Dude, Where’s My Soda?

I think most of you reading this already know a huge amount of effort goes into planning our regional meetings and annual conference, so I won’t try to impress you with the long list of tasks undertaken by the many volunteers that make those events happen.

Reflecting on the most recent regional in Sturgeon Bay, I realized something while reading the post-conference survey results: we rarely explain how important these events are to the financial health of WLIA.

The specific survey response that spurred my realization was the perfectly reasonable question of “why don’t we get soda during breaks anymore?” As a person addicted to Diet Pepsi, I get it… what’s up with the lack of carbonated beverages when we need them the most?

Hold that thought for a moment.

As an organization, we rely on making money at our events. Yep, we have to turn a profit at the annual conference especially, and our regional meetings as well, to keep the organization afloat. Simply put, membership fees are just one source used to cover our annual operating expenses.

By way of example, the two pie charts below summarize our income and expenses for Fiscal Year 2017. I have to note that 2017 was exceptional in terms of excess revenue. In 2015, we actually lost $1,000 after all the bills were paid.

Each year we deposit any excess revenue into a money market account; basically, a rainy day fund. Our Executive Services Manager Ann Barrett will tell you it’s an industry standard to have one year of operating cash on hand in case there is some sort of catastrophic event that dramatically affects our finances. I won’t go in to examples for fear of jinxing us!

So how does all this relate to fizzy drinks?

A lot, actually. Having sat on the WLIA Board for nearly six years now, I can honestly say we all treat the WLIA checkbook like our own. Board members worry about WLIA’s bottom line just like that of their own family. Spend smart, cut costs when possible, limit expenses, save for unforeseen circumstances.

The cost of running events continues to rise. It’s really eye opening to be honest. Feeding everyone at the last annual conference cost $35,000; and we are hardly extravagant. Audio/visual fees run in to the thousands of dollars. Even with financial support from our wonderful sponsors, our  event profits are slowly diminishing with each passing year.

Okay, that leads back to the all-important soda (pop?) question. Many conference centers will charge us upwards of $4.00 PER CAN at our events. Ouch! Despite our best efforts to negotiate favorable fees on the overall package, that’s just how the business model works for conference centers.

So yeah, this silly example is merely an analog for a much bigger issue… conference expenses are on the rise, and we are doing our very best to control costs.

That’s why you don’t get your afternoon Mountain Dew anymore. Don’t worry though; you and I can walk down to the vending machine together at the next conference!

Jim Lacy was the Chair of the Fall 2018 WLIA Regional Meeting.  Additional detail on WLIA’s finances are open for inspection and can be found in the annual reports in our Public Document Archive.

3 Comments on “Dude, Where’s My Soda?

  1. Thanks for the great demonstration of conference costs. Having hosted several conferences, food and beverage is generally the highest cost. Most of our locations don’t charge us room use fees and our wonderful Ann is a great negotiator. We will make sure to point out the vending machines for future conferences.

  2. Thank you for putting this valuable piece together Jim.

  3. Well done, Jim, thanks for that great synopsis of what it takes to run an organization and conferences like ours.