This article is courtesy of Idealware, which provides candid information to help nonprofits choose effective software. For more articles and reviews, go to www.idealware.org.
If your organization plans to host ticketed events like theater and music performances that are not general admission, you'll need the ability to assign seating. Many event registration tools don't provide such functionality, requiring a separate tool to manage this. Some ticketing tools offer additional, related features that can make your event management significantly easier, acting as full-fledged customer relationship management (CRM) systems or theater management solutions.
What can a good ticketing system provide you, and what are some good options to choose from? We talked to a number of nonprofit professionals to find out what to look for in a system, and what solutions have worked for them. (For software to manage general admission events, see our article, A Few Good Online Event-Registration Tools.)
At the low end of the cost scale, ticketing tools should offer a flexible platform for processing payments and assigning seating, but the features and functionality they provide in this area vary among the different tools. Most include a basic seating ability, such as creating or uploading a seating chart for your venue and assigning seats, but few at this level offer the ability for patrons to choose their own seat at the time of purchase.
While many simpler, lower cost tools provide a bare-bones experience, the more expensive tools offer a richer set of features — most notably, they integrate ticketing into a fully formed constituent relationship management system or donor database tailored to managing patrons and attendees, allowing you to track your patrons' history with your organization. These systems let you better target a patron's interests and can suggest similar performances based on their history. Some of the lower cost tools will integrate with your existing systems for the same purpose, allowing you to connect ticket sales to your website, broadcast email tool, or CRM, but as these systems are not designed with patrons in mind, it may take considerable customization to get the same functionality as a full-featured tool.
What other sort of features should you look for? Many tools, regardless of price, offer point-of-sale ticket solutions for your physical box office location, and some let you scan tickets at the door using a smartphone or other device instead of taking them manually, automatically entering them into your record-keeping system.
In its simplest form, ticketing could possibly be handled through a combination of web forms and an online or emailed receipt that serves as a ticket, but this method is unlikely to be worth the effort needed to set up and maintain it. If your nonprofit or charity needs to manage events with assigned seating, here are some good, low-cost ticketing options including some event registration tools with integrated ticketing.
Brown Paper Tickets is a popular ticketing tool that offers lots of features for a low price. Its functionality is simple, clean, and effective. The tool lets you integrate with an email client and scan tickets at the door. It even lets patrons add donations on to the ticket price. Brown Paper Tickets has no upfront setup charges or per-event fees and offers an affordable and clear-cut pricing scheme — $0.99 plus 3.5 percent of the ticket price, which is paid by the patron. If you want to add registrants to your database, Brown Paper Tickets can export names and information as a .csv or .xls file for import into your system or through integration with Salesforce. It also offers sophisticated seating functionality for the price, including the ability to let patrons see what seats are sold and what ones are still available.
TicketLeap offers ticket sales with a straightforward pricing scheme — a $1 service charge for tickets less than $10, $1 for tickets more than $10 sold onsite, and $2 for tickets more than $10 sold online. TicketLeap allows you to scan tickets at the door using iOS- or Android-powered smartphones and even lets you sell tickets using iPhones or iPads with a TicketLeap app. Like Brown Paper Tickets, you can either upload or create a seat map, which can take some effort if you have seat maps for multiple venues. TicketLeap offers the use of a proprietary merchant account if your organization does not yet have one of its own.
For arts organizations or any nonprofit or charity with regular events and ticket sales, it's important to be able to keep a record of individual patrons, their interests, and the performances or events they've attended. You can use that information to remind past patrons of events similar to those they've previously attended, potentially driving up attendance. This data integration allows you to solicit your patrons as individual donors as well. Several of the more advanced and more expensive packages provide the functionality you need.
PatronManager provides an affordable ticketing and customer relationship management solution built on top of the Salesforce platform that can manage events, online ticket sales, and online payments. The system also integrates with your website to allow for ticket sales and a seat map that lets patrons choose their own seats. PatronManager has two main pricing plans. Under the ticket-fee plan, there's no subscription cost — instead, PatronManager charges a per-ticket transaction fee, which your organization can choose to pay or include in the cost of tickets. As long as the ticket fees add up to $2,500 a year, there's no charge. Under the flat-fee plan, your organization negotiates a monthly subscription fee with the vendor. Because it's built on top of Salesforce, you can easily extend its functionality using apps from the AppExchange.
Tessitura is a powerful software package that not only handles ticketing but provides a fully featured CRM that gives you a more comprehensive view of your patrons. In addition to ticket sales, it also supports donations, payment processing, and a fully functional web store. Sophisticated list management lets you see which patrons came to which shows and lets you target emails to past patrons who might be interested in upcoming performances. Tessitura also includes robust reporting. Due to the complexity of the system, organizations may require in-house technical assistance, which might be difficult to manage for a small or mid-sized nonprofit.
The Patron Edge, from Blackbaud, provides similar functionality to Tessitura and handles ticketing, pricing, and inventory management. For development features like giving and donor management, you'll need to integrate the system with Blackbaud's fundraising software, The Raiser's Edge.
There are a number of other high-end, robust ticketing systems available, including Paciolan and AudienceView. Larger organizations, or those that frequently host major touring events like concerts or Broadway road shows, often have to meet certain requirements set out by the touring company. They may find it easier to use a commercial ticketing solution, like Ticketmaster Classic or Ticketmaster Archtics.
Thanks to the following nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice, and other help:
Image: Admit one, Shutterstock
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