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Planning Chapter Events

This section of the American Society of Military Comptroller (ASMC) Chapter Handbook is designed to be a guide in planning ASMC Chapter Professional Development events. This section should serve as a good starting point to those of you who are new at planning and conducting chapter training events not only to plan an excellent event, one thats supports the mission of the society.

The mission of the American Society of Military Comptrollers is the continuing professional development of its members (and the professional development of those within and those who serve the Defense financial management community). If your chapter has not yet conducted a Professional Development event, you may wish to consider starting an annual training day (or days). The primary reason is to further the professional development of members and associates within your geographical region. A training event can be very beneficial to the sponsoring local chapter as well. It is an excellent way to market your organization to potential members. Also, a training event can be promoted as a member benefit as it offers education and training opportunities as well as leadership opportunities to your members. Finally, registration fees may generate additional revenues for your chapter treasury.

1. NATIONAL ASSISTANCE

ASMC National Headquarters is ready to help you. Please call the ASMC National Headquarters as soon as you begin the initial planning of your event to coordinate dates. This is important is as there are many training events competing for speakers from both ASMC National Headquarters and the Service Headquarters staff. For example, if a chapter were to schedule a training event at the same time one was ongoing in Europe or the Far East, it is unlikely that their demand for High level speakers could be accommodated. Point of contact for coordination of dates is Libby Long who can be reached at asmchq@asmconline.org or 1-800-462-5637 ext. 103. National headquarters is also pleased to participate by providing ASMC staff members when possible at no cost to the chapter as speakers on a variety of topics, particularly in areas of professional development and certification. With the advent of the CDFM certification, content of many of the ASMC training events has been and should be altered to facilitate members earning the certification. Most, if not all of the mini-PDI’s conducted now, reflect this shift and this is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. In fact, you are encouraged to invite ASMC Headquarters personnel both for certification presentations and to administer examinations.

2. ADVERTISING

There are many ways to advertise your event to your membership, as well as other interested individuals. Some examples, which will be at little or no cost to you, are your chapter newsletter, flyers distributed through designated points of contact, notices on electronic bulletin boards, and letters to other professional organizations located nearby.

Upcoming training events should be listed on the ASMC web site and your own local web site. This advertising will help to increase attendance at your event, and make it known to potential vendors and speakers. The earlier the better, since this posting will make other chapters aware of your plans and may further reduce scheduling conflicts. Visit www.asmconline.org for the national calendar of events. Again, scheduling your event at the same time as other chapters decreases your chance of successfully inviting high level officials to speak.

3. FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Occasionally, ASMC National Headquarters may provide "seed money" on a limited basis to chapters for up front expenses related to a professional development event if that chapter's treasury is depleted. A written request must be sent to the National Headquarters describing the amount needed and the planned use of the funds. A short-term loan will be provided, payable as soon as registration fees are collected.

4. ACTIVITIES WITH RELATED ASSOCIATIONS

Chapters are encouraged to plan and conduct joint activities with other professional organizations such as the Association for Government Accountants or others. However, the meeting agenda agreed on should be fully congruent with professional development needs of the DoD personnel attending. Content should not be diluted to accommodate the other organizations (or a dual track agenda should be constructed).

5. EVENT PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS

The most important thing to remember in planning a training event is to plan early. There is no hard and fast rule, but according to chapters that reviewed this document, initial planning should begin at least nine to twelve months prior to the event. Planning the event at least this far in advance will allow time to book higher quality facilities, speakers, and better publicize the event. There are many decisions that must be made during the initial planning process. The following are thoughts that might be considered, along with chapter suggestions that have worked in the past.

