It was a busy year for the Religious Conference Management Association and its new leadership, one filled with several “firsts” for the organization. During the annual business session at Emerge, RCMA’s annual meeting, held January 28–February 1 in Minneapolis, Executive Director Harry Schmidt and Director of Conferences and Events Dean Jones discussed the year’s highlights and previewed new initiatives for 2013.

“To position ourselves for the future, it was important for us to understand what are the bedrock, fundamental, core values of the association that we want to preserve,” said Schmidt. Those core values, he said, are to educate and train members, model best practices in planning meetings, and promote industry professionalism.

RCMA leadership also sought to eliminate processes or programs that inhibited growth and replace them with innovations to move the organization forward. To do that, RCMA established its first planner and supplier advisory councils, which provided valuable feedback to decision makers.

“We want to develop an organization that exists for you,” said Jones. “If we’re not creating opportunity and excitement and energy, and if we’re not providing some sort of advancement in your own position, whether you are a planner or supplier, what are we here for?” said Jones. “That’s our goal.”

The most prominent change for RCMA this year was the rebranding and redesign of its annual meeting, Emerge. “Hopefully what you’ve seen this week is the new heart of RCMA,” said Jones, the association’s first director of conferences and events. The event featured a new educational track for suppliers and open feedback sessions with RCMA leadership for both planners and suppliers. “As much as you think it’s changed this year, we haven’t done everything we want to do. There’s more to come next year,” said Jones. “We’re going to implement changes a little at a time.”

Among the initiatives planned for 2013 are the launch of regional meetings in Nashville, Chicago, and Colorado Springs, and an educational trip to Jordan, May 5-11. The trip will give qualified planners the opportunity to see what this Middle East destination has to offer for religious conferences. 

The RCMA Web site will also be revamped (with a new domain,, featuring more content and links, and a new password-protected member directory that will include member photos and profiles. The Web site will also add a master calendar of religious conferences, allowing members to see where and when other groups are meeting. It’s a way to enhance the community, said Jones. If one group, for example, is meeting in your city, you may be able to offer volunteers or assistance—or simply meet up for coffee.

Finally, another first—the RCMA Board of Directors for 2013 was officially introduced on stage at the Emerge business meeting. “In the past, the board was one of affirmation and information,” said Schmidt. “We changed that model. Now, the members of our board—both planner members and supplier members—interact, provide input, governance, decision-making.”