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Association Management

30 Ways to Save Money on Your Next Association Event

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks May 25, 2023
Table of Contents
5 min read

Events are a great member benefit but can become a huge expense without proper planning. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to run an event without some spend. Venues, booking vendors and speakers, ordering banners and signage, etc all cost money. BUT—good news!—there are ways to cut back on your budget while planning.

Earning money from events

First off, it’s important to remember that running events—although they cost you money—will actually earn you money, too. Ticket sales should help recoup some of the cost. Of course, free events aren’t included there. You can also earn added revenue from sponsorships and selling ad space on things like your conference app.

With that in mind, though, let’s get to the list.

Top tips to save money when putting on an event

1. Know your budget.

Before you even start any of the planning, know your budget and divide it into different buckets (food, venue, etc.) so you can keep priorities in order.

2. Plan your event early.

When vendors still have a lot of availability, they are much more willing to work with you on price and may be able to include a few “extras” at little or no cost.

3. Be flexible on dates.

Rates can vary greatly by the time of year, the day of the week, etc.

4. Get at least three estimates on your big expenses.

This includes the venue, catering, and printing. Vendors may offer better pricing when they know they are competing for your business. (And you may be surprised how much pricing can differ for similar services.)  

5. Think local.

Choosing a venue, speakers, and other vendors that are local can save you big money on travel costs.

6. Consider partnering with an up-and-coming caterer.

If you have flexibility for choosing an outside caterer, offer to promote the caterer alongside your event for a reduced rate. But be sure to get references and sample the food before committing!

7. Consider hiring a meeting planner.

While this is an additional expense initially, often their expertise can save you money in the long run. They’ll help you make the right decisions the first time, know what vendors provide the best deals, and know where there’s more room to negotiate on price.  

8. Get your venue for free.

Many venues will offer their space for free if you meet food and beverage minimums, so be sure to ask.  

9. Limit promotion of your event to email, social media, and your website.

Create an online communications strategy that builds excitement! An effective online campaign can allow you to do without any mailed pieces, eliminating printing and postage costs.

10. Reuse materials from previous events.

Do you or your venue have table decorations, linens, or other items from another event that are in good condition and can be reused? You can save a lot of money by using items more than once.  

11. Only pay for the audio/visual that you NEED.

This is one category of costs that can add up fast! Talk to your speaker(s) and find out their requirements before purchasing or renting more equipment than necessary.

12. Go mobile where you can.

If your event requires a lot of materials, you can probably save by putting them on a cloud drive (or even a mobile app) rather than printing them. And, your guests will thank you when they don’t have large packets or binders to take home with them.

13. Rethink all of your events over the course of a year.

Would it be more cost-effective to have a few large ones, or many small ones? Do the math and come up with a schedule and budget that meets the needs of your members and makes sense financially for your organization.

14. Apply fees to last-minute cancellations.

This will eliminate unforeseen reimbursements that hurt your bottom line.  

15. Use economical paper stock for your programs.

It’s unlikely your participants will be concerned with the thickness of printed materials, and it can add up to significant savings.

16. Go buffet style.

Serving in a buffet line rather than plated is often more cost effective – food-wise and service-wise.

17. Use sponsors.

Your events provide access to lots of professionals, and companies want to get in front of these people – so create a proposal and reach out!  

18. If you have a bar, limit the number of drinks per person.

Also, you can limit what type of drinks you have to beer, wine, and maybe a signature cocktail or two. There will likely be something to please everyone, without the cost of a full open liquor bar.

19. Check out local deals on group activities.

If you have some sightseeing or other event planned, look for opportunities for group discounts.

20. Negotiate on everything.

While it can sometimes feel uncomfortable, it’s the norm in event planning. And more often than not, there’s a bit of wiggle room in pricing.

21. Look into bulk pricing.

For example, can your venue also supply the catering and AV? Are you hosting your event at a hotel where guests will be booking rooms? You’ll have more room to negotiate when you’re spending more money with one particular vendor.

22. Give attendees free time.

Attendees want time to explore on their own, and that’s good for you because you don’t have to foot the bill! Consider keeping evenings open for attendees to go to out dinner and explore the town a little. (Just be sure to provide them with some affordable suggestions!)

23. Consider purchasing AV equipment that you’ll use more than once.

Often, the cost of rental can almost equal the cost to own. Just make sure you have a backup plan if something breaks or doesn’t function correctly.  

24. Think green.

Consider cost savings that also help the environment. For example, offer hydration stations using water coolers rather than bottled waters and sodas. You’ll save money and many attendees will appreciate your efforts to go green!

25. Plan multiple events at once.

Do you have four events this year? Contract with the same vendors for multiple events for deeper discounts.  

26. Use smaller cups for beverages.

This may sound silly, but a gallon of coffee can go for up to $100/gallon in large metro areas. Using a 6oz cup rather than 8oz or larger can add up to significant savings.

27. Have a dessert or snack break in the afternoon.

Desserts at lunch often go uneaten, so saving dessert (or other snacks) until the afternoon can be practical if your guests are starting to get hungry again. Make them grab n’ go for convenience!

28. Ask for internet rates to be reduced or waived.

This is something venues are often willing to throw in at a discounted price.

29. Use volunteers where you can.

Rather than hiring outside help exclusively, ask your members for help. In exchange, offer them free or discounted registration (or some other benefit).

30. Increase revenue.

Sell speakers’ books for a percentage, produce online conference presentations that can be viewed online for a fee, etc. There are a ton of ways you can add alternative revenue streams to offset event expenses without increasing attendee costs!

Wrapping up

Successfully planning an event (and staying within your budget, especially) is all about the details. Here’s a few more resources to help you plan the best event ever.

Everything you need to know about event feedback surveys

4 tips for maximizing your conference experience

Growing your membership with events

7 ways a conference app can add value for your event

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.