So You’re Hosting a District Convention
by Claire Haley, Kappa Mu – ΚΚΨ, University of Georgia
Being selected as a host chapter for a District Convention can be a simultaneously exciting and stressful responsibility. However, the seemingly impossible task of hosting the convention is indeed very possible, and with the help of multiple district councils and chapter members, the convention can be a memorable experience for all involved.
Location and Budget: Start Early
Once my co-chair and I received our committee chair appointment, we realized that planning an 800-900 person convention was something that required immediate action. We began checking into venues both on and off campus, and by the beginning of July, we made a contract with the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia.
In addition to venue-searching, building your budget is also a task that should be completed at the beginning of your planning process. The budget should include ALL costs for the convention, so try to eliminate your “unknowns” early. Potential “unknowns” include room set-up, A/V costs, shipping costs, and catering service charges.
Here are some lessons that we learned during this part of the process:
• Usually, the price that a venue gives you is not the actual price. At all. Keep an eye out for hidden costs that are in the fine print: does the rate include tax? Is room set up included?
• When looking at venue size, check and see what type of seating the seating capacity is (theater vs. banquet style).
• On campus venues are cheaper and A/V is usually free, but sometimes campus cancellation policies are vague. Off-campus venues, on the other hand, are usually more expensive and incur extra A/V costs, but are often more professional. Consider the costs and benefits of both.
• Get your rooms reserved as early as possible!
• Budget for 100 above and 100 below what your District council recommends to cover different attendance scenarios.
• The budget should include extra money to be used for day-of expenses.
Ask for Help
One of the quickest things you will realize on your way to planning a jaw-dropping district convention is that you cannot do it on your own. Not even close. Part of what we learn through Brotherhood and Sisterhood is how to rely on one another, and that lesson applies here. There are plenty of resources to help you as you go through this process: your chapter, your District council, past hosts, and the National chapter are just a few of the many people who are willing to help you.
Some of the tasks for district convention, such as budget-building and navigating through contracts, require expertise that you might not have. Use your alumni, Brothers/Sisters in your chapter, and resources like the event planners at off-campus sites to help you with these tasks. When it comes to a large amount of money and people, guesswork is not desired or acceptable.
Do you remember those “unknowns” that I mentioned earlier? Those can end up costing you several thousand dollars. No matter what, never take anything for granted. Make sure that you have all promises by venues and catering companies in writing.
A particular area of caution should be selecting a third-party payment provider such as PayPal. These companies are great because they’re easy to use, widely trusted by many people, and allow you to accept online payments.
Here are some things to look for in third-party payment platforms:
• Transaction fees
• Tax information that must be provided
• Thresholds of how much money you can process
• What type of account you need (and if there is an associated fee with a special account)?
Identifying these “unknowns” early on and asking questions can save you a lot of headaches later on (such as begging the extremely nice customer service guy to please process your requested additional documentation hours before you have to pay your venue).
When it comes to a large event planning like a District Convention, there are going to be a lot of questions from a lot of people. It can be difficult to track which questions have been answered and which have not, especially if a lot of questions come in at once.
Here are a few ways that you can centralize communication and make your life a lot easier:
• Identify early on which social media platforms you will use and create a username that is the same for all of them.
• Try to match your website name with your social media handle (if possible) for easy access.
• Consider the pros and cons of building your own website. For those of us non-computer people, we used a website building/hosting service called Squarespace, which was great for processing forms and having a sleek look.
• Have a way to share documents between all parties involved in planning your convention. We recommend a Google account so that you can roll your email and document sharing into one location.
And now, for the most cliché lesson of all: relax. Granted, you should always be looking to find a solution to all of the “monkey wrenches” (as our chapter sponsor calls them) that come up at the last minute, but if it’s 2 AM and the office you need doesn’t open until 8 AM, relax. Planning a District Convention requires a lot of energy and focus, and you need to be on your top game. Stressing out about factors beyond your control will not help you succeed.
In case you were wondering, we had a plethora of last-minute problems before the SED Convention. They included (but were certainly not limited to): brochures printed incorrectly, UPS accidentally leaving 1/7 of our t-shirts in Tennessee, one of our Google spreadsheets completely reorganizing itself, finding out the night before that a transport vehicle we needed was no longer available, etc. However, despite all of these problems, the Southeast District Convention still happened and all of these issues were resolved in time.
Instead of panicking (okay, there was a little bit of panicking), we attempted to stay calm and make a list of what we needed to do to solve these problems. In this way, we made sure our bases were covered and everything was completed on time.
Although the convention will be busy, there are things you can do to make your weekend run more smoothly.
Here are a few things to keep in mind during the convention:
• Take care of yourself! Drink plenty of water and take breaks to keep yourself feeling good.
• Try to stay calm and smile; sometimes, Brothers and Sisters will get stressed out because of a last-minute problem. Consider these questions from the perspective of your fellow Brother or Sister and be gracious and kind.
• Print out all of documents that you need for the weekend- you never know when the WiFi might decide to stop working.
• Have someone assigned to answering social media questions- this will give convention participants another place to ask their less urgent questions.
• Have the names and numbers of all venue staff, including event planners and the catering company, just in case you need something.
In short, start early, seek help, and believe in yourself and your chapter. By stepping up to host the district convention, you can truly make a positive impact in the lives and experiences of your fellow Brothers and Sisters, and create memories that will persist for years to come.