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Most Important!!!

The point of this page is to explain what sort of things you need to think about when setting your membership rates. It can't give you hard and fast rules for your particular convention or country but it can suggest things you need to think about and decide before running off your first flyer

The 7 Most Important Things...

(in no particular order)

  1. How many people do you expect to join?
  2. Do you want/need expensive guests?
  3. How much does the hotel/site want?
  4. How much extra will you need to spend on site/equipment, publications etc.?
  5. What are your "professional" costs? (e.g. accountants, company registrations, professional security guards, copyright clearances etc.)
  6. Who is going to get free/cheap memberships? (e.g. guests, committee, press, students, unemployed, over 60's, handicap helpers etc.)
  7. What age is an adult, a child, a babe in arms?
  8. Are you going to raise the rate as the months go by?
  9. How many people are you going to get joining on the day?
(oh, all right, so it isn't 7 things, but I had the heading kicking around and it sounds better! Plus the planned budget never matches reality!)

The most important thing to realise is that it is almost impossible to come up with a correct budget if you haven't done this before. So the first/best advice is to find someone who has done this before and get comments and suggestions! If you can find a similar convention, ask (politely) if you can have a copy of their budget and if they have any useful comments!

I'll try to get some sample budgets to put on this site, but realise that every convention is different for lots of very good reasons. The site costs vary, the cost of all sorts of things depends on where you are and who you know. It is (usually) cheaper to borrow stuff if you can, but that can be risky if someone drops out or the equipment is needed that weekend by the actual owner etc.

Now some of the standard questions are:

You will have to set your own answers to these because each group will have different ideas what the correct answer is for their convention.

At the worldcon in San Antonio I heard one mother complaining because her son had a child membership (due to his age) and so couldn't vote for the 2000 worldcon, but that voters got the cheapest rate and by then he would need an adult membership so he was effectively being blocked from paying the lowest rate ... the Chicago in 2000 people immediately made a decision that he'd be able to join at the voter's rate (which was both sensible and gracious decision, congratulations all round!) It is things like that that cause problems that need to be considered before making sweeping decisions. (It wasn't Chicago's fault about the voting rules, but they took it on themselves to provide the solution which I thought was really good!)

Let's go through the membership cost breakdown by throwing a few (invented) figures around. All figures below are in Freedonian zlotskys to emphasise these are invented numbers!)

Assumption: You want to run a small-ish (say 300 person) convention in a hotel with a couple of media guests, some videos, a disco on the Saturday night and a fancy dress ("masquerade") competition.

You go around a dozen or two hotels getting their standard prices. They tell you 5,000 FZs for the weekend plus equipment hire, but you'll get free orange and coffee for your delegates between sessions and that they can lay on a banquet for only an additional 25FZs per person. Oh, and the hotel rooms will be 120FZs per person per night. At this point you can either give up, or you start negotiating (it is best to have someone who has done this before. The best way to learn is to help out at another convention and go along with their negotiator and see how it is done!) After negotiation, you end up with a rate of 2,000 FZs for the weekend including whatever technical equipment the hotel has to hand (but no free coffee or orange, though you did get the room rate down to 40FZs per person per night including breakfast!)

You check the technical budget for the last, similar convention, and find that between hiring sound desks, lighting, VCRs, projectors and all the other techy toys, the tech budget came to about 1,500 FZs.

You look into getting major US guests, but discover they want 3-5000FZ appearance fees plus first class airfare for themselves and their partner/security guard/pet barber. So you look around for local talent plus use your contacts to see if any of the US guests might be over here already doing a book signing or similar (and if not, whether you can convince some publisher/bookstore chain to arrange one for the right weeks!) and end up with a guest budget of about 2,000 FZs (including their transport, hotel rooms, food/drink (be careful, they could buy a drink for every member of your convention and bill it to their convention account!) and appearance fees)

So far we've got 2,000 for the hotel, 1,500 for tech, 2,000 for guests and we'll have to make an estimate of the other costs (stationery, progress reports/programme book/pocket programme, postage, transport of borrowed equipment, insurance etc.) so let's add another 2,000 to cover all the miscellaneous expenses. This gives a total (ficticious) budget of 7,500FZs. Between 300 people that will be 25FZs each. This feels like a reasonable price. If we had gone with the major media guests and paid 3,000FZ for their appearance fee, plus another 3,000FZ for airfares etc. we're adding an extra 6,000FZs to the budget and either have to charge each of our attendees an extra 20FZs (total 45FZs) or start thinking about having a bigger convention (say 500 attendees) but then the hotel may not be big enough, we need to get more technical equipment, the cost of postage and printing goes up etc. which is why you need to decide what kind of convention you want. So let's wave goodbye to our US guest and go back to 300 people at 25FZs each...

