When RCMA's 30th Conference and Exposition convenes next month in Tampa, Fla., one thing is certain: The event will look a lot different from RCMA's conference in 1978. That year, RCMA was 5 years old, and its conference was held in a small room on the top floor of a hotel in Baltimore.
That was the first RCMA conference attended by Dr. DeWayne Woodring, RCMA's current and longtime executive director, and he recalls that the “exhibits” consisted of one table in the hallway. Attendees were encouraged to toss their printed materials on the table for their fellow religious meeting planners to share.
Four years later, things weren't a whole lot different at RCMA, which was at a crossroads. The previous year, in 1981, RCMA's leadership had asked itself the questions: “Should RCMA exist, and if so, how and in what form?”
A long-range planning committee, with Woodring as its chairman, was formed to answer those questions. By the time the 1982 conference in Nashville rolled around, the committee had developed a list of 25 recommendations for the RCMA board. Before the board meeting, RCMA co-founder Leonard Wymore asked Woodring if he would be willing to serve as the organization's executive director. The question surprised Woodring, but he said, “I guess I could try it.”
After Woodring presented his ambitious ideas to the board, one member asked a relevant question: “Who's going to accomplish this?”
It was at that point, says Wymore, that he had it all figured out. He would retire from running RCMA, and he would recommend that Woodring be named his successor.
The board elected Woodring, thinking they would let him figure out how he was going to accomplish all those recommendations.
John Ohlin, RCMA's treasurer at the time, then posed a formidable challenge. He told the new executive director that he had just $1,200 with which to run RCMA for the year and to put on the next year's conference.
Woodring returned to his home in Northfield, Ill.; at the airport, he told his wife the news about their new extracurricular activity. Donna Woodring responsed, “I don't know anything about running an association.”
“Neither do I,” Woodring replied.
They both would learn a lot in the following year.
RCMA's Home Office
Donna Woodring cleared space in a clothes closet to make room for RCMA, and by the time the 1983 conference was held in Indianapolis, 476 people had decided to attend — up from 175 in 1982.
When Woodring took over, one of the first things he did was create an identity for RCMA. He was working full-time in the world headquarters of the United Methodist Church in suburban Chicago, and he asked an artist in the headquarter offices to create a logo for RCMA. The artist was happy to oblige.
Woodring also got the word out by telling people about the religious market whenever he was asked.
“At ASAE, exhibitors used to ask me about RCMA, and I'd tell them about the vastness of the religious market,” he says. “In the 1970s and early '80s, it was unrecognized. One supplier at that time, however, knew the market was huge. He said, ‘I see the enormous economic impact of the religious market, but I'm not about to alert my competitors to this gold mine.’”
In his first years as director, Woodring also had to find creative ways to put on the RCMA conferences without any money. In 1984, he approached Donna Burger from the Oklahoma City CVB about paying for the conference program. In exchange, she would be the only advertiser in the program. Burger agreed, and Oklahoma City has been sponsoring the program ever since.
Woodring's enthusiastic, tireless efforts worked. When he saw the big attendance increase from 1982 to 1983 at RCMA, he thought, “Maybe this is going to work after all.”
Then, on September 15, 1984, with the help of a grant from The Lilly Endowment, RCMA opened its offices in the Hoosier Dome (now the RCA Dome) in downtown Indianapolis. Woodring began working full-time for RCMA, and the association was on the meeting-world map.
The Early Years
In 1973, RCMA was just an idea. The association began with a mimeographed flier that went out to friends and colleagues. The letter ended with this line: “If this type of meeting would be helpful, we could consider meeting as an association.” A total of 23 people responded, and RCMA was born.
“That first meeting was only an experiment,” says Howard E. Dentler, then-deputy general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and one of the moving forces behind the idea of creating an association for religious meeting planners. “We thought that we could have an annual gathering of religious meeting planners that would be a forum for sharing experiences and resolving problems that we all confront.”
To that end, he and Wymore, at that time convention director of the North American Christian Convention, and Bob Wallace, who was planning meetings for the Episcopal Church, contacted planners from other denominations to see if they would be interested.
One person who attended the first meeting was B. Edgar Johnson, who was serving as general secretary of the Church of the Nazarene.
“One of the earliest ideas of the organization was to encourage more professionalism for religious meeting planners,” says Johnson, who was RCMA president from 1978 to 1980. “The task [of planning meetings] usually falls to already busy souls who have had no special training for the business of meeting planning, and we wanted to help develop skills and, at the same time, [develop] a further understanding of the people with whom we dealt on the supplier side so we could avoid adversarial roles.”
Wymore agrees. “I was seeing some things that I wasn't handling as well as I would have liked to, in terms of keeping people aware of the necessity of pre-registering for food functions and children's activities; safety and insurance; food service; and programs for the youth sessions. I was able to find help for some of my questions, but I still felt that religious convention planners needed special attention and help for our particular needs.
