Blog June 2020

Handling Mass Event Refunds

In this time of the Coronavirus pandemic, all associations are finding themselves in the unusual situation of having to process mass refunds for cancelled events.  Registration systems and credit card processors are designed to efficiently process registrations and payments.  The money and registration information work together seamlessly communicating payment information back and forth.  But many of these systems are not set up to efficiently handle mass refunds and cancellations of registrations.  This forces associations to develop their own process to handle mass refunds.  As always, the goal is to make the process as quick and easy for the customer as possible.

Many registration systems cannot process refunds directly.  Instead, associations are forced to go directly to the credit card processor to process refunds which creates a disconnect between the registration and the credit card processor.  There is no way from the registration system, to determine if a refund has been processed.  To solve this problem, the accounting team needs to develop procedures to accurately track refunds and establish a link between the registration system and the credit card processor so that both systems are in sync.  This allows everyone on the team to answer questions about the status of refunds and know what has been done. 

The first step in the process is to determine what type of refunds will be allowed.  Some associations want everyone to be refunded the full amount and be done with the refunds as quickly as possible.  Other associations want to give customers the option of receiving a full or partial refund, deferring the registration fee to another meeting or making a donation to the organization.

The full refund with no other options is the easiest and quickest way to process mass refunds.  I recommend the following steps for the full refund process:

  1. Develop a step-by-step list of procedures for how the refunds will be processed.
    1. Divide up the list of refunds to be processed.
    2. Process refund in the credit card processor.
    3. Create .pdf file of refund receipt.
    4. Email refund receipt to recipient.
    5. In registration system, “cancel” the registration and write a note in the registration stating that a refund was processed and include the date and amount of the refund.
    6. This aligns the registration system with the credit card processor.
    7. If a check refund needs to be processed, then contact the customer for the check’s mailing address.
    8. Once mailing address has been received, forward refund request to accounting team with copy of the registration receipt/invoice.
    9. In registration system, “cancel” the registration and write a note in the registration stating that a check refund request was forwarded to the accounting team and include the date and amount of the refund check.
  2. Train your team on the procedures.It takes a team to process 500+ refunds one at a time.
  3. Work together to get the refunds processed as quickly as possible.

The refunds with options are more time consuming.    How these are handled depends on your registration system, database and credit card processor.  I recommend the following steps for the refunds with options process:

  1. Determine what your customers want to do.This can be done with Constant Contact or Survey Monkey surveys where a response is required before anything is done.The customer has to respond with which option he/she chooses.
  2. Develop a step-by-step list of procedures for how the refund options will be processed.
  3. Database fields in member records can be set up to track deferrals and donations. This makes it easy to access the data in the future when members need promo codes for future meetings.
  4. The step-by-step procedures should include the following:
    1. One person should be in charge of forwarding survey/email responses to the team members processing the refunds.
    2. If a customer wants a full refund, follow the procedures above.(Process the refund in the credit card processor, cancel the registration and include a note in registration indicating amount and date refund was processed.
    3. If a customer wants to defer the registration fee with no refund, then the registration should be cancelled with a notation that the registration fee will be deferred.At this point, the member’s database record should be edited to fill in the database fields with the amount of deferred registration fee.
    4. If a customer wants to donate part or all of the registration fee, then the registration should be cancelled with a notation that the registration fee will be donated.The amount and date of the donation should be included.If a partial donation/partial refund option is chosen, that should also be notated and the refund processes as above.The member’s database record should be edited to fill in the database fields with the amount of the donation.
  5. As always, train your team on the procedures and work together to get the refunds processed as quickly as possible.

These systematic procedures will simplify the refund process, make it easy for everyone on your team to know what has been done and allow everyone to respond to customer questions about refunds.

McKenna Management’s accounting team processed thousands of refunds for our client associations’ in-person events during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, members of our team worked with our clients to recapture lost income by developing innovative virtual events to keep members engaged and to help bring in revenue for the associations during this challenging time. In good times and in bad times, it is always prudent for associations to have clear processes outlined, especially for financial activities.


Michele Sperry is a Staff Accountant at McKenna Management, Inc., an association management company based in Westford, Massachusetts. She enjoys assisting clients with the budgeting process and financial performance analysis.