KIM ZIYAVO
CONFERENCE COORDINATOR
CALL TO ACTION, CHICAGO

For many years, attendees have been mentioning that it is difficult to choose among so many good speakers, and that they would like a bit more open time built into the weekend for networking and catching up with old friends.

We revamped the weekend schedule, creating slightly longer sessions with some of our most popular speakers and opening up more free time to visit our exhibitors or to reunite with friends over lunch or dinner. The changes allowed us to trim the number of speakers and to create a budget that is realistic, without sacrificing the quality of our conference program.

DONNA WIEGEL
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ELCA YOUTH GATHERING, EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, CHICAGO

Our triennial event (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Youth Gathering) was held in New Orleans in July. More than 36,000 people attended, from 3,000 ELCA congregations across the country.

Community service, in the form of service projects, has always been an important part of our program, but historically we've only been able to accommodate about a third of the requests. So for 2009, one of our goals was to have every attendee actively involved in a service project during the gathering.

With no dress rehearsal, we launched 12,000 people each morning, using 300 buses, three launch sites, and three launch times — over three days!

The primary reason we were able to succeed in this venture was because of the work done before the event. Our team of volunteers met with local agencies and organizations to identify needs. They then coordinated the donation and/or purchase of tools and materials necessary for each task, and worked tirelessly to match congregations to almost 200 projects. Each project had a manager, and each bus had a volunteer “servant companion” who stayed with the group and helped to interpret the experience.

The second reason for our success was our database. We kept it live up to and throughout the event — so congregations had access, through their individual accounts, to information about their specific projects. They knew what to bring to their work site, what day and time they were assigned to, and where to go to catch their bus.

Because the information was live, we were able to make changes in real time.

KEITH BURDEN
EXEC. SECRETARY NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FREEWILL BAPTISTS, ANTIOCH, TENN.

With the economy as it is, trying to avoid attrition fees is a little unnerving. This year, for the first time, we got caught in an attrition situation. We ended up paying a hotel $12,000 in penalties. It's difficult for any association to spend money on rooms that you don't use, but unfortunately, the contracts had been signed before I got into this position, and there was a 90 percent attrition clause. Now I won't sign a contract that has a 90 percent attrition clause — we negotiate for 80 percent, or in some cases, 70 percent.

Also, what we did this year, which will go in effect in 2010, is establish that when a person makes a reservation (registration traditionally opens the first Monday in April), that person's credit card will be charged for the first night's room and lodging tax on the first of June. That is nonrefundable. That will force people who are holding rooms that they don't need to cancel them by June 1. (The meeting is in the third week of July.) This is intended to help with attrition. We got caught this year because we were well over our block at that hotel by the cutoff date, and then, about eight to 10 days out, people were calling and canceling rooms.

Now, if people cancel by June 1, we have about two weeks or so before the cutoff date to sell those rooms.