  1. Length of EventWhen planning a professional development event, you have a variety of options as to its length. Some chapters have held half-day, one day, two or three day Mini-PDIs. Small chapters who are attempting their first training event often opt for a half-day schedule. For example, the event can start with a luncheon followed by a luncheon speaker, and then offer two or three workshops in the afternoon. One to two day events are most common.  
  2. ThemeWhile not absolutely necessary, many chapters choose a theme for their event. Speakers and workshop topics are selected that are in keeping with that theme.  
  3. Structure of EventRegional PDI: In geographic areas where there are two or more ASMC chapters in close proximity to each other, some chapters have chosen to have a Regional Mini-PDI. There are many advantages to doing this. It assures a larger attendance, makes the event more attractive to high level guest speakers, and chapters may rotate the responsibility for planning the event each year.

    General Assembly (Plenary) versus Breakout Sessions: To maintain a higher level of interest, and to provide a greater variety of individualized instruction, chapters may want to lean away from a day-long general assembly format and mix in numerous concurrent workshops. A good rule of thumb is to use a general assembly format for keynote speakers or for topics of high interest and smaller workshops for other topics. Speakers are usually agreeable to presenting their briefings more than once, so that the same workshop may be offered in two time slots.

    Mirror Image: If the requirements of daily business demand that key offices remain staffed, consider a "mirror image" Professional Development Day. Morning workshops are repeated in the afternoon. This allows half of the attendees to be away from their desks in the morning, and the other half in the afternoon. A keynote presentation during the luncheon can be attended by both morning and afternoon participants. Some chapters often use the mirror image approach for full day sessions. A one day symposium is repeated the second day to accommodate a larger audience.  

6. COMMITTEE RESPONSIBILITY

One person should be given lead responsibility for putting together the Professional Development event and an executive committee should be set up to play lead roles in carrying out working committee responsibilities. Typical working committees include program, facilities, registration, finances, protocol, and hospitality. Smaller chapters may need to double up responsiblities. Whenever possible, have committee members that are representative of your chapter membership. (Service, job field, grade level, etc.)It is important for each committee member to know exactly what functions they are responsible for and how their role interacts with others. It is imperative that the committee members communicate well with other members. Develop a timeline chart that lists all actions and responsibilities and shows which committee member has primary responsibility, secondary responsibility, or a "need to know" on each action.  

7. PROGRAM

The most important factor in planning the program for a Professional Development event is to identify topics and speakers that will not only be interesting, informative, but will cover topics relevant to members of your chapter and support the mission of the society.

You should do a thorough needs assessment, devoting ample time to ensuring the program will be well received by your target audience. One way to find out what your group wants and needs is to conduct a survey. A survey could be distributed at a luncheon meeting or through the chapter newsletter. Another method is talking to key managers and supervisors on your installation that might identify areas in which they feel their personnel need additional training. Finally, look over professional publications, GAO reports and the like to identify “hot topics” or management initiatives that may impact on your membership.

If you have selected a topical theme, seek workshop subjects/speakers in keeping with that theme. You will also want to address current financial management issues, such as budget, fiscal law, accounting, financial systems and services, auditing, or topics related to the profession of defense financial management. Invite local commanders to your event, for a presentation on issues that are topical on your installation.

Although the majority of your workshops will be of a technical/professional nature, it is always interesting and beneficial to include some softer topics such as retirement planning, communication skills, career development, personal finances, health/fitness, etc. Local colleges and community services are good sources for these types of presentations but they should not dominate the event agenda.

When possible, vary the style of presentation. Mix an informational lecture in with a series of case studies, or an instructional course on a new system. Variety in presentation styles will help break up any monotony that comes with back to back sessions done in the same style.

There are certainly an abundance of speakers within the Defense and government community, particularly within the National Capital Region, who may be able to come to speak at little or no expense to the chapter. Look outside DoD for government speakers, such as your local IRS or VA office. Other good sources of topics/speakers come from networking with other chapter training coordinators, researching speakers from the national PDI, and searching in the corporate community. Professional paid speakers are an option; however, chapters are encouraged not to try to replicate a national PDI event. Paid speaker fees will drive registration costs up out of the range of many commands or organizations. Only the largest (and most financially well off) chapter could consider this as a viable option.  