“When we first started, one of the biggest problems was that hotels and caterers couldn't trust the numbers that religious meeting planners gave them,” Wymore says. “A planner would come to town and say they were bringing X number of people, but when they got there, they would only have half that number. We worked very hard from the beginning to make people aware that we didn't have the best reputation in the area of meeting expectations and that we had to improve in that area. And we did make changes for the better.”
Indeed, the commonly held view is that RCMA has greatly elevated the professionalism of religious meeting planners, and now religious planners are regarded as a businesslike, serious group.
Melvin Tennant, president and CEO of the Charlotte, N.C., Convention and Visitors Bureau, for example, remembers a time when the religious market was considered to be a “starter market” for salespeople. “They'd put a rookie salesperson in the position, and when they had proved themselves, they'd be promoted to other markets.”
That has changed as organizations have recognized that the religious market is also a loyal market, with high expectations, and long-lasting relationships are greatly valued.
Another commonly held view is that RCMA's conference and exposition are one of the best, if not the best, in the convention and trade industry. RCMA exhibitors often say that they get more business out of their time at RCMA than at any other event.
“RCMA is one of the very few trade shows where they make an effort to keep the ratio of suppliers to customers manageable,” says Tennant. “Those who don't register quickly enough can find themselves on the outside — and while I don't like to be on the outside, the ratio really does allow all of us to get serious business done.”
Today RCMA is an international organization that meets the needs of the huge religious meeting market. RCMA members are meeting planners from varied faiths, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Baha'i. The associate members include representatives from hotels, convention centers, conference centers, and convention and visitors bureaus.
The numbers are impressive. More than 1,300 people will attend the 30th Anniversary Conference and Exposition, and the expo was sold out within days again this year, faster than any other expo in the meeting industry. RCMA meeting planners put together more than 14,500 meetings in 2000, with total attendance of more than 18 million.
RCMA's growth can be tied to the advances that have been made since that historic board meeting in 1982.
RCMA offers one of the industry's finest conferences, with top-notch keynote speakers and highly regarded breakout session speakers. RCMA also offers Behind-the-Scenes Experiences, during which religious meeting planners learn from professionals about the inner workings of hotels, convention centers, media organizations, and more. RCMA is the only meeting industry organization that offers its members this type of experience.
The idea for the Behind-the-Scenes Experiences came when Woodring was attending a familiarization trip. His group suddenly was roused from their banquet tables and put to work on the plating line in the kitchen.
“I enjoyed the experience so much that we adapted it to RCMA,” he says.
The Behind-the-Scenes Experiences debuted at RCMA 1993 in Chicago, at the Chicago Hyatt. The offering worked out wonderfully, and the back-of-the-house glimpses have been a popular element of the RCMA program ever since.
RCMA's educational innovations include the Kollege of Kongregatin' Knowledge, an interactive, fun way for attendees to test their meeting planning know-how by answering questions posed by “professors” of meeting management. Still another educational development is “You Be the Judge,” during which the audience becomes jurors rendering a decision in a contractual dispute. A new “You Be the Judge” is planned for the 2002 conference in Tampa.
RCMA recently established a partnership with PlanSoft, an online site-selection service. RCMA members can access PlanSoft's database of hotels to do site research and make requests for proposals online. In addition, RCMA offers complimentary accidental death and dismemberment insurance to all its members, and in 1991 established the first industry scholarship program to help members who need financial assistance in becoming Certified Meeting Professionals.
Meetings are about building relationships, and RCMA has been helping its members form long-lasting partnerships for 30 years.
“Our people are dedicated,” Woodring says. “They come to do business. They're kind and truthful with the suppliers. They come from a fellowship of believers. They want to know you as a person, and they become good friends. After that relationship has been established, they follow people, no matter whom they're working for.”
Dozens of meeting-focused events take place each year in the United States, but perhaps no other offers as much friendliness as RCMA. The membership truly feels happy to be together, sharing information, learning from colleagues, and catching up on friendships formed at past RCMA conferences.
RCMA members are updated on industry news, information, and trends throughmagazine and the RCMA Web site. In addition, RCMA conference attendees receive RCMA Highlights, a daily newspaper published on-site.
For all that, RCMA membership dues remain $50 for planners and $100 for associate members, the same as when dues were introduced in 1982.
“We realize that many of our members are paying their dues and conference fees out of their own pockets and can't afford high prices,” Woodring says.
Still a Thrill
The religious meeting industry is a people industry, so the favorite part of the job for Woodring should come as no surprise.
“I enjoy the people,” he says. “I get a thrill working with a wonderful variety of professionals. They're all great people, and many have become my extended family.” In fact, he has been asked on three occasions to officiate at the weddings of RCMA associate members.
