By Daniel Gindis
* This text is written as part of the Organizing Successful MUNs ebook project.
In the summer of 2014, I was the Secretary General of a conference that, for reasons that will not be gone into in depth, was canceled three weeks before it was supposed to take place. This was a conference at which the academic staff was brought in from other universities. The general managers of the conference were students at the hosting institution, who acted as liaisons with the institution. When the institution decided that they did not want to physically host the conference, we were left with seventy or so delegates who had non-refundable plane tickets.
At this point, the Secretariat was left with the question as to whether or not we should try to create a conference from nothing. We had an amazing and dedicated chairing staff, and all of the academics necessary to run a successful conference; we were only in need of committee rooms and social events venues. The cancellation of the original conference also left us with no funding with which to run the conference.
When we decided to run our little renegade conference, we were aware that we needed venues for both the social events and the committee sessions, and that we needed to plan a conference with funding raised by charging the delegates a registration fee, which was about one hundred Euros per person, with an additional 60 Euros per person charged for the conference social pack.
We did not feel that it was fair to charge more than the original conference had been planning to, even though the conference was set to last seven days (six days of committee sessions and one beach day), with all the meals included in the registration fee. The chairing staff had also been promised free food and accommodations, all this resulting in our starting off with a very conservative budget.
With all of this in mind, we began to look at our options. We first looked for a venue at which to host our committee sessions, the foundation of any MUN conference. To solve this problem, we asked a different academic institution for the room space, and told them that we would bring with us dozens of international students, some from very prestigious universities such as Oxford University and Cambridge University. This promise got us the backing of the institution in question, as it was not a school that normally had access to students from such top tier institutions. We also arranged for them to leave marketing materials for their graduate programs in the committee rooms, and this, for them, was incentive enough to give our conference the classrooms free of charge.
While this deal with the academic institution got us the committee rooms and the staff room that we needed, it did not help us with regard to providing food for our staff or a place to host our social events. We found that if we spent half the delegate fees we could cover lunch, coffee and cookies for each day of the conference. We negotiated with the cafeteria at the academic institution and managed to obtain the lowest cafeteria rates possible by paying for food vouchers in advance. Additionally, the hosting institution managed to provide us with some free lunch vouchers with which to feed the chairing staff each day.
After we sorted out food and committee rooms, we began to look into social event venues. We went to a few clubs and arranged that they provide us with a back room for conference participants to use. We requested Monday and Tuesday nights, and looked for pubs and clubs that were not among the most popular in the city. These venues were happy to get business on the quietest nights of the week and gave us free entry on those nights. We also wanted to give everyone a real Tel Aviv club experience, if they wanted one, and managed to obtain discounts for a weekend club night. In this specific instance, we used our personal connections to come to an agreement with the club in question that we would pay the difference in fees, based on how many participants attended. This agreement ensured that we would not lose money, should few participants decide to attend the conference. As a result, when fewer delegates than expected attended the club night, we were able to take the money that we saved and put it into the delegates’ dinners.
It should be noted that personal connections can sometimes make the seemingly impossible, possible.
It should also be noted that you should not be afraid to reach out and ask people for favors; in a worst case scenario, you will be told no.
On Friday night, we hosted a traditional delegates’ dinner. In order to find a location, we spoke to the Tel Aviv municipality and asked them if there was any support for programming involving international students. We were connected to the relevant municipal department and, though they did not provide us with funding, they did give us contacts for locations and catering. With the money we saved on the social events that had taken place on the preceding Monday and Tuesday, we paid for a location and food for everyone and had a really amazing group dinner.
In addition to the dinner, we wanted to do something really special for the final social event. This came in the form of a pool party that we held on the roof of a hotel in Tel Aviv. In order to obtain this venue, we were required to pre-pay. In order to facilitate this, we took pre-registration from the delegates the day before, and if someone later decided that they wanted to attend without having been pre-registered, they were required to find someone who was not going to attend to switch with. The pool party was our most costly social event, but we were able to cover it using the money that we had managed to save as a result of our careful planning.
The final cost we had involved printing the certificates for all participants, in addition to buying gifts for all of our guest speakers. We did not completely calculate this into the budget, so we ended up spending approximately 200 Euros out of pocket to fill in the deficit. This is a small amount to pay for such a production, especially considering the last minute nature of the logistics and our overall lack of budget.
We believe that everyone had an excellent experience at HolylandMUN 2014, and that they left with an appreciation of how hard the team worked to make the event possible in only three weeks. Furthermore, some of the participants told us that, had they now known, they never would have been able to tell that the conference logistics were prepared at the last minute.
We do not wish on anyone to have to logistically create a conference in three weeks, but if it happens to you, know that it can be done.