8. CPE CREDITS

A CPE hour may be granted for each 50 minutes of participation in programs and activities that qualify. Fractional hours may also be granted if appropriate. At conferences and conventions where individual presentations are less than and/or more than 50 minutes, the sum of the presentations should be considered as one total program. For example, two 90-minute, two 50-minute and three 40-minute presentations equal 400 minutes or eight CPE hours. Sponsors of CPE programs should monitor their programs to accurately assign the appropriate number of hours. CDFM participants should receive CPE hours only for the actual time they attend the program. Preparation time for students participating in a CPE program is not counted. Further information on CPE is available under the CPE policy menu tab on the ASMC CDFM website.

9. CONTRACTING

Occasionally when conducting training events, one may need to contract with a hotel for meeting space, sleeping rooms and food and audio-visual services. While this is a common practice, what you don’t know can hurt you (our your chapter) so we asked Mr. Steve Marlin, president of Prestige Accommodations, who contracts for the ASMC PDI, to give us some advice. It follows:  

  • Force Majeur or Impossibility clause that includes “government regulation, war, terrorism or curtailment of transportation” which must be mutual. For example, if you had planned a training event the day after 9-11 when the airways were shut down, such a clause would have enabled you to get all your money back since the event would have been impossible to conduct.
  • There should be no cancellation or attrition charges for meeting space if there is already a cancellation or attrition penalty for rooms. This is a double jeopardy since the hotels’ normal practice is to give the room space free if rooms are sold.
  • Hotels must meet all standards of the Americans with Disability Act.
  • Chapter representative must confirm that meeting space is adequate and is being held for the full time period needed, including set up and tear down. For example, if there were large numbers of vendor exhibits the exhibit space might be needed the day prior to the event. The contract document must state that the hotel cannot change the meeting space without the approval of the chapter representative.
  • The contract should provide that food and beverage penalties shall not exceed 40% of the cover price of the meals cancelled. Again, be conservative in your estimates. It’s much easier to add five or ten meals at the last minute than cancel thirty or forty.
  • Contract must stipulate a cutoff date when the conference room rate is no longer available (not more that 30 days prior to the event), however, if all blocked rooms have not been sold the hotel is obligated to offer the rate until the blocked rooms are sold out.
  • Contract should have a “walk” clause. This means that your guests have priority for the sleeping rooms up to the number of blocked rooms. If the hotel is full on a given day, your attendees cannot be “walked” to another hotel. This has happened on occasion and the hotel concerned was forced to provide free transportation and other considerations to the displaced attendees.  
  • Closely examine any attrition and cancellation clauses, looking closely at the wording and amounts. Attrition refers to the guarantees you give to the hotel in terms of sleeping rooms you are going to occupy. For example, if you tell the hotel to block 100 rooms for your event and you only sell 70, what is the liability for the remaining 30 room charges? Steve says there should be a minimum allowable attrition of 15% without cost. Bottom line is not to guarantee more rooms than you actually will use. Be conservative.
  • Before you go to see and negotiate for a facility, you should make up a “wish list” – that is a list of things you are going to ask for in exchange for your business. This list will normally include free meeting space, one complimentary room for every 50 rooms sold, free or discounted parking and anything else you feel you might negotiate successfully (free coffee breaks, butcher charts etc.).
  • Another real money saving is gained by using government, chapter or private audiovisual equipment as opposed to renting from the hotel. AV equipment rental cost has skyrocketed with the advent of computer projection units and can easily eat up any extra funds you might make, as you will see when you read the rental charge sheets. Often, an expensive rental is avoided if a presenter is asked to work without charts, many of which do not add greatly to the delivery.
  • Finally, become aware of the seasonality of the hotel industry in your geographic area. Certain days of the week, certain weeks of the month and even certain seasons are slow, and hotels will not only welcome the business with open arms, but are willing to provide more attractive prices and free items to fill the gaps in their meeting schedules. You can save a lot if the dates of your training event are flexible.
  • The bottom line is you won’t get anything unless you ask, and there are usually alternative sites in this competitive field so hotels are willing to negotiate, within reason, as long as they can still make a reasonable return. Negotiate gracefully, since you may be back on the very same doors.  

