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Welcome to ConRunner, a Why and How-To reference for Convention organizers.

ConRunner was started in July 2005, and we are currently working on 273 articles. You are invited to join us, and to help make them better.

We hope to document all aspects of running a successful, enjoyable, memorable convention. Please browse our pages, and if you have something to add, please do so. Registration is required to edit or to add pages, however anyone may browse the articles. We hope you find something of use!


Featured Article - Treasury

Introduction

Treasury is a function within a convention that holds the convention's funds, and the processes that surround funds handling. As part of this role, the Treasurer has the primary role in making sure those funds are used responsibily. The Treasurer does this proactively by creating or helping to create a budget for the convention and operationally by disbursing and collecting funds.

This article describes an approach, along with tips and hints, for acting as a convention's Treasurer.

Approach

Plan for Success

Every convention has different goals and objectives. Just as with every organization, it is often the case that the convention has less money and other resources than it needs to achieve all of its aspirations. So, there must be choices made among the objectives so that the most important ones are achieved. Achieving those goals will then be a measure of the success of your convention. As Treasurer, you should then provide for resources to be available to achieve those goals through the process of creating a budget.

The method of choosing which goals and objectives should be met is beyond the scope of this article. Here are some possible considerations:

  • The Goals of the Convention's Parent Organization: If your convention has a parent organization, it is likely that organization was founded to promote or advance some goal. For instance, the organization could have been formed to promote science fiction and fantasy art. It is likely that your convention should promote art, too.
  • Desires and Expectations of your Customers (i.e. attending fans): Everyone wants to get the most out of their discretionary income. Why should they spend their hard earned cash at your con? Maybe you have great Hospitality. Maybe you have great Programming. These are the kinds of things that go into your value proposition to potential attendees. They are also the kinds of things you will want to make note of for Publicity
  • Number of Attendees: Do you want to hold the largest convention ever, or would you be satisfied if around 50 people attended? The answers to these questions will determine how important such things as advertising is to you and the kind of space you will need to house your convention.
  • Net Proceeds: Whether your convention operates as a nonprofit or for-profit enterprise, you need to decide how much money you want to end up with. Almost all conventions would like to occur at least annually, so you do not want to lose so much money that you will no longer be a going concern. You may also need to have more money than what you started with in order to cover other costs. For example, many conventions have a parent organization that has costs it needs to cover and the way that parent gets the funds it needs is through the convention. Lastly, while it is doubtless an option many would not choose, you may make a strategic choice to lose money. This would be thought of as investing in the future. You might, for example, sponsor a number of guests in order to get people to come to this year's convention in the hope that many of those same people will stay with you for future years.

As you see, Planning For Success is another way of saying that a vision for the convention must be established. Once that vision is set, you will be able to set your budget. While this should happen every time, this step is sadly overlooked many times. This leads to conventions repeating the forms of previous years but, in time, without capturing the spirit that gave those forms life. In the end, failure to plan is planning to fail.

Budgeting

With (hopefully) a firm grasp of the factors that you and your convention have decided will make your convention a success, you can begin the process of creating a budget.

You probably worked with the Executive Committee (or something very like it) in setting the vision. You will now need to work with the heads of the Departments. They possess (or should possess) the know-how to operate their respective functions. They should then be able to scope what they want to do so that it supports the convention's vision. Some of the things they will want to do will cost money. After gathering these requirements, you will have to prioritize them to decide how much money each area will receive.

As part of this decision, you will need to project how much money the convention will be receiving (from Registration and other income producing areas) and when this money will be received.

Some useful budgeting tools:

  • Provisional budgets (typically covering marketing) allow the convention to begin operating while deferring main budget decisions until the budget requirements are better understood.
  • Budgets amendments typically require the approval of a supervisory body and as such are useful not only for making changes to the budget but for providing an excuse for not doing so. They also provide a handy artificial deadline (the meeting date of the supervisory body) for flushing out problems with the budget as passed.
  • Contingent budgets allow planning what to do with extra money (or for things to automatically cut in case of shortfall), which can help establish fiscal discipline as volunteers will not consider there to be a large surplus available to them.
  • Discretionary spending (or "contingency") funds are a less focused way to concentrate and formalize the ability to spend extra money in a small number of hands while giving those people the flexibility to react to events without going back to the supervisory body.
  • Unnamed line items differ from contingency funds in that the item can't be added to existing line items, and the item can be restricted to certain categories of unanticipated expense.
  • Don't be afraid to look at budgets from prior years.

Pre-con Treasury

You've helped to establish a vision for the convention. You have helped the department heads to set goals and plans that will align them with that vision. You have established a budget that allocates (probably very scarce) monetary resources to see that those goals are accomplished.

Those department heads are going to start asking you for money. In addition to being aware of your burn rate, you need to decide whether or not you expect to reimburse department heads after they spend money or if you plan to give advances. Obviously, you can choose to do both.

Reimbursements have very great advantages for the convention. You are able to to give out precisely the amount of money needed. There is no waiting for department heads to return unspent amounts and no need to meet specially with them to do this (sometimes after you have already met specially with them to give them the advance in the first place). It may also be that keeping the money in the convention account will allow you to avoid low balance fees or to earn interest on that money. Reimbursement also allows you to scrutinize receipts and disallow any costs that were not budgeted. Of course, department heads will not always have their personal finances in a condition that will allow them to be reimbursed, especially when it comes to large expenditures.

Remember, when you give someone an advance, you have to trust their judgement. In this area, not all department heads are created equal. Use your judgement and good sense before giving out large sums. Try to make the amount of the advance just enough to complete the task and no more.

