How to Win Attendees and Influence Elders

By Stephanie Davis Smith, February 23, 2016

The Situation

A faith-based organization in upstate New York saw its annual meeting registrations fall from 400 to 200 to 80 over three years.

The Solution

The group hired meeting planner Latricia Chisholm, founder of Emerge, to attend the event, review the financials and serve as a consultant to help turn things around. Although she saw a great need for change, she chose to start small and emphasize these three opportunities when approaching the experienced elder board with her suggestions.

RECOMMENDATION: Add a youth component.
In 2014, year-over-year delegates were skewing 60 years old and up. “Where were the 30- to 50-year-olds with families?” Chisholm asked. “Delegates look at these events as a family vacation. The location in upstate New York had no outside entertainment for kids, and there were no youth activities or day care provided—but they were locked into a two-year contract.”

“If you focus on a great experience, the money will follow.”

RESULT: Attendee numbers in 2015 rose back to the 200 mark.
In 2015, the Thursday of the event became Youth Day. Chisholm planned a parade and a rally with artists and musicians, used the youth worship team and had a youth pastor who was under 30. “The kids and parents loved it. They were posting a ton of images on social media,” she says. The group raised 50 percent of its budget the first night, and the bishops were ecstatic.

RECOMMENDATION: Pay attention to the numbers.
Chisholm found attendees were charged $35 for three meals, but they cost the organization $75 (they were losing $40 per head). “I advised them to offer less [food] or increase the price,” says Chisholm, who found the group had lost between $5,000 and $7,000 on empty plates in 2014.

RESULT: Attendees paid more.
While she didn’t change the group’s outdated meal ticket system (yet!), she convinced them to raise food costs to $75 to at least break even.

RECOMMENDATION: Make the experience matter most.
The bishops and elders were most concerned about raising money, but Chisholm advised them to instead concentrate on what they wanted attendees to get out of the conference. “If you focus on a great experience,” she explains, “the money will follow.”

RESULT: They enhanced program offerings.
Chisholm incorporated new topics and speakers and added signature events, such as a late-night after-party. All the 20-somethings were up at midnight to worship, share their talents and make friends.


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