When Josh Lessing, senior scientist at Boston-based Soft Robotics Inc., arranged for Meetup’s Boston’s Entrepreneurs and Advanced Degrees group to pay a visit to Boston-area hardware incubator Bolt Innovation Group, he also found himself covering the tab.
“Even though Bolt hosted the space and provided alcohol and soft drinks, my co-organizer and I paid for the pizza,” Lessing recalls. “It felt uncouth to ‘pass the hat’ during the event, so my co-organizer and I each ended up about a hundred dollars out-of-pocket. As a parent, that’s not a minor unplanned-for expenditure.”
Using Meetup to organize and promote face-to-face group events isn’t that expensive. Meetup is free to members and the head organizer of a Meetup group pays only a modest monthly fee (starting at $9.99 a month). But that fee doesn’t cover the cost of name tags, T-shirts, or munchies, as group organizers like Lessing have discovered. Happily, Meetup has been working to address these concerns with Chip In, a new in-site/in-app feature being officially announced and rolled out today for its 20 million members.
Since launching in 2002, Meetup has introduced some built-in ticketing tools, but those legacy systems proved problematic and were phased out, leaving organizers to be responsible for collecting donations through PayPal, Square, or the proverbial passing of the hat.
Now, according to Tristan Louis, Meetup’s community finance manager, the company is addressing these concerns. Chip In will be available immediately through both Meetup’s web site and their Android and iOS mobile apps.
“We want to make it easier for members to chip in for costs, not just for specific events they want to attend, but also to contribute money that can be used for things like group dues, web site fees, T-shirts for game days or other events, and the costs for organizers to scout new venues,” says Louis. “We expect the typical contribution will be between five to ten dollars.”
For the next few days, group organizers will have to request Chip In be turned on; roughly a week after Chip In’s official introduction, Meetup will set Chip In to by default on all Meetup group and event pages in North America (except groups belonging to non-profits or specific businesses).
Louis says that in the interest of transparency, the organizer will have the option of displaying how much money has been contributed. Once a group’s account receives money from members, to withdraw money, the group’s organizer will have establish a banking link to it, such as a credit or debit card. Other possible features to come may include “campaign tagging” for donations.
For now, Meetup members can only make payments to Chip In via American Express, MasterCard, or Visa. Other options, including ApplePay, should emerge next year, according to Louis.
“We don’t want to ask people to pay money for tickets to events,” says group organizer Josh Lessing. “But things do cost money. Being able to crowdsource donations this way would be very helpful.”