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How to Maintain a Positive Cash Flow in a Sluggish Economy . . . without Becoming the Next ENRON

The third of five articles in a series on the State of the State Sociological Societies.

by Robert A. Wortham, North Carolina Central University

As the 2000-2001 President-Elect for the North Carolina Sociological Association (NCSA), I was responsible for planning the 2001 annual meeting. During that year, the NCSA learned how the annual meeting could become a tremendous cash flow opportunity. In this invited article, I would like to suggest a few avenues that other state organizations may want to explore. To make this “infomercial” a little more interesting, I will adapt one of David Letterman’s “Top Ten” formats.

10 Ways to “Cash Flow” Your State Association

10. Realize that the annual meeting can generate a positive cash flow. Be willing to be creative. A positive attitude, enthusiasm, and energy are critical. These qualities are invaluable negotiating and impression management tools. Also, graciously accept the creative input of the annual meeting planning committee. If the committee recognizes that their input really is important, a superior product will be produced!

9. Hotels and Conference Centers will negotiate with you to receive your business. Remember, all costs (rooms, food, technology needs) are negotiable. Costs can also be cut significantly if most of the activities can be held on one day. If your program chair is not a good negotiator or does not possess strong people skills, make sure the chair works with someone who excels in these areas.

8. Accept support from endowment funds from institutions or organizations and seek the support of the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences from the host institution. Serendipity is great! While attending the 2000 NCSA annual meeting, several Duke University sociology faculty members indicated that the department had access to some endowment funds that they would like to offer to the NCSA to help with next year’s meeting. Of course, this unsolicited offer was graciously accepted. When it came time to begin planning for the 2002 annual meeting, the next President-Elect decided to see if the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences for the host school would help. Once the Dean was made aware of the generous gift that had been offered the previous year, the Dean was very willing to offer assistance. By the time the 2003 meeting rolled around . . well, you get the idea. Some chain reactions really are beneficial.

7. Enlist the support from the Department Chair of the host institution and other larger sociology departments within the association. Departments may be more willing to help than you think.

6. It really is all about marketing. Involve your students. By designing an annual meeting program that appealed to students, academicians, and professionals in applied fields, attendance at the annual meeting increased dramatically. Since 1999, 50 percent or more of the NCSA’s annual meeting support has come from students, and half the sessions are geared to issues that are relevant for students at the undergraduate and graduate level. The annual meeting represents an excellent networking opportunity for students. The NCSA charges students a reduced annual meeting registration fee that also includes a one-year membership.

5. Encourage involvement by sociologists working in community colleges and in applied settings. The annual meeting is an excellent networking opportunity for academicians and applied sociologists at all levels. Due to differences in the availability of travel support at various institutions, some sociologists may be more willing to support the activities of a state association than a regional or national association. Remember, an important by-product of effective networking (marketing) is increased revenue.

4. Cut your normal annual communication costs by going electronic. For several years, the NCSA has offered three issues of the newsletter in an electronic format. However, members still receive a hard copy of the issue describing the annual meeting.

3. Offer ample exhibit space and go after the vendors. In recent years, we have discovered that the book reps really like the state association meeting. They find that the one-on-one exchange with faculty and students is very positive. The reps are charged an exhibit fee ($250), which includes a booth space and a lunch buffet ticket. Since the exhibitors are guaranteed that their booths will be placed in visible, high-traffic areas, they realize that their cost per potential prospect can be very low. In recent years, the NCSA has been able to attract four to five book reps. However, we have also discovered that software companies like SAS and financial planners will support the meetings. In recent years, as many as four or five book reps, a software vendor, and two or three financial planners have supported the annual meeting. I think you can see the cash flow potential here.

2. Discover your association’s geographic base and then go regional. Financial dynamics vary spatially. The NCSA has discovered in recent years that the Piedmont region is the association’s geographic base. A cluster of schools is located within this region. Since the organization caters to professionals and students, this is an important piece of information. In 1998, the NCSA met in Durham, the meeting moved to Raleigh in 2000 and went back to Durham in 2001. Prior to the 1998 meeting, attendance was in the 40–50 range. During the 1999–2001 time period, the attendance rose to the 150–180 range. At this point, the association felt that a reasonable support base had been established and decided to see if the association would continue to receive strong support if the annual meeting was held in the extreme eastern and western region of the state. In 2002, the meeting was held in Wilmington (beach) for the first time, and in 2003 the meeting was held in Boone (mountains). Attendance at both meetings exceeded 100!

1. Go non-profit/tax exempt and invest some of the funds. Remember, since you have now transformed your association’s annual meeting into a “cash flow machine,” you need to be able to park the revenue and generate additional funds. Successful organizations know that time is money. Available funds can be working for the organization 24/7. This enables the organization to support more ambitious projects like multiple student paper cash awards and an electronic journal (see www.ncsociology.org).