Stages of Conference Planning: Bang for Your Buck

So we’ve shared some details of who, what, when and where of Conference Planning, and now -- less than three months out from the main event! -- the Conference Committee is focused on all of the nitty-gritty details that make up the HOW of conferencing. We already discussed the insane amount of time and effort that goes into selecting and scheduling program sessions, keynotes, luncheons, and other events. But how do we determine and coordinate payment for everything and make sure it all gets done (seemingly) without a hitch?!

With registration opening THIS WEEK, we want to make sure you know where your money is going.

First and foremost, your Conference registration directly supports your professional association. As a nonprofit organization, NJLA relies almost solely on membership dues and conference registration fees for its financial stability. These fees, along with limited funds from individual donations (including the Annual Appeal), are used to create NJLA’s budget, which supports expensive advocacy and legislative costs, professional development opportunities, rent for our NJLA Office and salaries of staff workers (all 2.5 of them), among other things.

Your Conference registration pays for Conference. And lunch. I know that sounds simple and obvious and ridiculous, but it’s really, truly true. NJLA has to put a lot of money out upfront to pay to secure a venue for the NJLA Conference each year. Venues that can provide us the type and amount of space we need for upwards of 1,000 attendees are not, as you can probably imagine, cheap. There is also a $40,000 food and beverage minimum that we need to meet at Harrah’s this year (same minimum required at alternative venues as well). The $35 luncheon option is one that literally pays for lunch; NJLA makes no profit on that cost because it’s the lowest price we are able to negotiate to pass on to you. Coffee breaks, snacks, ice cream, receptions, and Pool Parties are all essentially benefits included in your Conference registration fee. Without paid memberships and paid registration fees, we could not afford to present you with a statewide event at all. So thank YOU.

Exhibits also pay for Conference. This is a big one, because -- again -- it’s true. Booth fees and sponsorship donations help significantly to take care of the big Conference costs. We talk a lot about securing vendors for Conference for this reason, as well as because they add an incredible amount of value to your professional experience. You’ll find that we’ll talk more and more over the next few months about all of the reasons you want to make sure you build a couple of visits through the Exhibit Hall into your schedule throughout the Conference. From networking to discounts to raffle prizes to one-on-one informational conversations, to miss the exhibits means missing a huge chunk of the benefit of attending Conference. The bottom line is that the mutual benefit of keeping our vendors and sponsors happy means ensuring higher quality Conference experiences each year.

Speakers add necessary value and cost. Besides the cost to rent venue space, NJLA spends the bulk of its Conference money on speakers: honorariums for proposed speakers (particularly keynotes), various travel costs (from basic mileage to pretty expensive airfare), meals, and hotel accommodations. With the number of programs proposed and accepted each year, these costs add up quickly, and it is the responsibility of the Conference Committee to see the bigger picture. We LOVE inviting speakers that we haven’t heard before, but sometimes we have to say “no” (which we hate) and sometimes we have to ask you to renegotiate costs (which we know you hate).

You may have heard that the Conference Committee does not have a budget, and that’s true. Financially-speaking, our primary goal is to put out less money than we take in every year, including the cost of the venue space. Because we have to spend money before we make money, and because we never can guarantee exactly how much money we’ll make (through exhibitor or attendee registrations), we have to be particularly cautious with our spending. We walk a fine line between the desire to put forth the best possible Conference experience ever -- with out-of-state speakers, hot topic programming, exciting and different social events and receptions, and other amenities -- and to present an event that is cost-effective to support the ultimate health and well-being of our association.

Starting Wednesday, February 1, 2017, all library workers and supporters of all types of libraries, including faculty and administration, Board of Trustees and Friends Group members, are officially invited to go “Beyond the Box” at the 2017 NJLA Annual Conference! We hope you like what we’ve put together.