Final Report on ICSAA 2018

This is the official accounting of the 2018 International Conference of Secular AA that was held in Toronto, Ontario from August 24-26, 2018. The original document may be found at the Secular AA website.

CHRONOLOGY

  • Toronto Bid Committee established – March 2016
  • Bid presented and awarded November 2016 in Austin.
  • First Toronto Committee meeting December 2016 with Toronto area Board members (Carol, Nigel, Martin) plus Joe C.
  • ICSAA Toronto 2018 set up as a Canadian non-profit corporation with Directors– Carol, Nigel and Martin – February 21, 2017
  • Bank account set up – February 2017
  • Border and Immigration Control discussions – February 2017
  • Program committee set-up – February 2017
  • Hotel Contract signed – March 3, 2017
  • First Hotel deposit paid April 13, 2017
  • Conference theme decision – April 2017
  • Registration form drafted by Committee – July 2017
  • PayPal Account set up – August 2017
  • Registration opened – September 15, 2017 (in conjunction with hotel rooms being available for booking and SOAAR occurring)
  • Draft Program to Board – February 2018
  • Speakers and workshop leaders confirmed and Program published – April 2018
  • Second Hotel deposit ($10,000) paid May 29, 2018
  • Event insurance purchased – July 9, 2018
  • Menu choices determined with Hotel – August 1, 2018
  • Final food numbers to Hotel – August 22, 2018
  • Final Hotel invoice paid – September 21, 2018.
  • Final Accounts prepared – March 2019
  • Shutdown of bank accounts and Corporation – March 2019

COMMITTEE STRUCTURE – MEMBERS & RESPONSIBILITIES

Toronto Committee – Carol            –          Chair and Program Chair

   Nigel            –          Treasurer, Newsletter, Co-Chair

   Martin          –          Friday evening program

   Joe             –          Outreach and Promotion

   Faye            –            Extra-conference activities

   Diane          –            Program scheduling

   Bob              –           Volunteer Coordinator

The Toronto Committee met on several occasions in full, as well as communicating regularly by email and phone. Committee members Faye, Diane and Bob were added as members as additional responsibilities and tasks became apparent.

CONFERENCE VENUE

 The conference was held at the Marriott Downtown Hotel. The conference was held on the lower level which included the ballroom as well as five smaller meeting rooms (50 to 70 persons). The contract also included a registration area and locked cloakroom, as well as a separate Board room which was available throughout the conference.

The venue was the only one available in the downtown core with the capacity for the conference as 450 registrants were expected at the time of negotiating the hotel contract. It is to be noted that there were comments made after Austin that people would have preferred to be in a downtown location to avail themselves of the city’s attractions.

PROGRAM

 The Program Committee initially was set up with Carol and Geri (Secular AA Secretary) as members in February 2017. Diane P. joined a month or so later. The Committee was tasked drafting Conference Guidelines and with drafting the actual program. The Committee put together a document including suggestions for workshop topics and speakers. In March 2017 the Conference Chair sent an email to the Board members asking for suggestions for the theme. The theme “Inclusion and Diversity” was chosen in April 2017 and publicized thereafter.

Postings on the Secular AA Coffeeshop with the instructions to send workshop ideas to the Program chair together with the email address resulted in many suggestions being received throughout the balance of 2017.

The Program Committee came up with a draft program in early 2018 and distributed to the Board for input. There was much discussion about the qualifications necessary for speakers, however these issues were eventually resolved.

The program was published in early May 2018 on the SecularAA websites. Revisions and substitutions continued for some months, and the Schedule was revised numerous times as people changed their topic or their availability.

OUTSIDE RESOURCES

Tourism Toronto were a helpful resource and provided guidance to the Committee as well as maps and brochures which were available at the registration desk.

The Marriott hotel liaison complemented this resource as well as providing facilities for registrants to obtain information.

DONATIONS

Donations Received

Donations were kept in a separate bank account as we were told that they were exempt from taxation. The total amount of donations received was $9,427.08.

That amount was made up of contributions from:

Individual – $1,789.39; AA groups – $ 2,100; Ontario Secular AA roundup – $400; Secular AA from the 2016 Austin Conference – $5137.69 ($4000 USD)

There was much discussion about the SAA donation which was part of approximately $7,000 US carry over from the Austin conference.  The consensus board decision was that this money’s purpose was to help with the 2018 conference and it would be ideal if this amount were to be available for the 2020 conference as well.

