Non-Profit, Pro-Revenue: Making money in the not-for-profit sector


It’s that time of year again: More financial considerations for not-for-profit meeting planners.

I’m not sure what it is about this time of year, but at the end of the summer season my financial concerns are always top of mind. It might be due to the timing of client budget planning for 2019, or that I’ve overextended my own budget from summer weekends trying to make the most of this nice weather (as I tell myself), but in past years I’ve written about succession planning for organizations with small budgets and resourceful ways to stretch a small meetings budget.

This time around, I still want to address some of the financial differences that are important to plan for with non-profits as a meeting planner, but I want to put a more positive spin on it, because many of them can be turned into advantages for the organizations we work with if you can manage to plan ahead for them.

Registration Fees

There is generally more sensitivity around registration fees for events run by not-for-profits than in the corporate world. Keep in mind what the industry itself can bear — what are similar organizations charging for their registration fees? What’s the usual demographic for the event? Delegates, and particularly members who are also paying their annual dues, may understandably scrutinize fees and wonder where their dollars are going. They may actually look for more value on site, as they may not realize that for some organizations a large event is the biggest fundraising source for them. It may need to do much better than just break even in order to sustain the operations year-round.

Money Matters

Some may shy away from labelling a not-for-profit or association as a business, however, I feel it is best explained this way so that your team understands that it’s not just about breaking even, but about generating enough revenue to reinvest into the organization. You may not even be able to start the planning next year’s big event until you know you’ve made enough at that year’s. The best way to address reactions to a strong surplus or increase in registration fees is to clearly explain where registration fees or membership dues are going, whether it is other events, new initiatives for the organization, delegate or member value or simply to the operations of the organizations. A little transparency goes a long way.

Meeting on the Cheap

The Canada Not-for-profit Incorporations Act requires not-for-profits hold an annual general meeting of its members. An easy way is to ensure you have your minimum requirements of members (quorum) to hold your meeting is to combine it with an event that you predict to be successful, such as an annual conference. By doing so, you’re also more likely to save on cost, since you can piggy-back the meeting as either part of a keynote or meal at the conference. Keep this and other business meetings that might be taking place in-person around that time of year, in mind when working with the venue, A/V company and other suppliers on site. More often than not, they are willing to throw in meeting space or other services at a discounted rate if you’re already using the space for several days and bringing in a considerable amount of business.

There are a number of factors to consider when planning an event for a not-for-profit when it comes to their budget and their financials, and reasons that go beyond the bottom line as to why it matters to you as an event planner. Ultimately, how you predict, and then plan to spend, your net revenue is important for everyone involved to be aware of.

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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