Some of the revenue generating areas of the convention are going to start receiving money. It may be that you will start to receive money, too. Have a plan for how this will occur. How do you receive new memberships? You probably get most of them via snail mail or your web site. You may receive a few through direct sales - perhaps you set up a table or a party at which you sell memberships at another convention or event. For snail mail, who checks the mailbox? How do membership checks received at that mail box get deposited in the bank? How do the memberships get recorded? The same questions could be asked about dealers who want to be in your Dealer's Room or artists who want to exhibit in your Art Show (assuming you have either one of those).

It could be that you have different answers for different departments. Here's an example. It is not meant to be a description of "best practices" but rather to illustrate how this can be done (and/or what you may have to "put up with" as a practical matter). Your convention has a mailbox. Someone checks that mailbox and gives registrations to you as the Treasurer. You deposit the checks. You record the registration information and give it the head of registration. The head of the Dealer's Room area directly receives checks from dealers, in part because she is soliciting them directly. The same is true of the Art Show head, who has relationships with a number of the artists who exhibit. Dealer's Room and Art Show both give checks to you from time to time.

As you can see in terms of giving money out and taking money in, there will be handoffs. Your convention probably holds regular meetings. You can take advantage of this and use the time to get money from those that need to give and give to those who need to get. This approach will probably not work for every single handoff that will need to be made. For that, you need to make sure that you have good contact information for your department heads. Sometimes, you will be able to mail checks rather than meet, so in addition to having name, phone number, and e-mail address for your department heads, the Treasurer should have mailing addresses as well.

Tips:

  • The easiest way to save a ton of time is to delegate some amount of treasury work to the departments, particularly to pre-registration. Give them a deposit stamp and some deposit slips and have them photocopy incoming checks and mail them in. Give them a credit card machine and have them process the incoming credit cards -- or put your credit card machine on the net and have them submit mailed-in credit card registrations there. The two keys here are communication and responsibility.
  • You need to make sure you get copies of the checks. If registration is currently handling checks and passing them on to you, you can probably count on them to send you a photocopy instead. But if your con currently has someone else open mail and send checks directly to you without passing through registration, you may need to examine whether the reg people can be counted on to get you information promptly. Chances are you've really already done this in deciding not to have registration touch the checks in the first place.
  • You also need to make sure checks aren't lost, cash doesn't get sent through the mail, deposit slips are filled out correctly, and deposits happen in a reasonable time-frame. Again, this is a trust issue with registration which is orthogonal to the question of whether to deputize the registration (or art show, or dealers room) staff.

At-con Treasury

It is important to minimize the number of people involved in the treasury department. We like to hope that our fellow staff are not going to steal from the convention, but large amounts of cash can unfortunately turn some people.

Tips on operations:

  • Cash should regularly be emptied from Sales areas, two people should always go together to get (or to drop) cash.
  • It is generally best to swap the entire cash drawer than to actually handle cash at sales areas.
  • You should record what the Starting and Ending amounts on each drawer are, and who worked on each drawer, including everybody in the treasury department that came in contact with the drawer. If you do have a theft, logs will be required to collect from your insurance. Make sure you know the amount that your insurance policy covers as a maximum for cash on site and do your best not to exceed that amount by making regular drops to the bank or the hotel safes.

Helpful items:

It is in the best interest of most conventions over say 500 people to take credit cards. It is a convenience item, it reduces the cost of insuring cash, and reduces the chance of theft. It also reduces the amount of money you need to count.

A bill counter usually only costs $100~200 depending on speed and quality. If you have ever counted over $25,000 in cash by hand you will be thankful for this investment.

Post Con Treasury

After the convention you will need to make any final payments, collect any final amounts, and evaluate how well you did in terms of staying within your budget and in fulfilling the vision for the convention you set out.

Auditing

In order to detect malfeasance, your paper trail must have redundancy. With online account access this is less difficult than it used to be, but it should still be taken into account when designing processes. Being able to reconstruct the cash flow using only records from non-Treasury staff (ie, department records of cash collected) is particularly important. No process should be entirely reliant on a single person (or computer) maintaining a single accurate record. This protects both the convention and the individuals involved in cash handling. It might seem like extra paperwork, but it helps greatly to isolate and identify errors that creep into the system.

Departments

There is no One True Way to organize your committee into departments. Often times a convention will run for a few years one way, and then combine departments that share a lot of the same resources or purpose into a single department. Or a department may split, as the needs of the convention grow. Do what works for you, and recruit reliable department heads. Create, publish, and maintain a clear set of objectives and methods to document continuity of what works, what doesn't, and why. Check on the senior staff regularly to make sure they're getting whatever support they need from you and the rest of the committee, pre-con and at-con. Department heads then recruit what staff and at-con volunteers they need to accomplish the goals of the department.

Have your department heads document the procedures of running their department, and train people under them so that you have a pool of people ready to be future department heads, and you are capturing knowledge from one year to the next.

A common way to split a science fiction convention into departments is like so:

  • Contests:
    • Young writers contest
    • Anime Music Video
    • Original Animation
    • Fan Art
    • Student Art

You can easily see how Volunteers might also go under Operations, Masquerade and Dance under Programming, etc. A small enough convention may not have a person dedicated to publicity separate from their publications head, or an information desk, or whatever. And of course, some conventions don't have Art Shows, or Charity Auctions, or whatever. Try to pick a structure that best supports what you do and how you want to do it.


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