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How To Start a Con: Building an Organization (Part 2 of Many)
Posted Mar 26, 2010 - 8:18:52

An old con photo from the archivesThis is part two of an ongoing series, so you may want to read from the beginning, or check out the index of all installments of "How To Start a Con" first

Every convention, big or small, starts with some sort of planning committee. This dedicated group of staffers are the core backbone to making a convention work, and if you can't get that to pull together, you aren't going to be able to run a convention. If you can pull that together though, you just might be able to pull things off.

...and have an excuse to wear matching T-shirts.

The key to forming a solid committee is, unfortunately, luck and who you know. I alluded to it in part one, but the factors you need to analyze are:
1. Having friends to work with
2. How much Convention experience do they have
3. What kind of social organizations are you involved with.
4. If you need to, what kind of social organizations can you start.
When I talk about the first two, it's really going to depend on your social circle. That's right, you're going to need to be social. If you aren't a social person though, it makes me ask why you're starting a convention... as it is an inherently social event.

The convention work experience said social group has though is where the luck comes in. Do you know people who have spent time working cons? If the answer is "yes" then you are all set. If the answer is "no" then the first thing you need to go out and do... is get experience. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get solid picture of how a convention operates, even if it's only the practical "day of the event" part (as planning for most cons is a year round activity, volunteering can only give you a fraction of the picture). Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer. Since most cons will let you get in free as a Volunteer, it's also a great way to go to conventions for cheap too -- so consider it for that alone.

Oh, and totally volunteer for No Brand Con. We always need the workers.

Now the easiest way to find people who you can sucker... I mean "convince" to join you on your convention founding quest is to be a part of a social organization, like an Anime Club, Gaming Guild or Science Fiction Fanclub (as this advice is intended for starting any kind of Fandom convention I won't be picky here, but it should be the relevant fandom to what you're starting -- I don't recommend trying to convince the local Gardening Club to start a Star Trek con).

If you're not a part of one of these organizations, you need to join one.

If you're a college student, finding one should be pretty easy. It's likely your campus has at least one place where your fellow geeks gather. If you're not a college student, things can get a bit harder. There are plenty of Science Fiction groups across the country, but many have an aging and shrinking membership. As the culture of fandom has moved online, fewer and fewer of the new generation have joined the old organizations over the last decade and a half.

This is not to say that these older organizations aren't worth your time; they very much are. I spent a good chunk of my latter teenage years enjoying my time spent in the Milwaukee fandom scene. On the other hand, the groups I was a member of... don't really exist anymore (ironically, the only group I never joined is still chugging along - never doubt the resilience of Doctor Who fans).

If you can't find one of these, then you have only one alternative: Start one.

Starting an organization can seem daunting, but it's very much doable. If you are a college student, and you have friends with similar interests, the task is fairly straight forward. You're in a University or college, so take advantage of it. Many a good con was started by an Anime Appreciation Society or a Gamers Guild... or both. College organizations also have the advantage of free meeting facilities and possible discounts on space (if you choose to host your event on a campus -- but we'll get to that in my entry on location). You also can get away with not incorporating immediately when you go the college route.

If you're not a student, then things can get a bit more complicated. Meeting locations cost money, so unless you're willing to meet in someone's house, you'll probably be required to charge membership dues. Before you actually start the convention, you'll likely also have to incorporate (I recommend as a Non-Profit Social Organization). This can also make it harder to recruit members... which you'll need before you ever start the actual planning of the con.

Here's how things happened No Brand Con: Out of the original core staff, two of us had extensive convention experience (my having volunteered at cons for a good five years or so and Kevin having co-founded and run a small Science Fiction convention previously). All of us were members of an informal social organization dubbed "Otaku Anonymous" that meets on the UW Eau Claire campus. OA is jokingly referred to as a Secret Society, and at the time only about half of the membership were current students of UWEC. Because we didn't want to formalize our organization, we decided to start a new one.

Thus the Anime Appreciation Society of UWEC was born.

This allowed us to recruit members, get meeting space, and gave us some legal structure including access to a University account for our money. It also allowed us to accept checks written out to us immediately as well. It's a good route to go if you're in the position to swing it. There's a reason why all of the successful Wisconsin cons created in the last decade have been based around University organizations.

For those of you who read my blog and are afraid that this series is going to take over this space entirely, don't worry -- my next entry will be a regular one. Think of this as what I'll be writing on the days when I can't think of anything else to put into words.

Continue onto Part Three or go to the How To Start a Con Index
- Traegorn

Post a Comment
So AAS was a trap after all! ;cD  Where was Ackbar when I needed him to warn me about that?
AAS was nothing but a front organization in its early years.  These days it's a full fledged organization that actually does things... but not so much back then. :P
AAS was originally conceived as a front organization, but those of us directly involved in starting the AAS portion of the whole NBC timeline made a point of creating an actual organization.  And while a lot of spillover happened between the organizations, AAS and OA remained two distinct and fully functional organizations (or disorganizations in the case of OA).  Getting an advisor and drafting a constitution that would pass muster with Student Senate was no small task either.  They don't take kindly to front organizations.
And the record for number of uses of the word "organization" in one post goes to Teh Meep.
Yeah, I didn't go into too much detail on the University orgs because that's going to differ by campus... and by the time I got to the examples, I was already over 900 words, so I decided to keep it briefer. :P

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