Resourceful ways to stretch a small meetings budget

meetings budget

Meeting planners don’t generally lack original ideas for how to wow attendees. It’s fun to daydream about having a limitless planning budget and all of the things we could do, from infamous speakers, to the highest quality of food and beverage, and holding events in the most breathtaking destination locations and venues.

Now, back to reality. Many of us face small or shrinking meetings budgets, especially in the not-for-profit world. Here are a few ways that you can help stretch what you have in order to still bring that wow factor to your meetings.


  • Your venue – When working for an association management agency like Redstone, all kinds of suppliers often want an ‘in’ with us, because they know how many different groups we work with, how many events/meetings we put on, etc. This is a great way to develop long-standing partnerships. Is there a venue or a chain that you have often used in the past? Can you guarantee return business for them? Have a conversation about your meetings budget, and talk about what you can offer them in the future to get some leeway. Consider signing a multi-event contract to reduce the cost of one single event.
  • Your network – Look to the relationships you have in order to find some pro bono or low cost speakers and suppliers. Relationships in the industry are key for both meeting planners and speakers, who will likely look to you in the future for other opportunities. Suppliers that you have used in the past may offer client discounts for repeat business.


  • Your budget for your venue – This might seem counterintuitive because you could be limiting the number of attendees, but when you need to, use a smaller space or something outside of the city centre, which may reduce the number of guests, but which will also reduce the food and beverage you need (one of your highest costs). If your event sells out, you might actually get more interest for upcoming events and be able to expand again. You can also explore unique venues, like a golf course, which often have event space and are less expensive, and might entice guests to travel further to attend.
  • Your décor and menu – Not every event needs to be over the top. Sometimes clean colours and simple themes make for the classiest of events. Depending on the nature of the event, your food selection may be less important and can be kept simple (for example, at a networking event, versus a gala, you may be able to have a limited number of options).
  • The number of events – Not ready to sacrifice anything onsite? Maybe the answer is having fewer events, but keeping them consistent and going all out for the ones you do host.


  • Your sponsors – First, evaluate the appropriateness of bringing in a sponsor to the event you’re hosting, but for most professional development, galas or networking events, this is completely acceptable. Work closely with them to figure out where they would find value. This will enhance your event and make them feel like a true partner, and likely lead to a repeat sponsorship.
  • Your décor – Determine what you can bring into the venue, and see if you can create a few things yourself. There are several options from dollar or craft stores that could work for centre or other accent pieces. Small DIY additions done well can make a lasting impact. You may also be able to reuse signage; consider generalizing your signage (so don’t include the year or anything super specific to your event) so that it can be used again and again – saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run.
  • Your budget – Always refer back to it! Manage your committee or event chairs’ expectations from the get go. Find a budget model that works, and stick to it – and never plan an event without one!
About the author:

As Director, Association Management & Consulting Services at Redstone Agency Inc., Maddy has worked with over 20 not-for-profit organizations located in Canada and the United States as well as an international association. She is focused on ensuring her clients always receive advice based on best practices and brings a wealth of knowledge in membership engagement, CMS and website platforms, systems and processes management as well as change management. A bilingual member of the team, Maddy also has expertise in providing board and volunteer support and structuring the annual financial reporting systems of many organizations. Maddy has published articles on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, green workplaces and taking control of workplace stress. Maddy was named a 2015 Top 40 Under 40 by the Association Forum of Chicagoland and USAE Weekly. This prestigious award recognizes 40 up-and-coming association and not-for-profit professionals who demonstrate high potential for success in leadership roles and exhibit a strong commitment to the association management profession. Maddy is also the 2014 recipient of the Donna Mary Shaw Award from the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE). It is awarded to individuals in the not-for-profit sector with a passion for management and mentoring. Maddy sits on CSAE’s Young Professionals Taskforce and is currently working towards completing her CAE designation.

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