Why is the PMA charging conference volunteers a $175 event fee?

As any savvy business person knows, an event like the PMA’s Annual Meeting is extremely expensive to produce. Even if a lot of income comes in, a lot of expenditure goes out.

One of the biggest expenditures for the conference is “Food & Beverage.”  This is an expense that the PMA incurs for every person in attendance at the event, whether they’re a paying delegate, a sponsor, presenter, vendor, or a volunteer. The fact is, the cost per person exceeds $350/person for the whole event. Anyone not experienced in producing large events at convention centers, resorts and hotels, might think that figure is unrealistically high. However, it is not unrealistic. It’s a reality. And every year the “F&B” charges just get higher. It puts the PMA in a pressured situation with regard to coping with this expense as it relates to volunteers, as there has been no income from volunteers to offset the cost.

We looked at how other organizations handle their volunteers, and whether or not any participation fee is charged, and we found some examples.

Yoga Journal charges their volunteers. They call their volunteers ‘Work Exchange Participants’, which is quite an accurate term. This is a quote from their website re: their April 2017 event in New York City: 

Work Exchange/Volunteer Program
Join our Work Exchange Crew and help us put on a successful event! Work Exchange Participants do not register for classes but can participate in classes on a space-available basis when not fulfilling their assigned duties. Work Exchange Participants pay a nominal fee to participate. Positions are limited; apply early.

That’s just like the PMA!

Then there is an organization called Service Unites (www.volunteeringandservice.org), and their event is called Points of Light

“Points of Light’s Conference on Volunteering and Service provides the singular opportunity for thousands from around the world to come together to shape the future of volunteerism. As the world’s largest service-related convening, it brings more than 3,500 nonprofit, government, business and civic leaders together to gain and share knowledge, resources and connections needed to galvanize the power of people to create change globally.”

This organization, whose focus is volunteering and service, charges the volunteers at their own event:

Some organizations such as the American Occupational Therapy only gives volunteers access to trade show, not workshops. Our volunteers not only can participate in workshops, but earn many CECs!

Another factor affecting the PMA conference is that we have a tremendous number of complimentary registrations. In 2016 it was 38% of total registered. That comprises volunteers, presenters and exhibitors. Cvent, the company that provides our event registration software and has insight into this issue with the many conferences and events they administer, told us that roughly 50% of their non-profit clients charge volunteers a nominal event fee to participate, and what the PMA has decided to do is common. They also commented that having 38% complementary registrations was an extremely high proportion, and that they did not know of any other organization that allowed so many participants to come to the event on that basis.

In the end, no matter what others conferences are doing, the PMA has to look at what’s required to run our event in a manageable way. We look at both how to increase revenue, and also how to decrease costs. A $175 event fee is a contribution to the PMA’s direct expense per volunteer, but does not even cover 50% of what the PMA pays on a volunteer’s behalf.  In the end, we feel confident that if a person wants to come to the conference, enjoys being part of the event and enjoys being part of a volunteer team, and wants to earn CECs, they can do it for a vastly reduced fee from what a non-volunteer delegate pays. $175 is less than a quarter of the early bird price for members – it’s a very big discount.

Our volunteers are an essential and highly valued part of our conference production team. We enjoy seeing many of the same people return year after year to volunteer at this incredibly complex, exciting educational event. We feel sure that given their experience ‘back stage’ at the PMA conference, they will easily comprehend the necessity for a contribution toward their food and beverage costs.

I hope this provides some useful context for this decision, which we feel is a necessary one. If you have questions or would like to communicate with us about this, please email Lorilee Levy, Professional Association Manager at lorileel@pilatesmethodalliance.org.