Pardon me while I go "Inside SHRM" for a bit.
We are currently in the heart of conference season for many SHRM State Councils. Illinois had a successful conference last month. Florida and Ohio just wrapped up their strong events. Wisconsin and Texas are about to embark on their conference adventure. For most state councils, the state conference is THE primary mechanism for raising dollars to support many of their state HR activities. For many local SHRM chapters, conference support is a strong economic driver.
For my state, Wisconsin, this is definitely true. The state council receives 50% of whatever profit a state SHRM conference generates. The remaining 50% gets split up in a variety of ways. The co-chairs each get 20%, which goes to the professional chapter they belong to, committee members each have a certain percentage that goes to their respective chapters, and a certain percentage gets shared with the chapters based on the attendance of their chapter at the conference. All in all, some significant dollars exchange hands.
This all serves as prologue to a Twitter conversation I had with the inestimable Steve Browne over the weekend. He was making a valiant effort to try to bring state conference volunteer community together over Twitter, writing, "After a successful #OHSHRM, would like to personally connect w/ folks who are w/ other State #SHRM conf so we can promote each conf, DM me." I replied, saying it ought to be SHRM directing this effort.
In a little under two months, I will be attending the SHRM National Leadership Conference in Arlington, VA. for the 11th straight year (You'd think I would know more about Leadership after all this time, but I must be a slow learner). As always, it is an excellent opportunity for various state and local chapter leaders to get together and learn how to benefit their respective groups (and Dave Ryan does a fine job discussing it today). In exchange for their dedication, a significant number of leaders get to attend for free, and SHRM has always been commendable in their efforts in this arena. However, one group is conspicuous in their absence - State Conference Liasions and Conference Co-Chairs.
I've served in a variety of roles on the WI SHRM State Council (Foundation Director, College Relations Director, District Director), and have served on our state conference planning committee for the past four years (including a stint as co-chair). SHRM does an excellent job in bringing together similar Core Leadership Areas together to share best practices in those areas. However, in my 10 years attending the SHRM National Leadership Conference, I recall very little time or energy being dedicated to building a successful state conference. Even with sessions dedicated to high performing state councils, the voice of the state conference liaison or conference co-chair was seldom heard.
I understand that the SHRM National Leadership is already significantly large. I also understand that the Volunteer Leaders' Resource Center has a number of items to help organizers put together an excellent conference. But, is it time to provide the similar support that is given to Core Leaders to those that provide the biggest economic impact to the State Councils and professional chapters - the Conference Liaisons and Conference Co-Chairs? The call for support and community is there.
ADDENDUM: One point I didn't emphasize enough earlier is that the entire conference committee is made up of VOLUNTEERS. It is volunteers who put together the programming slate. It is volunteers who work with exhibitors and vendors to fill the exhibit hall. It is volunteers who help put together the conference publication. It is volunteers who work with the hotel and convention center to make sure rooms are correct.
As Mark Stelzner suggested in his excellent piece on "the Conference Economy," costs are often exorbitant, and you may have volunteers who are new to the committee trying to negotiate and work deals out with the host site. In Wisconsin, one has to have served on the conference planning for at least a year before taking the reins as co-chair (though more time on the committee is preferred). It is also hoped that you have some staggered terms on subcomittees (such as exhibits), so that there is someone experienced in a support position, and there is continuity, but this does not always occur. We hold a transition meeting every December, but is that sufficient? Where is the training and support from SHRM to help in the process?