“It has been so rewarding to work on a multifaith basis,” he says. “It has been a great honor and privilege to be in such an ecumenical position.”
30 Years of RCMA Conferences
|1976||Kansas City, Mo.|
|1979||St. Louis, Mo.|
|1986||Fort Worth, Texas|
|1987||Long Beach, Calif.|
|1991||Corpus Christi, Texas|
Award of Excellence Recipients
|1992||Leonard G. Wymore|
|1995||John V. Ohlin|
|1999||Barbara A. Main|
He can laugh about it now
RCMA executive director DeWayne Woodring is the only clergyman to be inducted into the Convention Industry Council Hall of Leaders, the highest honor in the meeting industry. However, Woodring wasn't always a leading authority on meetings and meeting planning. In fact, he laughs when he recalls planning his first major religious conference.
The year was 1964, and Woodring was on the staff of the bishop for the Ohio Area of the Methodist Church. Woodring was in charge of putting together a nine-state Methodist meeting, and Cleveland had been chosen as the site. The hotel being considered invited Woodring and his family to check out the facilities on their way home from another conference. So Woodring, his wife, Donna, and their two young daughters, Beth and Judy, made the trek to Cleveland.
Woodring, an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, recalls that the hotel assigned them three beautiful, huge rooms. They were amazed. He was stunned, however, when he saw the rack rate that was posted on the doors. “We can't afford this! The bishop is going to kill me!” he thought. Later, of course, he found out that the rooms were complimentary. He was amazed again.
Also surprising, in looking back, was the ease of doing business in the early 1960s — no multipageor intense negotiating. “Basically, it was a handshake,” Woodring says.
He first heard of RCMA in 1976, when he began his work in Evanston, Ill., as the associate general secretary for the General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church. His predecessor was an RCMA member who recommended that Woodring join, too. So he went to Baltimore for RCMA's 1977 conference, and he soon became part of RCMA's wonderful ongoing story.
Presidents of RCMA
|1978-80||B. Edgar Johnson|
|1983-85||Leonard G. Wymore|
|1986-88||John V. Ohlin|
|1989-92||Melvin L. Worthington|
|1993-95||Rainer B. Wilson|
|1973||The Religious Convention Managers Association holds its first conference in Louisville, Ky. Twenty-three people attended.|
|1982||The organization is incorporated as the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA).|
|1983||The first Who's Who in Religious Conference Management is published.|
|1984||RCMA establishes its first full-time office, with permanent staff, in the Hoosier Dome (now the RCA Dome) in Indianapolis.|
|1987||The association creates RCMA Highlights, its own official daily paper covering events and tutorials during the annual conference.|
|1990||The Indiana Society of Association Executives names RCMA its Association of the Year.|
|1991||RCMA establishes the first industry scholarship program to help members who need financial assistance to become Certified Meeting Professionals.|
|1992||The full-color Religious Conference Manager magazine is launched; it is the only periodical dedicated to.|
|1993||In Chicago, RCMA debuts Behind-the-Scenes Experiences, during which meeting planners learn from professionals about the inner workings of hotels, convention centers, media organizations, and more.|
|1994||RCMA expands its headquarters and the services it offers to its ever-increasing membership.|
|1996||Complimentary AD&D insurance is provided to all RCMA members.|
|2001||RCMA forms a partnership with PlanSoft, an online site-selection service.|
|2001||The association's membership reaches an all-time high of more than 3,000 members, an increase of 1,751 percent since 1982.|
President's Award Recipients
|1992||B. Edgar Johnson|
|1993||Howard E. Dentler|
|1994||Melvin L. Worthington|
|1995||Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.|
|1996||Norman P. Seeger|
|1997||George D. Spalding|
|2000||April Autrey Deal|
Religious Convention Managers Convene
Louisville is playing host this week to a convention of convention managers, and rather special ones at that — the managers, most of them ministers, organize religious conventions.
They formed the Religious Convention Managers Association just last summer, and the two-day conference that ends today at the Rodeway Inn, 133 E. Jefferson, is their first effort to discuss their jobs and problems with each other.
Mrs. Jane Taber, the association's secretary, said the group hopes to have similar meetings every six months.
“This is the first time that religious managers have sat down together to deal with the problems of planning a convention,” said Mrs. Taber. These vary from dealing with convention centers, to hotel and transportation problems.
She added that perhaps the biggest problem is communicating with the people the managers want to provide them with services. “We just don't understand each other's language,” she said.
“That's why we have had business people who deal in transportation to come in and talk to us about the best way that we can get the services that we want from them. We are really trying to gain insight in what to expect in running a convention, the problems and how to cope with them.”
Yesterday the managers heard from representatives of an airline, a restaurant chain, the Louisville Convention Center, and the Louisville Convention Bureau.
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., Thursday, February 1, 1973