Migration:  Volunteer vs. Professional Management

Every so often, the idea of enlisting a professional convention manager vs. continuing to use COPA volunteers resurfaces. And, I thought that I’d create a separate thread so the conversation doesn’t (continue to) hijack our general thread regarding CPPP planning and execution. I’m about to leave for a day of flying - dropping off N857CD for maintenance and then giving a Flight Review and an IPC will keep me from the keyboard for awhile.

The folks in the aforementioned thread had good points IMO. And, both point and counterpoint have been discussed previously on this forum. Unfortunately, our “corporate memory” is sometimes short, and I readily admit that I’m still challenged by our forum’s search function. However, even I found lengthy conversations on the topic. [:D]

Lest anyone think we are ignoring them and are overly content with the status quo, I initiated a conversation with a professional convention manager back in Dec. 2015. (And, the conversation continues…) The individual I spoke with has been doing this sort of work for many years … and quite successfully. On the other hand, our COPA team also has an outstanding track record … and thanks to the volunteer nature of the current approach is about $30K cheaper in terms of management cost! Our typical registration is less than 400 members or so (with 40% being spouses). (That doesn’t include exhibitors or speakers.) It’s easy to do the math.

One of many financial considerations is that the major registration cost driver has nothing to do with renting facilities, equipment, or on-site transportation. It’s food. Meals are always expensive. Even “sumptuous munchies” at COPA Cabana (with a cash bar) is over $100/person. Think about the fact that we usually include three group meals as part of our 3-day venue, and you begin to see a baseline for the per person cost.

I’m sorry to cut this short, but I need to head for the airport! So, I’ll close with the simple statement that making Migration less expensive while maintaining (or increasing) the quality of the attendees’ experience isn’t nearly as simple as “let’s hire someone who’s a professional”. I’m not saying that such an approach won’t work. It’s just that the decision has more facets than have been discussed on this forum.

Blue skies,


How much does it cost per person to go to a Migration now? Do you charge the significant other the same price as well? To me, adding another $100 a person to cover the convention coordinator or finding 40k more in sponsorship sounds like a good idea. Again, not trying to bash the current volunteers, just trying to make it easier for them and let them enjoy a convention…

I served on the migration committee for two years. I got to see behind the curtain for all that goes on.

I have used an event management company when I was at Microsoft for events there.

  1. I believe an event management company could better negotiate contracts. They can leverage their full client portfolio. Craig has done a good job at that, but he is a body of one.

  2. An event management company will not have the event and group knowledge. There will still have to be member oversight and input. How much time and effort that will be in the planning and execution phase I don’t know.

  3. An event management company does not have the knowledge of our organization and industry. They can not do the session development and even the exhibitor/sponsor work better. They don’t have the relationships.

  4. If we switch to an event management company, we will loose the family affair of our event. The volunteers and Donna are us.

  5. The event management company could improve some of the execution of the process. Right now we hire consultants to do the RegOnline set up. I replace one contractor last year for website work. They could help with those activities and also check-in.

  6. I have learned that the volunteers that do the migration committee work do it out of love. I could not believe it, but those folks actually enjoy the work. Some are not even members of COPA.

  7. An event management company would help the volunteers, but I don’t think most roles can be replaced. Any that know how to work with the FAA on arrival/departure procedures for example.

  8. Volunteers are volunteers. They do what they want to do and don’t do what they don’t want to do. Their schedules are not always aligned with event work.

  9. So in conclusion, I would bring in an event management company to help the committee not replace it. I would use it for what they are good at and use our volunteers for what they are good at.