10. SETTING THE PRICE FOR ATTENDEES

One would expect that since we are in the financial management business, this would be the easiest part event planning. Just add up all the costs, figure a percentage for fund raising and divide by the number of folks who are going to attend. Unfortunately, this does not always work, and for a number of reasons, some of which are laid out below.  

11. HOW TO ESTIMATE THE NEED FOR REVENUE

How do you plan the bottom line? A training event must not be expected to be the thing that makes a sick chapter’s coffers financially well. On the other hand, it should also do better than just break even. According to generally accepted practice, there must be a “reasonable relationship” between the price charged to attendees and the costs incurred in conducting the event. For example, the DoD has become very reluctant to support conferences where the bulk of the speakers are free but the registrations costs mount to several thousand dollars. The key here is the term “reasonable”. If you plan to use the event to support a scholarship, most persons would feel that this was reasonable. If you have a 200% ratio of income to costs, most would feel this was unreasonable.  

  1. Identify total costs ahead of time:
    There are many hidden costs involved in conducting a training event. The most obvious costs are easy, printing, meals, refreshment breaks and the like. These will be specified in a contract document and will be clear, but there may be others like costs for processing credit cards, emergency copying at the hotel and the like should be noted during the planning process. Make sure you also include any gratuities and state and local taxes noted in the contract. These are normally above and beyond the base costs of the meals and refreshments listed. If there are going to be exhibits, some hotels charge to set up electric power and in at least one case, specified union labor must be used to set up the exhibits (and later billed for this even though people set up their own). This is a difficult chore but will pay off later when it comes time to settle bills. No surprises is what you want to achieve! Often the hotel event staff can be very helpful with this so be sure to ask.  
  2. Who can sign the hotel contract?
    This is a matter which must be decided by the chapter officers in advance and in writing so there are no misunderstanding and no conflicts. It must be clear to the hotel that this contract does not obligate the United States Government in any way, nor does it obligate the National Headquarters of ASMC. It is the chapter’s alone.  
  3. Out of control spending:
    Make it clear to all committee members that there are strict spending limits for such things as printing, audiovisual, meals, and put one person (yourself or the treasurer) in charge of pre-approving all expenditures. Ensure the hotel knows that if a request is not approved by that person, the hotel will not be paid. This includes phone charges, use of the machines in the business center etc. These can run up at a seemingly astronomical rate. Never use a government charge card.  
  4. Corporate support:
    What can you accept in the ways of corporate largesse as you plan and conduct the training event? Many of our corporate sponsors are only too pleased to help out in any way they can and they make many positive contributions. The key to accepting such support is appearance. While it is true that you take off your government hat and are a member of a private, nonprofit organization, you will still be seen in your official capacity. If a company which desires to support the event is one in which you or your membership employ as contractors in their offices, any way influence their funding levels, or the awards of their contracts, the appearance of conflict of interest will violate government ethical standards and will compromise your professional standing. Again, a reasonable level of support from a benevolent corporate member can be a fine thing. Be aware of what others think. If you would not want your peers of bosses to know about the gift or if you feel uneasy about it, best to pass it up.  
  5. Overly optimistic attendance estimates:
    Be brutally conservative when estimating numbers. In addition to general revenue shortfalls, the charges for uneaten meals and unsold rooms will ruin your event! Remember it is always easier to add than to subtract.  
  6. Unnecessary AV costs:
    Every presenter loves the PowerPoint presentation delivered through a laptop, a LCD projector to a large screen eating up the dollars as it goes on. In reality, many use charts as props and very few add much to the presentation. If you put one system in every breakout room, your costs will climb by as much as a couple of thousand dollars, with dubious results. Be very careful in approving these expenditures.  

12. EVENT PLANNING TIMELINE

The following is a chronological guideline in planning a professional event. As every event is different, the times suggested in the guideline may need to be conducted earlier or later when planning your event.  