The SAA donation was critical to the venue setup as it was used almost exclusively to pay $5000 for the initial Marriott hotel deposit in April 2017. Without that donation, there would have been insufficient funds to pay this down payment and it is possible that we could not have booked the venue.

Donations Spent

It was decided by the Secular AA board that we would offer ten free conference registrations by a lottery. However, the process of administering the free registrations was challenging.

The initial e-mail shout out elicited fourteen names of which one was not considered due to the threatening nature of the response.

Out of those ten people randomly picked from the list, six responded that they were not coming to the conference anyway and declined, begging the question as to why apply in the first place?

Another shout out at local meetings and a local Rehab collected another eight responses of which only four actually attended.

Another six people who had paid and then were unable to attend donated their registration fees. We also took $580 in one day registrations which was included in the donations pot.

In the end the donations were transferred into the main conference account and were used for the payment of the Hotel Account.

REGISTRATIONS AND HOTEL ROOM BOOKINGS

Pre-registration for the Toronto event started at the Austin conference before any concept of pricing for the event was settled.

We were given a small amount of data regarding the registration sequence for the 2016 Austin conference and this was used to guide our expectations for Toronto.

It would have been very useful to have had a better breakdown of the Austin registrations particularly about the fact that 40% of the registrations occurred in the last two weeks to the conference. There was no data regarding registration at the conference, nor demographic of the attendees.

Up to four months out, the registrations for Toronto matched the Austin numbers almost exactly but then slowed down. The final numbers were 436 for Austin and 240 for Toronto.

After the initial enthusiasm of Austin, the Toronto attendance targets were realistically reduced a few times. The registrations also fluctuated with people paying then not being able to attend and those were offered a near 100% refund.

The Toronto hotel contract required the purchase of 300 room nights by the individuals attending with a penalty cut off below 240 (80% of the target).  It is to be noted that this requirement refers to “Room Nights” and not “Bookings”. As most people stayed at least two nights, the target was more manageable once this was determined. This was achieved five months out and was a great relief for the organizers.

The Hotel contract provided that if we did not fulfill 240 room nights (80% of the contracted number) then we would be charged the difference between the actual number and the contracted number at the specified room rate.

Although we reached the target of 240 (and then 300) it is imperative to remember that people cancel.

The hotel contract also included a payment in kind of one hotel room night price per forty hotel room nights booked.

The fluctuations in registrations in the last month before the conference were seen when the maximum room night bookings reduced from 363 down to 318 at the time of the conference. That meant that our hotel payback was reduced from nine rooms at $225 each ($2,025) to seven rooms ($1575) on our final hotel invoice.

The main volume of post-Austin registrations was collected via PayPal and although the charges were high at $1123.13, the process was pretty seamless and the tracking was excellent.  It is uncertain whether the process could have been done cheaper but it seemed to be the price one had to pay. There were a few people who had a moan about the ethics of PayPal but generally these concerns were resolved.  A few on-site registrations were collected with a Square card reader which had a few teething issues with set up but worked in the end. The reader has been forwarded to the Treasurer for future use.

A day rate of $35 was charged for those attending either Saturday or Sunday. The decision was made by the Board to have no charge for the Friday program.  

INSURANCE

Most of the potential insurance scenarios were covered in the hotel contract but on checking around, the SAA board decided to take out a $2M event liability insurance policy for the event. The cost was $257.90 and was actioned against. 

FINANCIALS

 The final financial summary for the conference is as follows:

INCOME

Initial SAA money -: ($4000.00 USD)                   $   5,137.69 CDN

Income from Registrations & sales -:                    $ 32,918.63

Donations -:                                                              $   4,289.39

HST reclaim  -:                                                          $   1,648.05

Miscellaneous (Interest / Final bank balance) -: $      385.05

TOTAL INCOME -:                                                  $ 44,373.81

OUTGOINGS

Hotel conference venue / food / Suite -:              $ 35,519.63

Admin fees (Bank, PayPal, Corporation) -:          $   2,038.06

Printing Supplies and Merchandise -:                  $   2,517.91

Event Insurance -:                                                    $.    257.90

Non–Hotel A/V Rental -:                                          $.    727.04

Outreach -:                                                                $.    773.70

Repayment to Secular AA  ($1852.75 USD) -:    $   2,539.57

TOTAL OUTGOINGS -:                                          $ 44,373.81                                      

The repayment to SAA would have been $1992.81 on a constant exchange rate basis.

