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How To Start a Con: Staffing Structure (Part 8)
Posted Sep 13, 2010 - 10:39:21

Original No Brand Con StaffThis is part eight 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

In earlier installments of this series I've covered the basics of building an organization and getting them experience, but I haven't really talked about how you should actually structure said organization. In this installment then I'll talk about how to setup the structure that actually runs the convention machinery.

...or something. I can't really come up with a better metaphor right now.

There are a few different philosophies out there on how to set up a con staff, and I admit I will likely only be covering the way I think it should be done. So be aware that there are successful conventions that don't set up their structure like this at all. That said, this is the dominant model in the con scene I've been most involved in, so that's what I'm going to cover.

Clear Leadership
Most conventions I've worked with have either been Non-profit or student endeavors, and therefore have a leadership elected by the organization as a whole (the top officers serving as the organization's board of directors in the Non-Profit model). At the top of your leadership tree is your Con Director/President/Chair/Grand Pooba. Regardless of what title you give them, they are your central point of management. They are in charge of making sure the wheels don't fall off, and that everyone is doing their job. You will also need major division heads like a Treasurer, someone to manage Events, someone to be in charge of Vendors, etc. In your early years, you will likely have people doing more than one job. In No Brand Con's first year, I ran our website, was our workforce manager, put together a lot of our advertising, produced our official art, designed the badges, and probably about twenty other things I can't think of. It was the same situation for many other staffers that year, but that's just the situation most first year cons can find themselves in.

Deep Tree vs. Shallow Tree Structure
In your first year convention this may not be an issue (because you have a tiny staff), but in the long run you'll have to decide whether or not you want your convention's structure to be a Shallow Tree (where everyone answers directly to the con director) or a Deep Tree (where you have mid-level managers). I personally favor a deep tree structure, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

If your staff is small, you may want to stick with a shallow tree, as you honestly don't have enough people to justify a complex structure. Even if you've grown larger though, a shallow tree means the Con Director can directly oversee everything without worrying about the perception filter of anyone else. It also means that the Con Director has everything on their own plate directly though, and as he or she probably wants to have an actual life, this can be quite daunting.

With a deeper tree, you have mid level managers to help with the work. By having your Events Manager and Treasurer overseeing different departments you free up the Con Director to worry about other things. In this system the Con Director still oversees these departments, but can also delegate these responsibilities to others. This is not about disconnecting the Con Director, but instead giving him or her options. Maybe there's a portion of the convention that needs the Con Director's attention more than another - in that case, this structure makes sure nothing else is falling between the cracks. No Brand Con (currently) has a fairly complicated structure with the three mid-level positions being Treasurer, Events Manager and Director of Development (a position your first year con probably won't have). Some departments answer to multiple people for different reasons though, and the tree looks like this:
No Brand Con Staff structure
Click Image For Larger Version

You don't need to go this complex for your first year convention, but this is what it may eventually look like ten years down the road.

Central Authority vs. Committee
Balancing the authority given to the Con Director versus the authority held by the central organizing committee is a difficult one. On the one hand, you don't want to end up with a central dictator, making all decisions without any checks. On the other hand, by having a committee decide everything, you'll never get anything done.

The ideal state is to balance these priorities.

In the end, minor decisions should be made by the Con Director (or respective subdivision) without needing to go to the committee. These include website design, advertising choices, and spending made within the budget of a subcommittee (like prizes being purchased for a tournament). Major decisions though, like what weekend you're actually holding the Con, who you're inviting as guests, and major capital purchases should be approved by the committee as a whole.

So, for example, the committee votes to invite a guest (and pay their appearance fee). The Committee heads then, within their budgets, purchase the plane tickets, hotel rooms, and meals for the guests under their own authority.

Now, medium priority decisions are where things get complicated. In the end, I've always preferred to let the elected heads make most of these decisions, but with the committee retaining the ability to override the decision (like if the Events Manager decides to schedule the Cosplay contest for noon on Friday). Normally they won't have to do anything of the sort, but it keeps people in check.

In the end, don't feel stuck with your structure though. No Brand Con for example has gone through about five different versions of its structure over the last decade, the current model only on it's second year (a variation of a model introduced four years earlier). At the end of every con, prior to electing new people, you should analyze how well your system worked that year, and whether or not you need to make changes. Do you need to combine roles? Do you need to split others? If you're a growing organization, you're a changing organization. And a changing organization needs to be adaptable.

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

Post a Comment
Is it ok if you wanted to keep the staffing level at a very small size just to avoid some of those complications? Like have only like handful of those positions on the model istead of that huge one. And is it ok for the Con Director to be a Treasurer too?
The chart I show is an example of a mature convention's staff structure.  Honestly a first year con will likely have nowhere near enough staff to fill that many positions (although they will have to have people covering that many jobs).

I reccomend seperating treasurer from con director if only because these are positions which take up a lot of time, and it provides a check on the system for two people to be thinking about the money.
(Sumire - for some reason your comment was blank, so I deleted it)

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