  1. Eight to Twelve Months Prior to the Event 
    • Select date for event.
    • Formulate a committee.
    • Establish overall program goal and objective.
    • Develop program content.
    • Initiate communication with potential guest speakers.
    • Consider cost factors of speakers and facilities.
    • Interface with Installation leadership and membership.
    • Designate action/responsibility of each committee member.
    • Develop marketing strategy.
    • Design registration and payment process.
    • Develop budget for event.
    • Select and contract facility.
    • Make arrangements with facility on providing morning coffee/light breakfast, lunch, and audio-visual equipment.
    • Determine logistical requirements.
  2. Three to Seven Months Prior to the Event 
    • Send written confirmation to speakers who have verbally accepted invitation. Request any need for lodging/travel arrangement assistance, audio-visual equipment, etc.
    • Distribute advertisement fliers to chapter POCs.
    • Determine per person registration cost.
    • Prepare registration procedures and open for enrollment.
    • Conduct site visit with facility.
  3. Two Months Prior to the Event 
    • Send invitations to VIPs, local chapters or other professional organizations in area.
    • Obtain mementos/gifts for guest speakers.
    • Request slides/bios from guest speakers.
    • Prepare agenda for attendee package.
    • Request certificates of training from National Headquarters, or design your own.
  4. One Month Prior to the Event 
    • Check with installation security office to determine procedures for individual installation access if the event is to be held on base.
    • Send an agenda of event to each guest speaker and inform them of security procedures to get on base. Provide a cell phone number where you can be reached if the speaker encounters trouble gaining access to your installation.
    • Arrange for escorts (if needed) for out-of-town speakers.
    • Select chapter members to introduce each guest speaker.
    • Appoint people to provide audio-visual support if required.
    • Prepare program folder (agenda, speaker biographies, handouts, critique sheet).
    • Purchase and prepare name tags for registration.
    • Arrange for a photographer to be present at event.
    • Visit facility to ensure it will accommodate seating, acoustical, and meal needs.
    • Arrange for head table at meal for speakers/special guests.
    • Procure audio visual equipment as required by guest speakers.
    • Prepare name plates for reserved seating.
    • Order any needed signs for event (registration, directional)
  5. One Week Prior to the Event 
    • Provide list of persons (with necessary personal identifying information) who need installation access to security personnel.
    • Make telephonic contact with guest speakers for any last minute needs.
    • Make up a sign-in sheet of all registered participants.
    • Arrange for all committee members to visit facility to become acquainted with the layout or make any last-minute checks.
    • Prepare program folders.
    • Inform hotel of any special need attendees.
  6. Day of Event 
    • If applicable, check with security personnel at all installation gates to ensure access roster is available to all gate guards. It is most preferable that one of your members personally meet each such speaker and escort them through security.
    • Set up and manage registration table.
    • Have a quick committee meeting to go through days activities.
    • Set up separate table for handling problems/distributing membership applications.
    • Have program booklets on a table outside entrance.
    • Have sign-in sheet available with pen/pencil.
    • Chapter President/designated person should make administrative remarks at beginning.
    • Present mementos to speaker following their presentation and have photographer take picture of this presentation.
    • Provide audio visual assistance if necessary.
    • Have attendees turn in evaluation sheet prior to close of day.
    • Designated person should make closing remarks and thank key people at end of day.
  7. After the Event 
    • Provide CPE letters to confirmed attendees.
    • Sign and date DD Form 1556 for attendees and turn into Personnel Office, if applicable.
    • Send payment checks for use of facility, mementos, guest lunches, etc.
    • Prepare thank you letters to all guest speakers.
    • Review critiques.
    • Write after action lessons learned paper to be used by next year’s committee.
    • Determine how to use any profit income from Mini-PDI (e.g., scholarships, community charities, etc.)
    • Submit necessary paperwork for chapter competition.
    • Submit photos to Armed Forces Comptroller.

 

We hope this information is useful and that you have many successful training events. We invite your comments and suggestions for the improvement of this document. Please send to asmchq@asmconline.org c/o Libby Long or call 1-800-462-5637, ext. 103.

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