PROMOTION/MARKETING/OUTREACH

  • Hospitality Suite Ontario Regional Conference – March 2017 and March 2018. It is difficult to quantify the benefits from this event.
  • Table at SOAAR – Information on the conference was available. Registrations were taken.
  • Secular AA Coffeeshop – Members posted on the Coffeeshop about the Conference.
  • Podcasts on Beyond Belief – Carol M. did two podcasts with Beyond Belief, in December 2017 and April 2018.
  • Articles in AAAgnostica – Joe C. contributed an article to Agnostica.
  • Postcards – Postcards were distributed to meetings throughout North America and England.
  • Sale of T-shirts – Thirty-six T-shirts were ordered with the conference logo and information on the conference. The sale of T-shirts started at SOAAR (September 2017). The balance of the T-shirts were sold at the Conference, and indications were that at least another twenty-five T-shirts could have sold. The cost of the T-shirts was $13 for a total of $500 with a selling price of $20. These funds were deposited into the conference bank account.
  • Buttons – 250 buttons were ordered and distributed free of charge. Additional buttons could have been distributed or sold at the conference.
  • Newsletter – Nigel was the editor of six newsletters which were distributed via the Secular AA website, the Conference website and the Secular AA Coffeeshop. The newsletter distribution was approximately 1,000 people by email and registrations spiked after each newsletter so this is an excellent means of outreach and promotion.
  • Posters and flyers as well as button and postcard designs were available for download on the SecularAA.com website. The intention was that local members and groups could download and distribute such material.
  • Attendance at Events – Joe C. made several trips to AA events with buttons and postcards.
  • ICSAA Toronto Facebook page – This was created about three weeks before the conference with the express purpose of welcoming people to Toronto and providing information and links to attractions in Toronto as well as a means of communication once people arrived.

RECORDING

 The amount of $5 was added to the registration fee with a note that it was to include “Audio Recording of Conference.”  It may have been unclear to registrants exactly what this meant. Our decision was that we would record the conference ourselves, rather than hire an outside entity that would provide CDs after the conference for sale. Our suggestion is that the recording of the conference be included in the registration fee. The intention was that volunteers would assist in recording. This should be organized well ahead of time so that a few people do not end up doing all the work.

AUDIO-VISUAL

The initial hotel A/V contract was $4,782 including HST which include equipment rental. The actual cost of the hotel A/V was $2,655 including HST and which mostly was spent on the technician labour costs which was non-negotiable when using the Hotel sound system.  We spent $727 including HST for equipment rental resulting in a total for A/V of $3,392 including HST for a savings of $1,390 over the initial estimate.

CRITQUE/SUGGESTIONS

  • Hospitality Suite – The cost of the hospitality suite was $752. It is unclear how much use was made of the Suite and whether this was a good use of resources.
  • Chair and Program Chair should be two different people
  • Take-home merchandise – T-shirts and buttons – people like to have a            memento of the conference so consideration should be made of the number of these type of items to be ordered. Also asked for mugs/pens.R
  • Recording – The recording of the conference should be included in the registration fee to reduce confusion.
  • Free Registrations – It is the way of AA to assist members to attend conferences if they cannot pay but the whole experience defied all sensible logic in its administrative execution. Discussion should be had well ahead of time as to how to organize and publicize this.
  • Reporting is crucial – It is imperative that a full summary report highlighting the good and the bad be available to the next Conference organizers. We made some errors due to not having sufficient information available from previous conferences.
  • Refund policy – A policy on refunds should be established and publicized at the time the registration commences.
  • Hotel Contract Obligations and Alternative Accommodation – When the 300 room nights had been filled, the committee started to give advice to potential participants requiring cheaper accommodation elsewhere. Since the primary concern is to meet the hotel obligation, this information should not be encouraged by the organizing committee rather left to the individuals as the committee is not in the accommodation recommendation business.
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martynieski
martynieski

There should be no waiver of registration fees. It seems to me, if one can afford the room rate, they can afford the registration fee. Maybe it could be done at the group level. Over all we thought the whole conference was well done. Congratulations!