For all here is a list of last years Migration Committee. Some positions have changed for this year. Craig can give you a list

Craig Albright
Chairman-in-Training, FBO Coord., Transportation, Cirrus Aircraft event
Tim Valentine
Speakers & Seminars
David Schwietert
Event Admin., Signage, & Check-In
Donna Cregar
Exhibitors & Sponsors
Bill Myers
Meals and Snacks
Kim Chick
Arr & Dep Procedures
Andy Brown
Justin Wulf
ROL Reports / Data Reduction & Check-In
Stan Jensen
Website and Programs
Kim Blonigen
Volunteer Coordination & Publicity
Dennis Haber
Information Technology
John Ylinen
Spouse Program
Julia Valentine

This is probably not accurate. The one guy who runs 5 or 6 owners’ group conventions has extensive relationships. He emails me for sponsorship every year for example and I see him at all these conventions. So relationships are definitely there with various vendors.

And it may take a year or two to transition management smoothly but I don’t know if we will lose too much family atmosphere at the conventions. All the volunteers will now have more time to interact with fellow members and enjoy the convention without official duties and worry about things not going smoothly.

Well, handling 100 Citations for arrival / departure can be as challenging!

Hi Craig,

I have been involved in ‘putting on’ several different medical meetings (as the leader of two different organizations) - of similar participant size, one with and the other without vendors present, and both associated with a ‘history of what we used to do’ and both associated with ‘feeding’.

I would like to ask the following questions:

Who has been performing the venue contracting? Is this an area that could be improved with professional help? In particular (again based on both good and bad experiences - and I am sure the John Y. has similar) - the professionals can help with a) defining venues that can fit our meeting/model - in terms of rooms, space, costs of same, perhaps identify some new locations --BUT-- they would likely need lots of help in understanding the aviation logistics (ie limitations). And b) do we negotiate for any rebate on the rooms sold in these venues? This can be either cash back or gratis room/space. That is a rather typical component of these contracts, and is based on total rooms sold in the block; sometimes this can be large enough to cover the cost of the professional. Also - c) they could be useful in dealing with the vendors - although I suspect that our group/leadership have rather good (if not great) relationships with our vendors, and handle that aspect quite well from what I see.

With respect to cost - as you have noted, the food and beverage costs are usually the defining costs for the event. they dwarf the room costs. The only way to control this is to change the model - ‘smaller’ food at a given event, or ‘less frequent’ food events. And a lot of the venues I encountered also had a minimum food and beverage spend limit (perhaps that was the trade off for the room refund); this is something the professional planner could help with.

I do not have a preference for going professional or continuing as we are - as a long time participant I see things working well - people and volunteers enjoying themselves (mostly). Just need to ask the right questions - what are we trying to accomplish? (lower cost - expand the event (beyond our volunteers’ capacity - define other places to go - other)

Always looking forward to the next Migration


“the food and beverage costs are usually the defining costs for the event”

Isn’t this just due to the way venues bill for the room? Essentially the room is free but you have to buy all of their food, you can’t bring your own. I have no experience in this but I’ve called enough hotels and venues to know many appear to make their money this way.

If it’s truly food is the problem I’ll be happy to bring a sack lunch.

BTW THANK YOU to all of the volunteers. I couldn’t do your job and I truly appreciate what everyone does. So not complaining at all!

This is in fact one aspect that a Bill Alberts can bring to the table. I understand he is not inexpensive but he rotates his 5 or 6 conventions with a rotation of resorts (Coeur d’alene, Broadmoor, Roosevelt in New Orleans, Ritz Amelia Island, Greenbrier in WV, Homestead in Hot Springs, VA, JW in Scottsdale, etc.) I won’t be surprised that he can negotiate significant discounts with 5 or 6 conventions of attendees and he does run it very smoothly as all the logistics don’t change from year to year, from convention to convention.

In fact, I will be in New Orleans visiting Carlos Alvarez twice in October for 2 different conventions.

I support the hiring of a professional convention manager. They usually don’t cost much, as most will negotiate better savings with the venue by about what we would pay them.

Even if a professional jacked up the price by $50-$100 per person, we may get some nicer venues that would attract more people.

Hi, Joe!

