8 ways to organize professional development events with smaller budgets

While education systems scramble to reduce costs, the quality of professional development events for educators and administrators is on the line.
Marvin McTaw
Marvin McTawhttps://sched.com/
Marvin McTaw is CEO of Sched, an end-to-end event management platform for K-12.

Inflation is at a high we’ve not witnessed in 40 years. The implications for the private sector are swift, strong, and clear-cut. The repercussions on the public sector—including school districts where budgets lag—may be even more challenging.

K-12 education has received some assistance from federal COVID-19 relief funds, but that aid stops in 2024. Now, already struggling school districts must brace themselves for even bigger budget cuts. While education systems scramble to reduce costs, the quality of professional development events for educators and administrators is on the line. It shouldn’t be.

Professional development events for educational professionals are essential for improving classroom practices, sharing expertise and curriculum ideas, boosting student success and equipping teachers with innovative ways to use technology in their classrooms. These events are also typically linked to educator compensation).

So how can educators organize effective events with smaller budgets? Here are some actionable strategies for hosting quality academic events at a fraction of the usual cost.

1. Get started earlier: Rethink your event planning timeline to maximize cost-cutting opportunities. By adding time (and effort) you give yourself more flexibility to negotiate a better price. You have time to evaluate more bids and help your vendors lock in revenue further out and thus less certain for them.

2. Increase your purchasing power: Most school districts host recurring events. This is an opportunity to leverage. By engaging one vendor for numerous events, it will be easier to negotiate a larger discount. Aside from reducing costs, you’ll also give the event planner a smaller headache. Committing to one vendor over a longer period makes logistics smoother as they become more familiar with your events.

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3. Meticulously plan logistics: Anticipate the build-up and breakdown process well in advance of your event. An effective plan will highlight opportunities to minimize your set-up. This can save you cents on venue hire by reducing set-up days.

After COVID-19, most educators are simply looking for an opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues. So, you’ll be forgiven for skipping on fancy technology and gimmicks. Go as basic as possible while still delivering on the objectives of your event.

4. Use event management software: For professional development events, the organizer is rarely a full-time event planner. More often than not, they’re part-time administrators responsible for a multitude of other professional development tasks. Thus, the time they have available for event planning is
scarce and must be used productively.

Event planning software is a terrific tool for improving efficiency and controlling costs. For example, event scheduling software lowers expenses such as posting and printing invitations, badges, and attendance lists, etc.

5. Don’t pay for unnecessary extras: Before splurging, consult your core suppliers (venue, caterers, etc.). Your vendors may have raised their prices, but they may be able to provide more value by including elements that you usually pay extra for. For example, consider asking the venue to provide audio-visual
equipment. It may not be the latest and greatest but it’s something they can easily include in their base price.

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Most event vendors have partnerships with other suppliers. If they refer you, you could be eligible for a discount. For example, dry-hire event venues usually have a list of preferred catering companies that they work with regularly. A referral gives you some assurance of vendor quality, too.

6. Serve food smartly: Catering eats a big chunk of all event budgets. Nonetheless, what you serve massively affects attendee satisfaction and comfort. This creates a delicate balancing act for any event planner.

Think about how you will serve meals. Buffets and “grab and go” are thrifty options. You’ll save on furniture rental, wait staff and a dedicated dining space. It also gives your attendees a chance to chat and stretch their legs between sessions. Meat and fish quickly increase catering quotes, but there’s no reason you can’t organize some fabulous vegetarian options and save some money at the same time. You’ll also win bonus points for being environmentally friendly.

7. Flexibility is king: Like catering, venue rental will form a large part of your budget. So, take advantage of any flexibility you have regarding the time and location of your event.

For example, hosting an event during the week is considerably less expensive than during the weekend. Feel free to ask your venue for off-peak times if you’re not sure. Also, sidestep paying for taxis for speakers and your team by choosing a venue that’s close to public transportation.

8. Host your event at a hotel: If you require accommodation for your event, consider opting for a hotel as your event venue. Typically, this would make you eligible for reduced room rates. Bulk-book multiple rooms for big groups too. Most hotels offer group discounts. Ask the hotel directly instead of booking online to ensure you don’t miss out on special rates on offer.

Don’t put PD at risk

School districts and state governments are experiencing the effects of rising inflation. As they steel themselves for increasingly dramatic budget cuts, the quality of professional development and educational events is at risk.

While battling with small event budgets, keep in mind that advance planning is the key to your success. Map your journey as thoroughly as possible in order to foresee unnecessary spending quickly. Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate and ask vendors how to cut costs. They’re also taking hits from inflation and will be searching for the best ways to collaborate with organizations.

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