Say your group hosts regular speaker events. Years ago, you might have built a website with an integrated database for membership and newsletters. That's no longer necessary. Today you'll find inexpensive, well-maintained all-in-one sites like Meetup for building a community or Eventbrite for ticket ordering.
EnhancementsNew capabilities keep getting added and you can make suggestions. These days, you'd want
- automatic addition of events to various calendars (e.g., iCal, Google Calendar, Outlook)
- sites optimized for smartphones and tablets
- Share buttons for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
- removal of Adobe Flash
MeetupMeetup.com is an excellent way to build a community on your terms. You decide whether you want to approve applications or let everyone in. You select whether your site is public or private.
Best of all, you don't need to worry about logistics. What a bonus for volunteers. Event invitations and reminders go out automatically and so do requests for post-event feedback. For extra polish, you can pre-print name badges and sign-in arrivals on an iPhone or iPad.
Built-in social media hooks make promotion very easy. Meetup will inform potential members about your event based on their pre-defined preferences. That's an excellent way to get more attendees and members.
StartingStarting a Meetup is straightforward and there's reasonable guidance. You don't need to know HTML or coding. You effectively have a community and ad hoc newsletters. You can charge for tickets directly or link to an outside service like Eventbrite (see below).
The potential drawback is price ($12-$19 US per month depending on the length of your contract). That's reasonable but if you hold events intermittently, you're still paying fees every month.
3 in 1Your subscription lets you run three separate Meetups. You could have one for the public, another for paying members and a third for board members. Since you can host files, there's a shared place for behind-the-scenes content like meeting templates, procedures and board minutes.
DrawbacksThere's a minor hassle with Meetup: everyone must join or sign-in with Facebook Connect. If you already have a mailing list, you can send them invitations to join. Going forward, you needn't worry about maintaining the email database. You're also assured that all contact is 100% permission-based. If you're a control freak or don't trust Meetup, you may not like that.
EventbriteMany adhoc events use Eventbrite for ticketing. There's no monthly charge. There's no charge at all if your event is free. That's very reasonable. There are nice applets to promote your event and add countdown counters. You decide what information registrants provide (mandatory or optional).
The ticketing options are very flexible. You can have different classes of tickets (e.g., members vs guests), set cutoff dates (e.g., special early bird prices) and show how many tickets remain. For an excellent example, large the screenshot and look at the yellow highlighting. This is for the Secrets To Success speaker showcase at Ryerson, which I'm attending.
Ticket ordering is faster if you have an account on Eventbrite but this is not required.
Eventbrite helps promote your event but not as well as Meetup. There isn't an easy way to build a community. Eventbrite is primarily for ordering tickets. You can send emails before/after your event.
I've used Eventbrite since 2008 and contacted them several times (which they encourage). Their service is excellent and they welcome suggestions.
HybridThere's overlap between Meetup, Eventbrite, LinkedIn and email services. While the capabilities keep improving, you may not be satisfied with any one option. That's when you combine them.
You might want a website or blog for basic static information with links to Eventbrite or Meetup. Maybe you run a free LinkedIn group for discussions instead of using Meetup. You could setup an event as a LinkedIn Event with links to Eventbrite for ticketing.
Some interconnections are easy. For instance, you could have your database in a contact management system like Batchbook and use MailChimp to send the emails. MailChimp interconnects with Eventbrite for ticket ordering. This type of structure is ideal because each service keeps improving. You have the flexibility to change components whenever you like.
The Big VulnerabilityThe biggest problem with proprietary solutions is dependency. You might be dealing with one person or a small team. What if they go out of business, stop development or delay delivery? You're stuck. You can't easily switch.
If one mainstream service stops working, you can easily replace it. For instance, you might have email addresses in your CRM system, email system and Eventbrite. You can't do exactly what a proprietary system allows. There are compromises in common tools like Twitter (140 characters), Skype (variable quality) and the Kindle (no colour). Often, good enuf is great (Wired 17.09).
If you're starting a new series of events, you have many options. If you're using legacy tools, maybe now's the time to change old habits and modernize.