Steering Your Event to Financial Success
By Debra Brill

Debra Brill --VP for North American Division

Technology is terrific! It has made communication immediate, convenient and comprehensive. Yet, organizations that use tech options are still pouring resources into meetings and events that bring people together. Nothing replaces the experience of hearing a powerful presentation or exchanging ideas face to face.

Church leaders understand this dynamic and are providing more opportunities to bring people together. For example, Adventists in the Oregon Conference are hosting an Inactive Member Banquet at the Oregon Convention Center in December. More events are being held in public facilities like this one, requiring contractual commitments which leaders must sign. Planning such an event requires careful attention to issues which can spell financial success or failure.

Here are some key factors that cannot be ignored:

1. Prepare a Budget

Begin planning by creating a simple budget based on your projected income and expense. Income sources include: allocations from church budgets, registration fees, sponsorships, donations, rebates, exhibitor fees, member dues, etc. Expenses include: advertising, facilities, food, registration materials, speaker and staff costs, audio/visual, supplies, security, etc.

One of the trickiest elements of budgeting is guessing how many people will attend! Registration income is based on people who pay the fee, so don’t count speakers, staff, guests, or others who should be listed in the expense category. Look back at previous events and adjust numbers to current expectations. If this is a first-time event, be conservative. Remember that attendance is directly related to how effectively the event is promoted.

This budget should be approved by your church board or governing organization. Remember, you are not alone in this ministry, and you need the endorsement and support of others who will risk the success of the event with you.

2. Registration Fees

If the purpose of your event is to offer a service to the community, major costs should be covered by church allocations, sponsorships and donations. Charging small fees is appropriate and gives people who attend the feeling they are getting something of value. Examples of these are community seminars, health fairs, ESL and literacy classes.

Registration fees for other events should be built on projected costs divided by paid registrants (see following example based on 50 registrations):

a). 3 Meals @ $15.00 p/person X 50 = $2,250

b). Registration materials @ $10 p/person x 50 = $500

c). Facilities rental, $200

d). Promotional ads, brochures, flyers, $1,200

e). 3 Speakers @ $500 each (travel, honorarium, misc)$1,500

f). Staff expense, $200

g). Supplies, miscellaneous, $200

h). Audio/Visual rental, $200

i). Program decorations, printed programs, $250

Total: $6,500 divided by 50 = $130 p/person

Fees can be adjusted according to your priorities. By factoring other income sources, you can lower fees to attract more attendees to first time events and increase fees next time. Another option is to hold event assets separately, and charge all expenses through fees, offering protection if fewer people register than budgeted. If you reach attendance goals, attract new sponsors, etc, income can be rolled over to fund the next event. One strategy to get initial support from the Church Board is to ask for a one-time allocation, and expect future events to pay for themselves.

3. Signing Contracts

If you do not use your church to host the event, a good place to begin your search for a site is the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB). They will discuss your needs and recommend options for all types and sizes of events. Even when hosting events at your church, you may need the services of a caterer or hotel, which require signed contracts. What’s negotiable? The short answer is “everything.” Here are a few key items:

Hotels & Conference Centers:


# Hotels provide complimentary meeting space to a group in ratio to sleeping rooms used. Example: Use 20% of a hotel’s guest rooms they save for groups and receive 20% of their meeting space without charge.

# Low season and holidays give you bargaining power. You may fill empty space for the hotel by moving the meeting a few days in either direction. Hotels make money on food functions – the more meals you plan in the hotel, the lower the room rates.

# Watch Out! When you see “Attrition” in a hotel contract, it refers to a percentage of guest rooms your group must use in order to avoid paying a hefty penalty. Avoid signing these contracts, but if you must, 80% use of rooms contracted is standard. Example: If you reserve 20 rooms for three nights (60 “room nights”), your group must use 48 “room nights” or pay a penalty.

# Most contracts have a cancellation policy. Read this carefully and remember that after signing a contract, it is usually best to hold the event to avoid paying cancellation penalties, even if the number of people you planned for do not register.

# Consider adding a rebate clause in the hotel contract. For example, if you negotiate a $71.00 room rate and request a $4.00 per room per night rebate, your attendees pay $75.00 per room and your event income is $300 (based on 25 rooms used over three nights).

Food and Beverage:

# Vegetarian meals are not necessarily less expensive. Preparation time determines cost. Ask if another group is serving an option you may like and choose from that menu – the caterer can buy in bulk, lowering costs.

# Ask for menus within a dollar range you have predetermined in your budget. If you plan three meals @ $15 each, ask for menus that total $45.00, inclusive. This means tax, gratuities and service charges will be included in the $45 menu options provided.

# Serve a continental breakfast in the morning, or a reception featuring hors d’oeuvres in the evening, rather than full sit-down meals.

# Skip lunchtime dessert and then serve it as a snack during a break later in the day.

Good News

These are a few tips that, if followed, can help steer your event away from financial disaster.

Whether you lead a small group, church, or large organization, venues for people to come together are both desirable and beneficial. The good news is that prayerful planning and attention to detail can make it fun for you, the coordinator.

Debra Brill is Ministries VP for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.