so often, it's good to think outside of those modularized "boxes" and push beyond to realize the full potential of the software.

You've created an event, published the registration form, collected registrations, pulled your attendance list, printed name badges, and presented a report to your Board of Directors. In short, you've experienced a successful event management process.

But what have you done to invite attendees to take further action? Have you encouraged them to become involved in a committee, sign up for an e-newsletter, or join the organization as a member?

As you construct your event and prepare to publish it, think about what fields you should collect information on that don't necessarily have direct impact on the event. For example, you could include your newsletter signup option in the registration form; you could provide a checkbox list of interest areas to learn more about your event participants and why they are attending; or you could ask if they are interested in learning new ways to support the organization through monetary donations or volunteer service opportunities.

Do you ask people if this is the first time they are attending your conference or exhibit show, and if so, would they be interested in participating in a first-timers dinner? Remember that events provide a unique opportunity for people to see the "face" of your organization. Use that opportunity to build commitment among those new to the organization.

After your event, you have a fresh list of people who are clearly interested and engaged enough to attend your conference, meeting, workshop, seminar, training, and so on. While a high percentage of these contacts were likely already in your system, some are inevitably new and merit additional follow up. Do you send a conference evaluation survey following the event in which you invite people to provide feedback and input for use in future events? This could be done with a CiviCRM profile, enabling you to retain the response directly within the individual's record (assuming you don't need to offer the option to respond anonymously).

The tools to achieve these calls for action and commitment are at your fingertips: use membership tools to encourage people to join; link to donation pages from the event registration "thank you" page to solicit monetary support; expand the information you collect in the event registration profile to learn more about your constituents and their areas of interest; and harness the power of CiviCRM's broadcast e-mail capabilities to promote and follow-up with your registrants.

Go beyond just event management tools to other CiviCRM capabilities in order to broaden and deepen your organization's relationship with event participants.

Summary

For many organizations, events are the only opportunity that constituents have to see the "face" of your organization. How you manage your event and what tools you have to effectively track and report on the success of the event will ultimately impact your bottom line. CiviCRM provides tremendous tools for generating both simple and complex structures and managing registrants through every phase of the project.

In this article, we have:

  • Discovered how CiviCRM calculates participant counts and how these can be effectively used to track registration progress
  • Ran searches for participants and took bulk action on the resulting records
  • Generated reports to summarize event income details and produce attendee lists

Further resources on this subject:


Using CiviCRM Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM
Published: February 2011
eBook Price: $35.99
Book Price: $59.99
See more
Select your format and quantity:

About the Author :


Brian Shaughnessy

Brian Shaughnessy is the owner and principal of Lighthouse Consulting & Design, a web development firm specializing in Joomla! and CiviCRM implementations. For over ten years, Brian worked with an association management company providing services to not-for-profit professional, trade, and charitable organizations. Upon starting his own business, he channeled that experience into effective implementations of CiviCRM for not-for-profits. He has worked with organizations around the world, helping to achieve greater efficiencies and expand functionality through CiviCRM.

Brian has served on the CiviCRM Community Advisory Group and helped author the first edition of Understanding CiviCRM (later renamed CiviCRM: A Comprehensive Guide). He has worked with the core development team to provide end user training and maintains a strong working relationship with the project leaders. Brian has also been active in the Joomla! project, serving on the Google Summer of Code program as a Joomla! mentor. He has provided professional Joomla! training through TechnicalLead.com.

I’d like to thank my family for their support while writing this book, and to Joe for helping spearhead the project and partnering as co-authors. I’d also like to give particular thanks to the core development team and CiviCRM community for helping make a terrific piece of software. Lobo, Dave, Kurund, and the developers spread around the world – thanks for bringing the power of an open source CRM to the not-for-profit community.

Joseph Murray

Joseph Murray is the owner and principal of JMA Consulting, specialists in e-Advocacy, e-Consultation and Citizen Engagement for progressive organizations. He has extensive experience on non-profit boards, at senior levels of government, and running electoral, referendum and advocacy campaigns. JMA Consulting has provided CRM systems to hundreds of political campaigns tracking interactions with tens of millions of voters, as well as providing Drupal and CiviCRM strategy, implementation, development and training services to numerous non-profit and advocacy groups.

Joe has served on the CiviCRM Community Advisory Group, and is a Director of the Toronto Drupal Users Group.

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