Meetups, or ‘events hosted around a specific topic’, have gained massive popularity over the last years. The company meetup.com popularized the idea and even trademarked the word ‘meetup’. And currently, companies and individuals around the world host more than 12,000 (!) meetups every day*.
One of these 12 thousand meetups is Enter Network. Started by me, Enter Network is a community for entrepreneurs in and around Utrecht, the Netherlands. We come together every month to discuss topics like social media marketing, recruitment, and startup funding, and to learning from and network with one another.
Now I’ve always been interested in event management. So in the course of organizing these meetups, I’ve encountered a few challenges, such as a low attendance rate. This got me thinking: Should we set up a small fee, to boost attendance rate? In this article, you’ll learn about how we handled this low attendance rate and I’ll advise you whether or not to charge for meetups or other types of events.
* While this number makes it look like Meetup is doing well, there are a lot of controversies surrounding this platform. It was bought by the coworking space multinational WeWork in 2017. WeWork has been in bad weather recently, considering its failure to become a publicly-traded company — as such, it had to cut costs/jobs and is reportedly planning to sell Meetup.com, just two years after having acquired the platform. In addition, Meetup intends to significantly raise prices, and we don’t know yet what that will mean for the Enter Network meetups that I host.
The Bane of Event Organizers: No-Shows
If you take a look at the meetup.com website, you’ll see that the vast majority of meetups are free to attend. In my view, this is great because it lowers the barrier for people to learn something new, volunteer, engage with others, or do whatever the meetup is intended for.
However, a low threshold to attendance also means that there is an incredible low threshold to not show up. After all, you don’t have to pay for a ticket, so not showing up doesn’t have any effect on your personal life. And since Meetup is an online platform, you’re relatively anonymous. You probably don’t know the people organizing the meetup, and so will not face any social backlash from those that now have to deal with fewer people actually attending.
This low threshold to not showing up often translates to a significantly low attendance rate, which we see across the board. For example, some meetup events see massive amounts of people registering, up to even 200 people, while just half or less attend. We’ve personally encountered this issue as well at Enter Network. Our previous events often saw 70-100 people register, and just 25-40 people actually attended. In other words, we had an attendance rate of less than 50%.
As an event organizer, this can be difficult to deal with. If you’re counting on one hundred people to show up to your event, you’ll prepare chairs, drinks, snacks and more for each and everyone of those. With such low attendance rates, it can become a costly and wasteful affair. So how do you solve this?
Boosting Attendance Rate: Charging a Small Fee
One way of solving this for Enter Network, we thought, was to charge for meetups. By asking registered attendees for a small fee, we could hopefully decrease the amount of people that registered but didn’t attend — and in this way boost attendance rate.
With that in mind, we started asking attendees for a €5 admission fee. This would weed out those people who registered but didn’t plan to attend, while ensuring that the bar to attend was still very low.
So after three months of meetups, what’s the conclusion? Since we’ve instituted the fee change in our meetup group, we’ve seen a negative effect on the amount of people who register for an event, but a positive effect on attendance rate.
Before asking for a small fee, we had an attendance rate of around 45%. For example, at one of our previous meetups, 33 people attended out of 73 registered attendees. Now however, we see around 30 people attend out of 40 attendees. In other words, our attendance rate has increased to 70%-80%!
Is Asking a Meetup Fee Worth It?
So it’s clear that a meetup fee boosts attendance rate, but reduces the amount of registered people. That begs the question: Is asking a fee worth it?
For Enter Network, it has generally been worth it. We do see slightly fewer actual attendees, but charging the fee really helps us in knowing how many people will actually attend.
In addition, if you organize an event, you will encounter costs. For instance, if you host such an event through meetup.com, you will need to pay the platform a fee of around $120 per year. Plus you may pay for drinks and snacks, a website, speakers, and other fees. So the fact is, that the small fee you charge for meetup attendees to attend can in fact help offset (a small part of) your costs. That can be another good reason to ask attendees for a fee.
Demonstrating Value by Asking For a Fee
Aside from helping you with the costs of organizing an event plus increasing attendance rate, a charge for meetups may also signal value. However small it is, a fee demonstrates to the attendees that attending the event is actually ‘worth’ something.
It’s something that YOU’ve planned, prepared and organized — all with the goal of delivering value. While it is very noble to give away value for free (and perhaps it’s a vital part in the way you run your business), it actually demonstrates all the hard work you’ve put in. Plus, it may have people actually valuing the event you organize more.
Another Solution: Charging Registrants that Didn’t Attend
But if your goal is purely to increase attendance rate, there are other options. An interesting one is to charge people with a fee when they registered for your event, but didn’t attend. With Enter Network, we haven’t yet tried this. However, I’m positive that it will work, as people are often risk averse and do not want to lose money.
Unfortunately though, charging people that didn’t attend is difficult in practice. Everyone who registers for your event, would also need to provide a payment method — ideally, a credit card — that can be charged after the event. In the case of meetup.com, this isn’t possible, especially not when hosting events in a country (like the Netherlands) where creditcards are less common.
Should You Charge for Meetups? It Depends…
So should you charge for meetups or other events? The answer as always: it depends. If your goal is to get as many people as possible familiar with your meetups (and perhaps your business), then charging a small fee might not be the right choice. After all, even if people don’t show up, more potential attendees will register for your event if it’s free.
However, if you want to increase attendance rate, off-set some of the costs associated with organizing an event, and signal value to attendees, then I would recommend you to charge a (small) meetup fee. This fee then should be in accordance with the event and the value you provide. So charging a €100 fee for a one-hour networking session might not be the best approach. But if you organize an event or meetup (for instance, as a side project), take all these aspects into account, and charge a fair fee for your event, then I’m positive it can help you in the long run.