Organising an Association Conference

WebFest: We are the people we waited for - Ric...

WebFest: We are the people we waited for - Ricardo Sousa (Curator) SWITCH Conference (Photo credit: New Media MK)

In recent articles we have touched on organising a conference and those articles have been more focused towards finding a venue, dealing with Audio Visual requirement and dealing with a conference organiser.

In this article we will briefly cover a few points of organising a conference for an association.

An industry association is normally a non-profit organisation established in order to serve the needs of its members who are normally companies or individuals from within that industry.  For example, CASA (The Chiropractic Association of South Africa) has largely practising Chiropractors as its members and its main objective is to serve these members in terms of education, continuing professional development etc.  An association’s income is derived largely from membership fees, sponsorships and of course its annual conference.  It goes without saying therefore that this annual conference should be well-managed and most importantly should not generate a deficit.  It should generate a small surplus in order to ensure there is no loss and at times it needs to generate a greater surplus for various reasons such as research that needs to be conducted for the benefit of its members.

Most of the components of organising a conference of this nature are similar, if not the same, as any other conference.  Venue sourcing, AV requirements, menu planning etc. are all the same.  The main differences are as follows: –

Speaker Management

For this conference, calls for papers will need to be distributed and abstracts collected, reviewed and a list of speakers will need to be decided upon.  Regular, relevant communication will then need to take place between the organisers and the speakers in order to ensure that they know when they are speaking, what they are speaking on, how long they can speak for etc.  Papers will need to be collected before the event for inclusion on the laptop being used to deliver these papers.  It is no good if a speaker arrives at congress with their paper on their flash drive only to find that the version of PowerPoint they have used is not compatible with the laptop that is being used, or that their laptop is not compatible with the system.  Worse still that the flash drive has been left in their room, on the plane or in the taxi.  This can adversely affect the smooth running of papers and leave the paying delegate with a bad experience for future conferences.  We need to always remember that the experience delegates, exhibitors and sponsors have will drive the decision of future attendance or non-attendance.


The other main item that is vastly different form a corporate conference is that these association conferences are normally funded by delegate’s fees, exhibitor’s fees and sponsorships.  Assuming a small conference of 300 delegates and 20 exhibitors, will result in 320 individual invoices to be sent, 320 follow-up for payments and 320 allocation of deposits received.  Without a dedicated, custom designed system to manage this, it can quickly become disorganised and, to put it bluntly, a complete mess.  Considering that this is the bread and butter of the conference it is imperative that this system be well run and reconciled for auditing purposes.

The other very important aspect with regards fees is that these fees need to be set in order to cover ALL costs associated with this conference.  Hence a budget needs to be drafted and needs to include all costs associated with the event.  Name badges, conference bags, marketing of the conference, speaker’s travel, to name but a few, need to be accurately budgeted for.  Once a total cost has been calculated, one can then see what fees need to be set at in order to break even and one can then either cut back on costs or increase or decrease fees to make the event attractive from a cost point


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