first time budgeting an academic event? read on…

If you’ve volunteered to organise an academic event it’s going to raise your profile amongst the researcher community, give you lots of opportunities for networking and it will look great on your CV.  There are a number of factors which can determine whether or not an event is successful, one of which is bringing the event in on budget.  If it’s your first time budgeting an academic event here are a few tips (in no particular order) which may help:

  • Don’t procrastinate – the sooner you start to plan your event and your budget, the more time you have to refine your plans and source information, the better the end product will be.
  • Define what kind of event you want to host and who your audience will be. Once you have this information, you can start to get an idea of what costs will be involved. rawpixel-com-579241-unsplash
  • Create a spreadsheet – record everything on it and this will become your best friend. As long as you keep accurate records of your income and your expenditure your budget should be fine.
  • What do you want to include in the programme? Make a list of all possible expenditures and split them into categories e.g. venue, AV, catering, printing, speakers, etc.  Each item in every category needs to have a separate line on the spreadsheet so that you can track the cost – you can never have too much information when it comes to the budget.
  • Research – get quotes and definitive prices for every items on your list. Seek advice from people who have planned similar events before.  Are there established/preferred suppliers you should use?  Be realistic with the prices and don’t under-price to make your budget look good.  It will only work against you in the long run.
  • Find out if suppliers will be charging VAT on top of the prices quoted. Not all suppliers make this clear and the additional costs can mount up.  Make sure that you include the final total amount of each item in your expenditure.
  • If you’re providing catering/refreshments at your event, it is often recommended that you book for 75% of the expected delegates as there are always people who can’t attend on the day. Look for suppliers who offer the best value for money; this doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest.
  • Find out exactly what funds are available to you; has your faculty/department allocated money to contribute to the costs or are you expected to generate the income yourselves by charging a registration fee? Reflect on the proposed programme and identify non-essential areas which could be removed without affecting the overall experience of the participants.
  • If you decide to charge for places will you provide discounted or free places to organisers and/or speakers? Discounted/free places need to be factored into your budget and you must ensure that the cost is covered by the sale of other places.
  • Create a contingency fund (at least 10% of your overall budget) for unforeseen costs. Don’t be tempted to dip into this for anything other than an emergency.
  • Make sure that all of your organising team knows what the total budget is. It’s a good idea for one person to have overall control of the budget and approving the spending of other team members.
  • Set a deadline for registration. This is probably a really obvious suggestion, but doing this will help to avoid last minute bookings and you’ll know the number of attendees your budget has to cover.

The tips above are by no means the only way of doing things, but they might just get you started on developing your own successful approach to budgeting an event.  Feel free to share your own event budgeting tips in the comments below.

A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of the University of Sheffield’s Doctoral Times Magazine.

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