Even though you’ve said “No Refunds” on your application (which you need to do), should your chamber offer refunds on membership or events? I say yes, but on a case-by-case basis.
Personally, I think you should allow a refund in these circumstances. If you don’t, you may create bad publicity for your chamber that will cost more than that one check. The key with these is to act like the real person you are, and think if you would want a refund in the same circumstance.
- Membership – Within a month of joining. I realize this sounds crazy to most of you, but I expect most businesses that I sign up with to offer me a 30-day grace period. If they’ve signed up and didn’t do anything or realized it’s not what they wanted, let them go.
- However, if they signed up and immediately started using something that caused staff time (such as a ribbon cutting or marketing opportunities) then I wouldn’t. Explain they’ve already actively received benefits they paid for, and cite example prices of what they used. Chances are the value they received is already more than membership dues.
- Events – A month or more before the event. Advance communication is key here. A month out you should still have time to fill their slot and probably haven’t solidified all the details & orders.
- Someone died. Have a heart! If you think they would rejoin in the future, go ahead and refund them this year and offer them a one-time-only free, basic membership. This could be a great way to turn a bad situation into goodwill and a lifelong relationship. This is the worse time to make a bad situation worse for them.
- There was a natural disaster and their house is flooded, they physically can not get to your event (roads closed), or other relevant reason.
I probably would not offer a refund for chamber membership or event registration in these cases. I might offer a partial refund. My general but is again to consider their reason. A ‘last minute meeting came up’ is very different from them being in a car wreck on the way to your event. I also don’t refund “dine & dashers.”
No matter why you say no, it’s important to Tell. Them. Why. We’ve all heard “don’t burn your bridges.” If you don’t give a polite explanation, it unnecessarily creates negative feelings. You can’t please everyone, but you still want to do your part to keep up the relationship. Giving them the explanation of why you can’t refund membership is an easy way to support level standing (with reasonable people).
- The Chamber made a mistake – Depending on the severity of this, can you instead offer something else for free? This might be a benefit you usually charge for or similar opportunity in the future.
- Example 1: I got a member’s phone number wrong in their free ad. As an apology, I offered them a bigger ad at no charge. They didn’t ask for or expect this, but it was a great way for me to show goodwill (plus I always need newsletter content).
- Example 2: We didn’t receive a festival sponsor’s check until the day before the event. While it wasn’t our fault per say, we rolled the sponsorship over to the next event so they could fully use the benefits.
- Membership – business details changed. It really isn’t relevant to membership if their services, staff, or location changed. My chamber also has a disclaimer that membership is non-transferable.
- Membership – I changed my mind. If they’re more than a month in, they probably just haven’t taken the time to explore their benefits. Explain that membership is for the year (and still cheaper than X), and offer to help them with something.
- Events – day of. The time frame and refund my vary by event and chamber.
- “We’ve already paid for food/services for the anticipated headcount.”
- In some cases, can you give a partial refund or credit towards a future event?
- Events – No Shows. It’s not my fault they forgot they signed up and didn’t read my reminder emails. Obviously, word it nicer and cite your refund policy.
- Events “I’m not eating though” – The value for events is just that – the event.
I’ve also unintentionally photographed people who said this while they were eating at said event.However, if you have a good relationship with someone with food allergies or other dietary restrictions, consider ways to keep them engaged.
- If they register in advance can you plan a separate meal for them?
- Have a Refund Policy! This is a great way to create expectations and avoid potential arguments and miscommunications. It never hurts to have something in writing.
- You can make it sound nicer, but put a variation of No Refunds on all payment applications. They can still ask, but you at least have it in writing somewhere to argue your point. (For some, this might be the same as a Refund Policy, but you need to tell people it exists!)
- Get your money up front. You can’t even consider refunds if you don’t even have the money yet.
- A great way to make this happen is to set a deadline and stick with it. If it’s important to them, they’ll remember to sign up early next time!
- Only offer partial refunds on events.
- For example, you might keep 10% as an administration fee. This is very common in a lot of industries.
- Again, you could set a deadline. May full refunds a month out, 90% refund up until a week before, and no refunds after that.
- Can you offer to transfer their reservation to another staff person or peer?
In short, offering refunds for chamber membership or event registration will vary by preference, circumstance, and event. I recommend having some sort of “No Refunds” disclaimer, or even a Refund Policy on every application. Also, if you don’t give them a refund, it’s important to tell them why.