Now, how certain are we that 300 people will join at full price? What about children, one day memberships, refunding memberships to programme participants (some cons do, some don't) or workers (some do, some might if there's a surplus after the con, and some give out t-shirts instead, but they cost money also so it has to be budgeted!). OK, let's assume that 75% of the attendees will pay full price and the rest pay between nothing and full price minus the cost of a t-shirt (lets say a t-shirt costs 5FZs to help sort things out).

How much risk are we prepared to take about the numbers... can we assume we will definitely get 250 people and that we should get 300? Again this is a matter of experience, judgement, and sheer blind guesswork. If we get 250 people and 75% of them pay full price and the rest average out at half price then our budget of 7,500FZs breaks down into a membership rate (X) of 7500=250*0.75*X + 250*0.25*(X/2) so that X = 34.29FZs (round up to 35FZs) for attending membership. Of course if we get the full 300 people then we'll have 50*35 (1,750) extra to pay for a welcome drink for all attendees, or free ice cream after the disco or to donate to charity. But if you budget the other way around and only 250 people show up, then that 1,750 comes out of the committee's own pockets... (so unless you have a safety fund stored somewhere to cover such emergencies, you need to decide how much risk/exposure you're willing to take.)

Now, having the money early is useful (we can pay for the progress reports to be printed and posted, we can give the hotel the deposit to secure the booking, we can get interest by having it in the bank account) but the main reason for wanting the money early is to get a good idea about whether we're going to have a 250 or 300 person convention (or 50 or 1000!) The standard way of getting people to join early is to announce that the membership price will increase on certain dates up until the convention so they can save money by joining now! Let's assume our convention is two years away and that there are two major events (national cons, major media cons whatever) between now and our convention. We will want people at the major events to join our convention so the best dates to raise our rates is *immediately* after the big events (so people can't say that they'll send you a cheque once the next pay day has gone past, because they'll forget. Get the cheque now, and if necessary promise not to cash it until after the next pay day!). We know we want an average rate of 35FZs, and from talking to other people what the shape of the joining curve looks like (this varies depending on the type of convention, but tends to start slowly until your advertising gets out, then you get a bunch of early joiners (who either know they will definitely be coming, or can afford to buy a membership now to get the lowest rate), then you get peaks at the major events, then the curve stays fairly flat until it starts climbing as you get nearer the event. The number of people who show up on the door depend on where your convention is located and so many other factors (what the weather is like, is this a popular weekend for weddings, is there a major sports event nearby that is clogging up public transport, plus many many more!) and so it is hard to have a sensible estimate for on-the-day memberships.

So let's assume from the graphs, and from other people's experience that we'll get 30% join up in the first wave, 25% at/by each of the major events, 10% in the final few weeks and the final 10% will join on the door.

Pick rates that make giving change easy if at all possible. So let's start with a 25/30/35/40 breakdown and see how that does for 300 people. 30% (initial)+25%(first major) join at 25FZs (4125), 25% join at 30FZs (2250), 10% join at 35FZs (1050) and 10% (on the door) at 40FZs (1200) total 8625, but allowing for the 25% who average out at half price... we end up with 7546FZs which is only 46FZs more than the minimum required and if we only get 298 rather than 300 we're losing money!! So those rates will have to be higher... trying a set of rates of 30/35/40/45 gives us 8860FZ which sounds a lot, but if only 250 people join then this drops to 7383FZs so if your minimum safety number is 250 attendees then even this rate is a little low (raising the on the door rate to 50FZs gets you to 7492FZs which is close enough for me and should encourage people to join earlier, but then they are paying less so the total amount drops again...)

REMEMBER: The percentages given above are TOTALLY MADE UP! Your mileage will very definitely vary. Some conventions get a lot of members early and the rest very late, others build up gradually. You may be more certain that you're going to hit your numbers (if you run every year, and every year you sell out to the maximum capacity of your hotel, then you probably don't have as much to worry about!)

So what have we learned from this example... that setting a membership rate is not an exact science; that juggling the budget around (e.g. what guests to invite) can change the amount you require but may change how many people want to join your convention; that the Freedonian Zlotsky is a useful currency for international trade but only when converted into FCUs (Ficticious Currency Units); and most importantly, find someone who has done it before to give you advice!

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