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2005-09-08 10:24 AM
Where's the Money? - Bcon aside
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Where does the money go, or where SHOULD the money go for a convention? This topic, which was an issue at this year's Bouchercon, as it should have been, has been raised on Sarah's blog (what? You don’t' read CONFESSIONS OF AN IDIOSYNCRATIC MIND? Look up at the links, see "Sarah's blog" go. ONLY when you're done here, of course!)
In my work-in-progress (35 pages plus a 6 page addendum on disability access - free to anyone) , which is a guide to running mystery conventions which I began in 1995 and still update based on my continuing experiences. I have a section where I discuss how to budget. I offer it below, in part, so you get a sense about why you're paying as much as you are. Keep in mind that the rates used are based on membership rates of several years ago; I tried to use percentages rather than dollar amounts because I think that's more useful. This is MORE or LESS how convention budgeting works, of course there are exceptions, but this comes from experience. Any questions? PLEASE ask, though I don't promise I have answers.
From HOW TO RUN A MYSTERY CONVENTION - A Practical Guide
Entire contents - © Andi Shechter 1998, 2002
If you are running a Bouchercon, or Left Coast, or any event that has been held in the past, you should have access to mailing lists and budget information which will guide you. If you are starting a new event, here is a VERY ROUGH idea (and don’t you dare hold me to it) on where money goes for a more or less typical convention (this is based on a membership rate of $100)
10% Attendee "goodies" (bookbags, pins, pencils, pads - the bags are the biggest cost item, ranging anywhere from say $3-7 apiece, depending on how fancy they are, how many you are ordering (as you order more the price per bag will decrease, and whether you can or wish to offset some of the cost with advertising). Cloisonné enamel souvenir pins, for example, are now popular - we still get comments on our "space needle dagger" design from 1994.
10% Publications - program book, pocket program, flyers
50% Food events - hotel catering is expensive. Some things to keep in mind: even if you choose 3 items for entrees, the price will be that of the most expensive entree. In other words, if you are having a dinner with one dish that is priced at $15, one at $18 and one at $20, the $20 rate will be used. Also expect taxes and gratuity to be added on automatically. So that’s a lot of money. Having a brunch, or a buffet can change the costs - however, there are drawbacks to buffet style meals, mainly that they produce great lines, and seldom will everyone be able to eat together.
Receptions can be done well and you can design just about any menu you like, even if the hotel has handed you some already created menus, tell them how much you really want to spend. Create a theme if you want to - at LCC 7, for example, we had one reception focusing on Northwest foods. If you want to try to drum up sponsors, do so, although it hasn’t been too commonly done yet.
10% Guest of honor expenses. You’ll have some phone and minor mail costs. You will need to budget for travel and room charges, and you’ll be paying for their memberships and banquet meals. See above for detailed discussion of your obligations.
10% At least for general office/administrative expenses. These include the phone, website or email costs, postage, printing, telephone bills. Much of the phone traffic should be part of program - if you budget separately, your general office costs will be less. I combine them here because I’m not clear on the breakdowns, but program chair will be writing, calling, emailing many people, sending out questionnaires, letters of confirmation, etc.
Do be sure to reimburse staff for all expenses. Be adamant that they keep receipts for the sake of your treasurer’s sanity. Try to monitor these expenses so that if your budget is looking cramped, you can notify folks to slow down - maybe use the mails more and the phones less, etc. Your staff and committee folks are giving hours and hours of their time, labor and expertise. They should not be paying as well. If you can comp memberships to committee in advance, do so. Often you will not be able to do that - ask committee to pay if they can and then when the convention is over, it should be your absolute priority (after seeing all the bills are paid) to reimburse your committee. If you can use hotel comps for rooms for committee, do so. It’s not entirely fair that staff should pay when they are working, but if you are truly running a non-profit event, it’s necessary. And any staff people should be able to attend the convention as well. No one should be chained to a position. If you need to shut hospitality for a while, or put someone on a beeper, do it. The least you can do for those working is to try to ensure they enjoy themselves.
10% Hospitality/Green Room. This may be inaccurate, but do try to buy smart. Try to find a way to get donations, sponsorships, or use buyers clubs for food. Don’t get fancy - save that for the receptions One thing we noted at LCC was that on the first day, we had a bit more money than we expected, so we expanded the menus of the receptions. And that is important to consider: if you budget carefully, and you find that on Thursday before the event you have money to spend, spend it on your attendees. Plow it back into the convention in food - continental breakfasts, box lunches, better receptions. If you don’t have enough to make a difference , then hold onto it. Use it after the convention for either donating to your charities or reimbursing your staff. Remember, if they’ve stayed at the hotel, attended all the meetings, they have housing and mileage costs.
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