Planning, planning and more planning

written by Darcy Klingle
September 26, 2012

Hello Alliance supporters and conference-goers!

As the Alliance’s Director of Meetings and Events I am excited to be in the midst of planning the 2013 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. I’m thrilled that we are returning to Seattle, WA for this event.

The Alliance’s first Seattle conference took place in 2007, and it had the largest turnout of any of our west coast conferences. We hope to surpass that turnout in 2013, and we look forward to meeting more passionate folks who are working diligently year-round to ensure that there will one day be an end to homelessness in America.

For those of you who attend the conference, it’s a two-day affair (not counting your roundtrip travel). For Alliance staff though, conference planning begins more than a year before the event. Here’s a look at our planning process:

Early planning

We like to finalize a location more than a year prior to the conference. For example, for our upcoming conference we secured a location in November of 2011. We choose the geographic location based upon what cities are doing to end homelessness in that area.

Choosing the location is just the beginning, though. Once that’s done, we have to research hotels in the area to determine which are large enough and have the proper layout for our conference, then we send requests for proposals to the prospective hotels. Once we receive proposals, we go through the details of each. We also give careful consideration to the kinds of concessions offered by each hotel. The Alliance is very budget-conscious, so we tend to favor the proposals that include concessions that lower the Alliance’s bottom line.

For example, a hotel may offer one complimentary room for a certain number of rooms sold within our sleeping room block. So if one hotel offers one complimentary room per 40 rooms sold, and another offers one per 50, we’ll be more interested in the first hotel, because we would receive more complimentary rooms for 40 rooms purchased, than we would for 50.

The entire hotel contract negotiation process takes about a month to finalize. Our goal is to have the signed, in-hand hotel contract more than a year prior to the February conference.

The reason we plan so far in advance is to ensure that we have as many options to go with as possible. When we have a large number of hotels to choose from, we have plenty of room to negotiate great deals. Once the hotel contract is signed, though, we’re able to put the planning to rest – for a while anyway.

Promotional materials and conference content

The next piece in the planning process comes eight months prior to the event. This is the time when we finalize the event timeline and send requests for proposals to the event graphic designer and audio-visual suppliers, and the Alliance staff begins finalizing workshop content and speakers.

We put together the event timeline by working backwards from the date of the event, flagging important deadlines. This allows us to keep the planning on track and remind the Alliance network when important deadlines like registration cutoff dates and hotel reservation cutoff dates are approaching.

(This timeline is a very important piece of the puzzle. It’s something I refer to every day in the planning process.)

We handle the requests for proposals to the graphic designer and the AV suppliers in much the same way as we do the requests for proposals to hotels. We find a few vendors we’re interested in working with and let them know what we need. Once we receive the proposals from the vendors, we ask for clarification on certain items and negotiate prices. We usually sign a contract with our chosen vendors within a week of receiving the proposals.

A couple weeks later, we begin working with our chosen graphic designer on the promotional materials for our conference. The designer bases the design on the conference themes chosen beforehand by the entire Alliance staff, including our President, Nan Roman, and our Vice President for Programs and Policy, Steve Berg.

Our conference themes typically come from current and future issues in the homeless assistance field, the economy, and the conference’s location – to name just a few sources of inspiration.

While the designer is hard at work pulling together possible conference graphic designs, the Alliance staff engage in hours of brainstorming sessions over the course of several weeks to come up with timely, relevant, and vital content for the conference. These meetings are time-consuming but essential, as we wouldn’t have quality conference content without them.

Where we are today

This is where we currently are in our planning for the upcoming National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness, in the midst of putting together the content for our conference. Planning our conferences is a long, involved, arduous process, but we at the Alliance feel fortunate to be able to host such important annual events. Our conferences reach 2,000 people nationwide (with a few who travel internationally to join us) – and that number is in attendance alone. Thousands more follow the conferences on social media and our blog, and many follow up with us afterwards to obtain conference materials.

We have also seen attendees come to our conferences year after year to learn more, and to report back about what amazing work they were able to implement in their communities from the information they gathered at the previous conferences. I hope to see you all in Seattle this February!