Annual FNPS Conference


Goal

FNPS conducts an annual conference to fulfill its mission. This conference provides educational programs and field trips for the membership and the general public. This conference moves around the state in order to provide the variety of members an opportunity to attend a conference close to home. The conference is generally hosted by one or more chapters who can inject their own local flavor and share their special talents. The host chapter(s) can show off their local native plant projects and local native plant communities to fellow members. The Society provides oversight and supplements the needs of the hosting chapter(s). The annual conference provides a key opportunity for members to connect and share information and collaborate on the activities of the Society. Additionally, the Society recruits new members through reduced conference fees. The conference can also provide critical training opportunities for landscape architects and landscaping and land management professionals. Several central FNPS activities occur each year at the conference, including a board of directors meeting, the annual membership meeting, announcement of grant and award recipients, and election of new officers.

Organization

Schedule & Venue
The conference typically is held in May on the weekend between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. Dates are somewhat dependent on availability of conference space in the hosting community. The official conference begins with fieldtrips on Thursday, offers plenary sessions, concurrent sessions and social events on Friday and Saturday, and ends with fieldtrips on Sunday. Throughout the conference, vendors offer participants access to native plants and nature-themed, books, arts and crafts.
The conference venue is identified at least one year (and usually more) in advance to ensure availability and time for contract preparation. Conference venues have varied. However, the ideal venue is at a university interested in partnering with the society for the sharing of information. The university can present their research to an interested audience and the Society provides an engaged audience and appreciates the benefits of the reduced venue fees. It is a win-win situation for all. Alternatively, conferences have been held in convention centers, community colleges or other public venues, depending on fiscal or logistic issues. The venue selected must offer sufficient space for plenary and breakout sessions and exhibits. As an added benefit, universities can offer low-cost housing in the form of dorm rooms. If dorm rooms are not available, then a nearby hotel offering rooms for under $100 should be arranged. Holding costs down is critical to a successful conference and for fulfilling the Society’s mission.

Responsibilities

FNPS bears the ultimate responsibility for the annual FNPS Conference. The Society is ultimately responsible for all programs, finances, contracts, and programs. The Society is also ultimately liable. The Society provides insurance for the conference, and the Society is ultimately responsible for payment of expenses related to the conference.
The chair of the annual conference committee sits on the FNPS Conference Committee and is the head of the Conference Committee for the year of the conference (terminating as chair at conclusion of the conference). Co-chairs are allowed, especially when multiple chapters serve as host. The Society’s Executive Director is contracted to act as a “Conference Planner” to assist the annual conference committee, coordinate with the FNPS Conference Committee, and report to the Society’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors. The Chair of the Society’s Science Advisory Committee and the Chair of the Education Committee also sit on the FNPS Conference Committee and assist with design of the conference program. The Science Advisory Chair has primary responsibility for the “Research Track” of the conference. Other members of the Conference Committee are the FNPS elected officers and a past host chapter conference chair.
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Chapter Participation

The Society partners with one or more chapters to identify appropriate conference venues, develop programs, and put on the conference. In return, the host chapters spotlight their projects and local areas and play a major role in the design and implementation of the conference. While the Society holds the major fiscal responsibility for the conference, any revenues from the conference above expenses are shared with the host chapters. Both FNPS and the host chapters must use any such revenues to further the mission of FNPS.

Budget

The conference budget is developed with the FNPS Treasurer and must be approved by the FNPS Board of Directors. This is normally accomplished with the approval of the annual FNPS budget. The conference budget forms a major component of the FNPS budget. The FNPS Vice President of Administration must approve the major contracts (such as the venue, most grants, and/or hotel contracts). The budget is developed by the Annual Conference Committee with assistance and input from the FNPS Conference Committee and Executive Director. Key revenue areas include conference fees paid by participants, grants, conference donations, sponsorships, vendor tables or plant sale plots, rebates from the hotel, and proceeds from specific money-generating activities such as a silent auction or merchandising. Revenues do not include non-monetary, in-kind donations. Expenses primarily consist of meeting space rental, food and beverage, audio-visual charges, honorariums, scholarships, and contractor fees for registration and planning services. The goal of budget planning is to maximize revenues so that the conference contributes to the FNPS operating funds for the next budget year while keeping costs as low as possible while fulfilling the Society’s mission.

Revenue Sharing

Conferences provide a major non-dues revenue source available to support FNPS and chapter projects consistent with the FNPS mission. Revenues are defined as all income minus expenses. Conference revenue is shared with the host chapter(s) as follows:

Sponsorship revenue — Chapters receive 10%

This sum is divided evenly between those chapters participating fully in the successful planning and implementation of the conference. A lesser percentage may be applied to those chapters not fully participating (based on the percentage of work completed correlating to the size of the chapter). The FNPS Conference Committee shall determine if a chapter is not participating fully and determine a percentage that more accurately reflects the chapter participation. This decision may be appealed to the FNPS President. If the annual conference loses money, sponsorship incentive income will not be paid to the chapters.

