• Melissa Walton-Jones

Finer Finance Fridays #10 - Part II

Happy Friday (Saturday)!!! Last week, we talked about the REAL Cost of Membership. Part of that is the cost of Event Planning and Management, i.e. (that is), the Cost of Conferences! As I mentioned last week, standardization and consistency across the sisterhood is imperative, especially to the end that it is the RIGHT thing to do and especially if it helps us cut costs, while still being able to accomplish our goals and fulfill our mission of being "community-conscious, and action-oriented".

We MUST consider operational and supporting financial decisions that are flexible enough to evolve with the needs and desires of the sisterhood, now and for future sustainability. Now, I am sure I am going to step on some toes with this edition of Finer Finance Friday, but that's OK. If I wasn't up for the challenge, I wouldn't be seeking your support and vote for this office. It is more important for me, for us, to stand for the RIGHT rather than for the might.

This year, many members of another D9 organization decided not to attend their National Convention, in Las Vegas, NV. It was a week long convention (7 days), August 3rd- 9th. Their regular conference registration ranged from $530 for Collegiate (Undergraduate) members to $575 for Alumnae (Graduate) members, in case you were wondering. They also offered ala carte options for other events:

Disclaimer: ***This information is public knowledge.

The optional ticketed events had to be purchased at the time of registration and could not be purchased by delegates, separately. The costs of the Greek Step Show and Collegiate Luncheon were included for Collegiates. So, if you wanted to completely turn up for this conference, and attend all the events, it would've cost between $795 (Collegiate) and $965 (Alumnae). It appeared that only one meal was included, which was their Regional Luncheons, all other meals appeared to be "on your own" unless you purchased the optional event tickets. I could be wrong, but that's how the itinerary reads. Based on the cost of registration and optional events, not including the cost of travel, lodging, and the meals not included, the costs of this National Convention, for one Alumnae member, could have easily been $3,000. So, one might completely understand why thousands of their members were in an uproar and decided not to attend. Apparently, this is much higher than they have paid in prior years, and Las Vegas is one of the least expensive places to go (as a tourist) in the US. They have great deals, for the average person, all the time.

Now, this organization, on average, has about 13,000 members attend their National Convention. In comparison, we have a little less than 3,000 members attend Boule' in a key election year (that's another blog post all together).

So, using the D9 organization as an example, why is it that the cost of conference registration continues to rise? And for members of Zeta, again, depending on your state and region, you could be out of up to $5,500 during a Boule' year. The other organization has an advantageous model compared to ours, as they do not hold "Regional" meetings during the same year as their National Convention. Each state has participates in a State Cluster and Mock Convention in preparation for their National Convention. Imagine that.

Remember what I said, We MUST consider operational and supporting financial decisions that are flexible enough to evolve with the needs and desires of the sisterhood, now and for future sustainability. We don't need to recreate the wheel in order to do this.

The cost for Zeta's regular registration has been $600 since the 2012 Grand Boulé. The length of the Boulé has gone from seven days to roughly five days if you attend the Pre-Boulé NEB meeting. That's all great, but it causes one to wonder, if the cost of registration for the 2018 Boulé (today), is about the same as it was for the 2012 Boulé (six years ago), was it the right price then, and is it the right price now? In 2016, the Boulé made a net profit (after all expenses were paid) of approximately $500,000. That's an interesting thing to consider. It is an indication that the Boulé registration was more than it should have been, or that we cut corners to save on expenses, rather than put the money into a valuable amenity for registered sorors who would've received the benefit (like free in room/ conference WiFi, or additional floor mics during plenary sessions). It could have been a welcome reception for delegates or a special event for our Undergraduates, or it could've meant that Life Members didn't have to pay for their own luncheon/ mixer, or that there was no additional cost to attend the Amicae luncheon...... This type of savings, after two Boulés with the same registration amount, might also indicate that our expenses in 2012 and 2014 were very high (they were, #fact). There are many ways to analyze and make assumptions about the financial outcome of previous Boulés. These are all speculations, but in any case, accurate numbers don't lie. Let's see what financial results the 2018 Boulé will bring.

Our money is hard-earned, and we need to ensure that we get the best value for it; and we need to know, see, and be able to experience what we are paying for. Based on your feedback, for a great many of you, it seems that's not the case, and oftentimes you leave a conference wondering what it was you paid for or wondering if you paid too much.

Conferences (on all levels) are expected to pay for themselves, at least, that is what I have always been told, and that's what I believe. The organization should not be expected to turn a sizable profit from a non-profit leadership conference. Conference registration isn't intended to make-up for losses related to operational expenses or gross negligence of the finances. That is what fundraisers, lines of credit, and loans are for (if they are properly approved by the body). Conference budgets should be shared with and approved by the sisterhood prior to any expenditures. It's a bit backwards to ask the membership for approval of a budget during a conference in which expenses against the budget have already been incurred. It is possible to plan ahead and forecast a budget for future years, and get approval in advance. For profit corporations and other not for profit organizations do it everyday. Why can't we?

The fact is, we can. We just don't, or at least we haven't...yet.

As your next Tamias, I assure you, I will be avidly involved in the budgeting process, looking out for your best interest, reducing costs, but not cutting corners for amenities that are valuable to you. I will advocate for operational and conference budgets on every level of the sorority to be reviewed and approved by the membership prior to the start of the relevant sorority year/ conference. YOU must advocate for the change you want to see as well. In your chapters, states, and regions, and at the National level, your vote is what drives the change. If you don't want conferences during a Boulé year, properly submit the proposed amendment and vote for the change. Alternatively, actions speak louder than words.

The aforementioned D9 organization heard the cries of their membership loud and clear, and extended their regular registration through the late registration period, when the cost for late registration had previously been higher. They understood what having thousands of members absent from a conference meant for their conference budget. A conference just isn't a conference, if no one attends. The bottom line is, it's our money sorors, we have a right to speak up about it and we have a right to know what we are paying for; before we are obligated to pay for it.


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Soror Melissa Walton-Jones, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

2020 Candidate for Re-Election: International Tamias