The Importance of Conferences in Non-dues Revenue Building

Association chapters have a clear purpose – to provide a local community space for industry members to receive training and socialize with others in the industry. In many ways, it is an altruistic endeavor managed by volunteer board members who love their industry and want to be an agent for growth and success.

But there are things that simply have a financial cost and must be paid for. Dues alone rarely cover all expenses. We’ve been talking about what not to do in regard to nondues revenue.  As well as showcasing a shining StarChaper who has had a lot of success using StarChapter to add to the value of their sponsorship packages. Today we are looking at an important non-dues path to strategic revenue building: conference extras.

Not only does a conference attract prospective members, but it also keeps members engaged, all while bringing in some revenue for your chapter.

Just like dues, the actual conference fee usually just barely covers the cost of putting on the conference, let alone those special perks everyone wants. For the conference fee itself, you do not want to charge attendees too much. Make it barebones, only including what is a necessity of the conference. Then, follow these simple guidelines to add revenue that will build the chapter’s resources.

Provide conference extras that don’t have high costs but provide high levels of engagement.

  1.        Night Out for Networking. Charge an admission fee. Consider offering light appetizers and a cash bar. Keep the menu simple to keep your revenues high – the point is the networking, not food or drink. Add in activities that smooth the process of networking so, that even new conference goers can get involved.
  2.        Community Tours. This is especially nice for national conferences that attract people from many regions. It offers a brief escape from the lectures and provides a casual low-pressure environment for networking opportunities while enjoying the scenery. Make sure the price of this conference extra covers the cost as well as an appropriate bonus for arranging it.
  3.        Unique Experiences. Create something that members and prospects will recognize as an exclusive member value. This unique experience can be any sort of activity whether it is unique to your industry, the city the conference is hosted in, or just an exciting opportunity. The key with this conference extra is to ensure attendees gain an experience that is once in a lifetime, such as a book signing with an industry related author would be intriguing.
  4.        Additional Presentations. Most conferences have a main theme, but other aspects of the industry might interest attendees. Offer additional presentations that attendees can attend at an additional cost. This helps you earn additional money, and places an exclusivity on the extra presentation, which is very appealing. 
  5.        Offer Specials on Price. Providing price cut for early registration or offering a “bring a friend” discount helps alleviate stress on the bank account for attendees and gets more people in attendance for the conference. Be sure to include a member and non-member variation of any special.

Sponsorship Should not be forgotten, as they can help turn a small conference into one that is talked about for years to come.

  1.        Offer Large Packages. For those corporations or individuals in your industry that want to support your efforts, create special packages tailored to the financial contribution being made. This may include some passes for conference attendance or other events. It should always be announced ahead of time who the sponsors are, unless they wish to remain anonymous.
  2.        Offer Small Packages. Often, conference planners focus so much time on the big donors, that they neglect to account for those people or companies that either cannot afford a large sponsorship or simply wants to keep it small. This may include a full table at the conference dinner. Or coverage of conference fee scholarships. Make this accessible to anyone with any level of sponsorship. Yes, it may involve tracking a vast number of people, but it will be worth it when everyone feels involved in the community.
  3.        Offer Public Thanks. Praise sponsors loudly and in public for their assistance in making the conference and your chapter a success. List them in booklets, on signs, and on your websites. Announce them at open forums. Make sure they feel appreciated and are getting the unstated benefit of their sponsorship – “free” advertising and good public relations.
  4.        Connect Sponsorship to Unique Experiences. Cater to the needs of the sponsor. Is their product or service related to a subset of your attendees? Create opportunities for them to engage with that audience in a unique way.  In many ways, no two packages can be the same. Let the sponsors help create creative exclusive and distinctive events geared to connect attendees and sponsor.
  5.    Use Sponsor for Promotion. Prior to your conference, be sure to use your sponsors name, logo, and/or likeness in advertisement for the conference. This helps to attach name recognition to your event and garner the public relations attention the sponsor is looking for. Include your sponsors in any pre-conference communication to build up interest in their presence at the conference and how their sponsorship supports your chapter’ activities.

Make sure there is merchandise available for attendee purchase.

  1.    Association Labeled Items. Make sure there is a gift shop with swag for sale. These items provide attendees with either needed items or fun extras that they will carry with them, which will serve as advertising for the association. If possible, have items that specifically focus on your chapter.
  2.    Offer Space for Vendors. Vendors can sell anything that provides benefit to industry. You can ask for donations for raffle or door prizes. In fact, you could even make that a part of the space rental fee.
  3.    Sell Raffle Tickets. Get donations from the vendors to offer nice prizes. You can also obtain sponsorships from companies and individuals in the form of raffle prizes. A big prize should be coverage of association membership or coverage of the next year’s conference. This keeps conference goers coming back.
  4.    Books – must have books. No matter the industry, books are big sellers. They offer knowledge attendees can take home with them.
  5.    Specials on membership renewals. This may just be the most important table of all – as it will get people to decide to stay members or become members right there. One less thing for them to worry about later. Specials can be renewing for 2 years for the price of one, or a percentage off, or offer a swag item. Your call, just remember it is meant to entice continuation of membership in the long-term for continued growth.

These fifteen conference extras are only a start to how conferences can grow revenue for your chapter. Remember to think about your industry and your members, shaping opportunities to meet their needs. That is builds membership and value for your members.

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  1. scott

    Jul. 3, 2017

    Great article! Thank you for sharing! bullet force



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