Net conference revenue – Chapters receive 15%

The 15% is calculated after the deduction of the 10% sponsorship revenue payment to the participating chapters. This sum is divided evenly between those chapters participating fully in the successful planning and implementation of the conference. A lesser percentage may be applied to those chapters not fully participating (based on the percentage of work completed correlating to the size of the chapter). The FNPS Conference Committee shall determine if a chapter is not participating fully and determine a percentage that more accurately reflects the chapter participation. This decision may be appealed to the FNPS President. Vendor fees, plant sales, T-shirt sales and other merchandising, door prizes, silent auction, etc. are recorded as conference revenue. If the annual conference loses money, the chapter revenue incentive income will not be paid.

Sponsorships

Sponsorships are solicited from Chapters, individuals, member businesses, and organizations and businesses locally and statewide. The hosting Chapter(s) reach out to local entities, and sponsorship opportunities are advertised on the FNPS website and in all conference materials. Benefits for levels of sponsorship are determined by the Annual Conference Committee, and range from advertisement space in the conference program to complementary registrations and vendor space. In recognition of their work to identify sponsors, host Chapters receive sponsorship incentive income as described above under revenue sharing. Sponsorship levels should remain fairly constant from year to year to provide a sense of consistency across FNPS conferences.

Fundraising & Merchandise

Conference planners often plan creative ways to raise additional revenue for the Society during the course of the conference. Because of restrictions associated with the FNPS 501(c)(3) status, raffles are disallowed because they are considered “gaming” activities. The silent auction however, has become a FNPS tradition, and typically raises quite a bit of money for the Society. Items are contributed to the silent auction by Chapters, companies and individuals throughout the state, and are put on display throughout the conference where participants may log their bid and follow the progress until the auction comes to a close. Items have included photography, artwork, jewelry, rare books, equipment for the field, and consumables such as local honey. Host Chapters may also offer conference merchandise, such as conference t-shirts, hats, license plate holders, etc., for sale at the conference. If the merchandise is purchased by the Chapter and sold at the Chapter Table, the Chapter would retain the revenue. Otherwise, all conference-related merchandise sold is added to conference revenue. In recent years, other Chapters are invited to bring merchandise for sale at a Chapters table, with proceeds benefitting the individual Chapters.

Registration

Marketing and registration typically begin by February 1st. Then, six to eight weeks prior to the conference, the advertising push begins (generally mid to late March). The early registration discount generally ends a month before the conference begins. The conference section of the FNPS website is populated with current information by either the Annual Conference Committee Chair or a designated webmaster. Registration should be online, but forms should be available for download. Registration should be open until the onsite registration is available. A conference postcard is sent to the postal address for each member to indicate registration is open and when early registration ends. The postcard should also direct members to the FNPS website. Registration is managed as developed by the FNPS Conference Committee.

Scholarships and Waivers

The FNPS Board of Directors may provide for reduced fees and scholarships for the conference as follows:
  • Members who volunteer at the conference at least a half day shall receive the remainder of the day for free.
  • Generally speaking, everybody must pay to attend the socials.
Scholarships consisting of conference registration fees and/or shared hotel/dorm space may be available for university students. The number and cost associated with scholarships shall be in the budget. Priority for scholarships will be given to students who are Endowment Award recipients presenting the results of their research at the conference. Generally speaking, scholarships are handled by the Science Chair.
Speaker compensation will be handled on a case-by-case basis. When necessary, honorariums should be limited to travel expenses. In any event, the expenses must be included in the budget or approved by the Board of Directors. It is expected that the majority of speakers and field trip leaders will be conference participants who will be thanked with free registration for the day they speak or lead the field trip.

Operations

The annual conference is a major undertaking and requires ongoing planning and troubleshooting to ensure a successful event. In addition to fiscal planning, program elements must be planned and supported adequately to provide a high-quality experience for participants. Many skill sets are necessary. The FNPS Conference Committee is designed to support the needs of the Annual Conference Committee by providing resources and talent as needed and to fill in gaps as needed.

Volunteers

Volunteer roles are central to the conferences success, both before, during and after the event. While host chapters shoulder much of the burden, the FNPS Conference Committee will include members from throughout the state capable of lending their skills and energy to ensure a successful conference. Those wishing to volunteer should contact the FNPS Conference Committee Chair well in advance. Key roles include, but are not limited to:
  • Sponsorship recruitment
  • Conference marketing
  • Development and production of conference materials
  • Audio/visual support
  • Registration desk
  • Youth conference/public outreach support
  • Workshop management and CEU processing
  • Vendor coordination and support
  • Session hosts and moderators/emcees
  • Venue liaison, food and beverage management
  • Merchandising and fundraising activities
  • Field trip leaders and coordinators
  • Off-site social event coordination and hospitality

Students

Participation of students in the annual conference is encouraged as a means to promote FNPS and our mission. Marketing, therefore, should include relevant departments of colleges and universities throughout the state. The Science track often features student papers, and hosts a poster session for student work. Students often offset the expense of participating in the conference through volunteering, seeking scholarships or sharing lodging. Creative ways to increase the involvement of students include offering free conference registration with a paid student membership.

