Cindy Wheaton, CMP, manager, group meetings and incentives, Nationwide Financial Network in Columbus, Ohio, is in her second year on the board of directors of FICP. She is serving as FICP vice president, sponsorship, having spent her first year on the board as vice president, communications. We recently talked with her about a range of topics, including FICP sponsorship initiatives.

How has your career evolved at Nationwide?

I've been with Nationwide for 20 years, and I've worked both on the company's financial side and on its property and casualty side. I've been in my current position for two years.

My job is a one-person show, and my main focus is on incentive meetings, including high-level meetings for senior management. It is different in that I'm on my own — when I worked on the property/casualty side, I was part of the awards and recognition department, and all of us in the department had specific responsibilities. Now I do a bit of everything. I am, of course, able to hire outside people, so that helps!

What made you want to get more involved with FICP?

I just wanted to learn more about the association. I wanted to be more educated about what goes on behind the scenes, and I wanted to give something back to the profession.

I've learned that there's a lot of hard work involved with running an association. And it can be tricky — in the case of FICP, we want to be fair to everybody, planners and hospitality partners alike.

Last year you were vice president, communications. Why the move to vice president, sponsorship?

Well, sponsorships certainly are a completely different ball of wax. They're obviously very important to FICP — we wouldn't exist without them. We value and depend on our sponsorships, and we look to use our hospitality partners in our everyday business as meeting planners.

I've always been very comfortable in my relationships with people in the HP community, so I thought of myself as being suited for the role [of vice president, sponsorship]. And Sharon [Chapman, FICP president] came to me and said, “I see you fitting in that role.” So it made sense.

What is your focus going to be with sponsorships this year?

FICP already has specific sponsorship models in place, so my goal this year is to make sure that we're following those models, and to make sure that everything is being done correctly. It sounds simple, but it's not. Managing sponsorships can get complicated. A lot depends on the level of the sponsorship.

One of the problems we had in the past was that it wasn't entirely clear what our sponsors were entitled to receive. Now we're mapping out a detailed explanation that shows everything they receive at every sponsorship level.

I still have to better understand the various sponsorship models and how they operate. I encourage FICP members and hospitality partners to call me with questions and concerns about sponsorships — their input will help me to learn more.

One of the things that we've done with our sponsorship model is give more of an equal opportunity to the independent hotel properties. In the past, the system was really dominated by the chains, but the new model should help to level the playing field for independents.

How does association membership help you do your job with Nationwide?

One reason that I chose FICP membership over Meeting Professionals International was that I wanted to connect with people specific to the industry I work in. With FICP, I get the chance to meet colleagues who deal with the same kinds of challenges that I do. In the division of Nationwide in which I work, our brokers can qualify for any number of incentive programs out there, so it's nice to be able to communicate with planners at competitive companies and to see what they're doing. With this kind of networking, I can learn whether I'm on track — or not.

What do you hope to have achieved by the end of your tenure on the FICP board?

My main focus this year is to evaluate the lottery system [for hospitality partner participation in FICP's annual conference] and see if it needs to be changed or modified. I do know that we have hospitality partners who have supported us for years, and with the lottery system they've never been able to get in the annual. Is there a way that we can do things to make it a fairer process? I want to find out, and if there is a way to improve the process, I want to implement it by next year.