How to Plan a Conference Budget

How to Plan a Conference Budget
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Hosting a conference can be an exciting undertaking. However, if you fail to budget properly for your event, your excitement can quickly turn into stress and potential catastrophe. Preparation and a keen eye on anticipated expenses and income will keep you from wondering before, during or after the conference whether you have enough money to cover the costs of the event.

Create a list of expenditure and income categories for your conference. This list will vary by event but should include items such as facility rental fees, guest speaker fees or honorariums, entertainment, catering, marketing, decorations, paper and printing costs, security, and insurance. Income will include things such as registration fees and sponsorship of the meeting.

Make a preliminary budget based on the number of attendees expected and cost estimates. Write down the maximum amount that you think you are able to spend for each category. When writing down the amount, also note which categories have expenses that are “fixed” or “variable.” Fixed expenses will have a set price Variable expenses are those that can fluctuate based on attendance. An example of fixed expenses are insurance, speaker fees and facility rental fees. An example of variable expenses are the cost of registration materials, or of food and beverage.

Set a preliminary registration fee for your conference. If you have available the number of people who attended the previous conference hosted by your group, use that as a baseline when estimating how many people will attend this conference. When determining the fee, be sure that the registration amount, multiplied by the number of guests, covers expenses such as paper and printing costs for the attendees' welcome packet, badges, meals and refreshments. It also must cover the fixed costs, such as room rental and speakers' fees.

Calculate your projected income and prepare to adjust if the income and expenses do not align. For example, if you anticipate $20,000 in income and $22,000 in expenses, look at ways you can trim costs, starting with the variable expenses. That could mean anything from eliminating a welcome gift as the attendees check in or switching from a hot buffet breakfast to a continental breakfast.

Finalize your budget after you have registration totals. Divide your total expenses by the cost of registration to determine how many attendants are needed in order for a profit to be made or to break even. For example, if your expenses are $22,000 and you have a registration fee of $35 per person, then you will need 629 attendees to cover your costs. If you do not have enough attendees, then you must review your expenditures to determine some of the further cuts you can make to bring down expenses.


  • Be realistic and honest about expected attendance. Inflating the numbers can have a devastating impact on your budget.