Welcome to ConRunner, a Why and How-To reference for Convention organizers.
ConRunner was started in July 2005, and we are currently working on 276 articles. You are invited to join us, and to help make them better.
Featured Article - Treasury
Treasury is a function within a convention that holds the convention's funds, and the processes that surround funds handling. As part of this role, the Treasurer has the primary role in making sure those funds are used responsibily. The Treasurer does this proactively by creating or helping to create a budget for the convention and operationally by disbursing and collecting funds.
This article describes an approach, along with tips and hints, for acting as a convention's Treasurer.
Plan for Success
Every convention has different goals and objectives. Just as with every organization, it is often the case that the convention has less money and other resources than it needs to achieve all of its aspirations. So, there must be choices made among the objectives so that the most important ones are achieved. Achieving those goals will then be a measure of the success of your convention. As Treasurer, you should then provide for resources to be available to achieve those goals through the process of creating a budget.
The method of choosing which goals and objectives should be met is beyond the scope of this article. Here are some possible considerations:
As you see, Planning For Success is another way of saying that a vision for the convention must be established. Once that vision is set, you will be able to set your budget. While this should happen every time, this step is sadly overlooked many times. This leads to conventions repeating the forms of previous years but, in time, without capturing the spirit that gave those forms life. In the end, failure to plan is planning to fail.
With (hopefully) a firm grasp of the factors that you and your convention have decided will make your convention a success, you can begin the process of creating a budget.
You probably worked with the Executive Committee (or something very like it) in setting the vision. You will now need to work with the heads of the Departments. They possess (or should possess) the know-how to operate their respective functions. They should then be able to scope what they want to do so that it supports the convention's vision. Some of the things they will want to do will cost money. After gathering these requirements, you will have to prioritize them to decide how much money each area will receive.
Some useful budgeting tools:
You've helped to establish a vision for the convention. You have helped the department heads to set goals and plans that will align them with that vision. You have established a budget that allocates (probably very scarce) monetary resources to see that those goals are accomplished.
Those department heads are going to start asking you for money. In addition to being aware of your burn rate, you need to decide whether or not you expect to reimburse department heads after they spend money or if you plan to give advances. Obviously, you can choose to do both.
Reimbursements have very great advantages for the convention. You are able to to give out precisely the amount of money needed. There is no waiting for department heads to return unspent amounts and no need to meet specially with them to do this (sometimes after you have already met specially with them to give them the advance in the first place). It may also be that keeping the money in the convention account will allow you to avoid low balance fees or to earn interest on that money. Reimbursement also allows you to scrutinize receipts and disallow any costs that were not budgeted. Of course, department heads will not always have their personal finances in a condition that will allow them to be reimbursed, especially when it comes to large expenditures.
Remember, when you give someone an advance, you have to trust their judgement. In this area, not all department heads are created equal. Use your judgement and good sense before giving out large sums. Try to make the amount of the advance just enough to complete the task and no more.
Some of the revenue generating areas of the convention are going to start receiving money. It may be that you will start to receive money, too. Have a plan for how this will occur. How do you receive new memberships? You probably get most of them via snail mail or your web site. You may receive a few through direct sales - perhaps you set up a table or a party at which you sell memberships at another convention or event. For snail mail, who checks the mailbox? How do membership checks received at that mail box get deposited in the bank? How do the memberships get recorded? The same questions could be asked about dealers who want to be in your Dealer's Room or artists who want to exhibit in your Art Show (assuming you have either one of those).
It could be that you have different answers for different departments. Here's an example. It is not meant to be a description of "best practices" but rather to illustrate how this can be done (and/or what you may have to "put up with" as a practical matter). Your convention has a mailbox. Someone checks that mailbox and gives registrations to you as the Treasurer. You deposit the checks. You record the registration information and give it the head of registration. The head of the Dealer's Room area directly receives checks from dealers, in part because she is soliciting them directly. The same is true of the Art Show head, who has relationships with a number of the artists who exhibit. Dealer's Room and Art Show both give checks to you from time to time.
As you can see in terms of giving money out and taking money in, there will be handoffs. Your convention probably holds regular meetings. You can take advantage of this and use the time to get money from those that need to give and give to those who need to get. This approach will probably not work for every single handoff that will need to be made. For that, you need to make sure that you have good contact information for your department heads. Sometimes, you will be able to mail checks rather than meet, so in addition to having name, phone number, and e-mail address for your department heads, the Treasurer should have mailing addresses as well.
It is important to minimize the number of people involved in the treasury department. We like to hope that our fellow staff are not going to steal from the convention, but large amounts of cash can unfortunately turn some people.
Tips on operations:
It is in the best interest of most conventions over say 500 people to take credit cards. It is a convenience item, it reduces the cost of insuring cash, and reduces the chance of theft. It also reduces the amount of money you need to count.
A bill counter usually only costs $100~200 depending on speed and quality. If you have ever counted over $25,000 in cash by hand you will be thankful for this investment.
Post Con Treasury
After the convention you will need to make any final payments, collect any final amounts, and evaluate how well you did in terms of staying within your budget and in fulfilling the vision for the convention you set out.
In order to detect malfeasance, your paper trail must have redundancy. With online account access this is less difficult than it used to be, but it should still be taken into account when designing processes. Being able to reconstruct the cash flow using only records from non-Treasury staff (ie, department records of cash collected) is particularly important. No process should be entirely reliant on a single person (or computer) maintaining a single accurate record. This protects both the convention and the individuals involved in cash handling. It might seem like extra paperwork, but it helps greatly to isolate and identify errors that creep into the system.
There is no One True Way to organize your committee into departments. Often times a convention will run for a few years one way, and then combine departments that share a lot of the same resources or purpose into a single department. Or a department may split, as the needs of the convention grow. Do what works for you, and recruit reliable department heads. Create, publish, and maintain a clear set of objectives and methods to document continuity of what works, what doesn't, and why. Check on the senior staff regularly to make sure they're getting whatever support they need from you and the rest of the committee, pre-con and at-con. Department heads then recruit what staff and at-con volunteers they need to accomplish the goals of the department.
Have your department heads document the procedures of running their department, and train people under them so that you have a pool of people ready to be future department heads, and you are capturing knowledge from one year to the next.
A common way to split a science fiction convention into departments is like so:
You can easily see how Volunteers might also go under Operations, Masquerade and Dance under Programming, etc. A small enough convention may not have a person dedicated to publicity separate from their publications head, or an information desk, or whatever. And of course, some conventions don't have Art Shows, or Charity Auctions, or whatever. Try to pick a structure that best supports what you do and how you want to do it.