The Role of Pre-Registration in a Community Repair Event

 Every community repair program operates with some differences based on the needs and behaviors of their respective community. The advice provided here has been successful but should always be considered in the context of your individual program.

Repair Café NC has been using pre-registration as a tool in all of our community repair events since starting in 2017. It helps us estimate the number of guests and get a preview of the projects which might come through the door.

It has always been my view that volunteer appreciation is the most essential component of a successful community repair program. It is difficult to recruit qualified coaches who have the skills, enthusiasm, and generosity to participate in a Repair Café. They need to know that their time and talent are appreciated by the organizers and by the guests. One way we do this is to keep them busy with repair projects. If guest attendance levels are low and coaches are idle, they will grow dissatisfied and may not return for future events. Therefore, ensuring a sufficient number of guests becomes critical for volunteer happiness and loyalty.

A pre-registration is usually a web-based form that captures essential details about the guest in advance of the event. The key details to capture are:
  • first and last name
  • email address
  • item description
  • problem description

We often use Google Forms to provide pre-registration. Google Forms is easy to use, low cost (free), secure, and integrates with Google Sheets and other Google office productivity tools.

Measuring Marketing Effectiveness

It isn't enough to adopt a Field of Dreams mentality for promoting a Repair Café. (If you build it, they will come.) I have seen Repair Cafés that became one-and-done due to a lack of successful marketing their first time out.

We employ a variety of marketing channels, both free and paid, to bring people into our events. When we advertise, we have very limited tools to measure the level of engagement and interest among the general public.

There is an old saying in marketing: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”. The same can be said about our efforts to promote a Repair Café.

Pre-registration is the best tool I have found for measuring the result of our marketing. The show up rate for pre-registered guests has been consistently between 50% and 80%. In our recent events, we have found that walk-ins make up for the no-shows at a rate of 1:1.

If you begin advertising a workshop at least four weeks in advance, you can have a sufficient head count from pre-registrations early enough to increase or reduce your marketing efforts to achieve the right level of attendance. (Too many attendees can also be a bad thing.) In my experience, the right level of pre-registrations is roughly the number of coaches x the number of hours. For example, twenty coaches over four hours can handle 80 guests.

Communication with Attendee Prospects
After a person completes pre-registration, we have their name, email address, and a tentative idea of what they might bring. (Guests have been known to pre-register multiple items, switch the item they bring, and bring friends with additional items.)

With Google Forms, we can direct form submissions in to a Google Sheet. The sheet (or a copy of the sheet) with information about the project items and their condition can be shared with the coaches. This provides coaches with a teaser of what they may see at the event. It also provides an opportunity to do research and recommend the guest purchase parts in advance of their visit. Common items to purchase in advance include quartz clock movements, touch sensitive lamp controllers, and lamp sockets.

In some cases, guests describe items that are beyond the scope of a workshop or are prohibited for safety concerns. Pre-registration creates an opportunity to contact the guest and provide advice to avoid disappointment when a guest has carted in their washing machine.

When sharing pre-registration data with coaches, I usually withhold the guest last name and email address. This helps ensure that messaging to the guest is consistent through one point of contact and there is less concern about proper handling of names and email addresses.

I discourage coaches from spending a lot of time researching a pre-registered item because the no-show rates are high and because the item may be placed with a different coach.

Reminder Messages
Since our events are free, even a highly motivated prospective attendee has little investment or obligation to guarantee their attendance. There are many other activities and events which compete for our guests' time and attention. Using the email addresses captured during pre-registration, we can send an email reminder in the days before an event with details including any special instructions. A sample reminder email appears below.

Controlling Arrival Time
Guests, both registered and walk-in, have a tendency to arrive early for an event. Even though a workshop may be a half day or longer, people tend to arrive closer to the start time. The reminder message is an opportunity to provide a suggested arrival time.

I usually sort the pre-registrations in broad categories (lamp, jewelry, furniture, etc) and then assign times to each to spread each category of projects throughout the day at half hour intervals. This helps to avoid long wait times when we have limited coaches in a specialty.

Sending large volumes of personalized email like this is best done with an email service provider such as MailChimp.

I Have an Appointment!
Unfortunately, this level of communication and detail can cause some guests to have the perception that they have a dedicated appointment time. This is not our intention and in fact we handle all guests including walk-ins on a first-come-first served basis. Since the events are free, there is no equitable way to guarantee an appointment time. It is not appropriate to ask coaches to sit idle awaiting a guest who never arrives.

At The Event
Despite having pre-registered, all guests are treated the same at arrival. All are asked to fill out the paper registration form and sign the waiver. Sometimes they will say "I registered online," but they are asked to complete the regular paperwork nevertheless.

Sometimes the front desk staff ask to have a copy of the pre-registrations. It doesn't hurt but at the same time I don't think it makes much of a difference since we accept walk-ins, projects change, and people don't follow their recommended arrival times.

After the Event
The pre-registration Google Sheet is a great starting point for capturing the results of a workshop. Record the shows, no-shows, walk-ins, and project results on the same sheet.

Building Your List
The pre-registrants (whether they attend or not) and your actual guests combine to form an audience that becomes one of your most productive in the future. By importing these names and email addresses into an email marketing tool such as Mailchimp, you can easily reach these people for future event promotion, fundraising, and to share news and announcements about your organization in support of your mission.

In my experience, you can do this type of email marketing with very little pushback. These are people you have a relationship with. You have provided (or at least prepared to provide) a valuable service at no cost. Therefore, they are a very receptive audience that is predisposed to support your programs objectives and share this enthusiasm with their friends.

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