Partnerships

Depending on the community, there may be individuals who can be invited to the conference to strengthen their relationship with FNPS, or to provide the opportunity to communicate their endorsement to participants. The mayor or other elected official, for example, may provide a greeting at the opening session. The directors of local parks and preserves may receive special invitations that highlight conference activities of special interest.

Programming

Workshops and CEUs. Special workshops by experts tailored to professionals or amateurs are often offered in addition to conference sessions, and might require pre-registration and an additional fee. These workshops are typically held on Thursday and Sundays. In recent years, certain Continuing Education Credits for specific professions, such as ASLA and FNGLA, have been available. Attracting and influencing these professionals is in line with the FNPS mission. Therefore, no additional fees may be required for these, although that is at the discretion of the Annual Conference Committee. Workshops and eligible sessions are identified, and processes put in place to meet the documentation requirements of these programs.
Youth Conference/Public Outreach. To facilitate family attendance and to take advantage of the select group of scientists and academia at the conferences, youth, family or public outreach events are encouraged on Friday and/or Saturday. Activities should be varied and participation should be low-cost or free.
Keynotes. At least one, sometimes more, keynote addresses are offered in plenary sessions. These speakers are usually individuals of some celebrity, sometimes from beyond Florida’s borders, that provide inspiration and novel insights regarding native plants. The annual conference committee invites keynote speakers and negotiates the fees. Again, the money must be in the budget or approved by the Board of Directors. When speakers are authors, they may participate in book signing as part of the program.
Science track. The Science track is devised and managed by the Science Committee, and it offers presentations that expand the research base on Florida’s native plants. This track generally consists of invited papers, project reports by past winners of Endowment awards, and submissions resulting from a call for papers sent to university departments across Florida. A science poster session is also offered giving emerging researchers an opportunity to discuss their projects. The poster session should be located near the Science Track, but away from through traffic.
Other tracks may include:
  • Conservation track. As the name suggests, this track offers presentation on conservation issues and efforts. These talks range from the political to practical; that is, from trends in Florida’s policy to best practices in land management. This track is likely to highlight successful restoration projects, as well as examples of threats to pristine ecosystems.
  • Horticulture track. These sessions are typically related to use of native plants in human landscapes, and are often of great interest to the general public. Topics include cultivation, landscaping, butterfly or bird gardening, etc.
  • Society operations. The annual conference offers an opportunity for members to share information about different aspect of Chapter operations, as well as provide input into FNPS operations as a whole. To facilitate information exchange, the conference offers a track of sessions moderated by FNPS standing committee chairs. Depending on the pressing issues of the Society, training may be offered for Treasurers, guidance for advocacy, or discussion of membership recruitment. Because members may not want to miss exciting conference information, these sessions may be held during lunches or after the programming day.

Socials

Social events are offered each evening during the conference, and often are held at a local facility of interest to participants, such as a history museum, a preserve, etc. The first evening welcoming get-together is typically a casual one; on Saturday night there is a banquet, sometimes with a program, such as the landscape awards. Friday night’s activities vary from year to year, both in elaborateness and cost. Every year there is an immensely popular plant ID competition during an evening social. Participants can compete for prizes at different levels, team up, and generally learn a lot about the plants of the region.

Field trips

Structure. Many participants say that field trips are their favorite part of the annual conference. Selected and planned by the local Chapters, field trips offer the opportunity to experience new places and ecosystems with expert guidance that focuses on the interests of the Florida Native Plant Society. Field trips address a variety of interests, from scientific to horticultural and range from strenuous to easy. Some last just a few hours, some are all day.
Given their popularity, field trips are offered on a first-come, first served basis once registration opens, and popular ones soon fill. Field trips have separate fees that must be pre-paid. Most field trips and workshops are suitable for families with children 12 and older. Some trips may not be; the conference brochure field trip descriptions will allow parents to decide. Participating children must register for the conference (either Youth Conference or regular conference at student rate). Family/household memberships entitle children to register at student member rates
Liability. FNPS provides insurance to cover the conference and conference-associated activities. Additional insurance is required for the renting of vehicles, etc. That said, participants at the conference, on conference field trips, and at workshops are ultimately deemed responsible for their own well-being. FNPS will provide liability release forms which must be signed by participants in field trips and field-based workshops to the host chapter for the registration process. Each field trip should have its own version, edited as appropriate, with signatures of all attendees. The host chapter sends these to FNPS Conference Committee after the conference.

Vendors

Each conference features a host of vendors who sell native plants, nature based art and books on topics of interest to participants. Host Chapters invite popular vendors from previous years and consider applications of new ones. Each vendor signs off on an agreement detailing fees, set-up times, and other specifics pertinent to that year’s event. Vendors pay a set fee for their space. Only Florida native plants are offered for sale, and growers typically represent the region where the conference is held. Each conference sets aside an area for plant sales, and positions vendors where conference participants can take a break from sessions for some shopping.

Conference Manual

A manual has been developed to assist the FNPS Conference Committee, the Annual Conference Committee and others assisting with the annual conference. It is customary for this manual to be passed from one conference Chair to the next with suggestions and comments being added over time. The latest available manual is attached here as a pdf file. (NOTE: Conference manual is currently under construction.)