Looking back at my budget for M13, our projected expenses were about $227K (including a general contingency for unexpected expenses). Based on past performance, I expected 298 COPA members (including spouses) to attend along with ~80 exhibitor personnel (beyond those included in the booth space rental). The charge for the additional exhibitor personnel covered their lunches on Friday & Saturday. The entire event is made affordable by renting booth space (at the Tradeshow) and selling various sponsorship packages.

Of course, the above costs don’t include the lodging cost for the attendees.

By making sure that our basic food costs are covered in the attendee registration, increasing/decreasing attendance (on the part of COPA members) doesn’t have an immediate effect on the event budget.


I suspect if the attendee found enough value in the 100 bucks it wouldn’t be an issue. In my experience the rate for migration isn’t the biggest cost. Transportation and hotel each exceed the attendance fee.

Hi, Bruce!

  • During my tenure, the venue contracting has been done by the Chairman. However, last year, Tim Valentine did most of the negotiating with the hotel and FBO. If COPA would receive credit from LARGE groups managed by a professional manager, then we might get a reduction in lodging cost and have a better negotiating position. Right now, our leverage is limited by past attendance (i.e., hotel reservations). That information is on-line and shared between major hotel chains…
  • From my post back on 1/22/16, here is crude requirements model. Frankly, because we have a very active membership that explores/visits many, many venues, we may or may not get much benefit from using a professional in this area.
  • Yes, not only do we get a reduction in room rate that’s passed on to our membership but we also receive “comp rooms”. These “free” rooms are used to help offset certain lodging expenses that we incur. And, if any are left over, I use them to provide a modest “perk” to the Planning Team.
  • It’s possible that some Exhibitors might attend Migration because of a potential doorway into other flying organizations. On the other hand, that could backfire on us if Migration was only one of a list of tradeshows run by the professional manager. Someone other than me should evaluate the pros and cons of this particular facet.
  • Usually, we have Food & Beverage minimums (as well as allowable attrition below our block room reservation) that we must meet to warrant the free floorspace. And, those F&B minimums and the allowable attrition are often strongly negotiated. Spending less money on food during Migration isn’t really an option if we want the free floorspace for a Tradeshow, seminar rooms, etc. And, the last minute room reservations historically made by our members really cause heartburn for the Chairman since COPA is financially on the hook if we fall below the allowable room attrition.

Hi, Bryan!

I addressed this subject in an earlier reply. You’re understanding appears correct but reducing food consumption is definitely not the answer. One way or another, the hotel/convention center must make money on our event, or they can’t keep the doors open. [;)] So, they either charge us for the space or they charge us for the food. IMO it’s easier to find a sponsor for a dinner (and give commensurate accolades for doing so) than to get someone to pay for space.


Back in 2013, I wrote a strategic plan for Migration based on the survey results collected by Gil Williamson. Here are some of my conclusions from that plan:

2.4 What are we willing to do to attend Migration?
We have established what COPA members want from our Migration fly-in. Now, what are they willing to do to get there? Basically, that means looking at the considerations that come between the member and their Migration participation.

Distance Distance was a demotivator to some degree for 56% of the survey participants. (The remaining 44% said that it wasn’t a major factor.) In addition to cockpit time, distance has cost and total time (away from home) implications. Most COPA members fly either a Cirrus SR-20 (145 kts.) or a Cirrus SR-22 (170 kts.) Of course, distance for someone in a faster aircraft (e.g., jet or turboprop) becomes less significant…

Cost Surprisingly, the overall cost was not identified as a factor for almost 59% of the survey participants. It was a concern or major negative factor for about 26% of our members. That means for most members, the cost to attend Migration in its current form is not a demotivator. Later in the survey, the question of cost was approached differently, from an “expected budget” point-of-view. Although the question presumed a specific Migration format (arrival, social get-together, two program days, evening dinners, and departure), 26% of survey participants would budget $2,000 to attend and ~23% answered only $1,500. 69% of those taking the survey assumed that number was for two people; 27% said their answer was for only one person.

Total Time When asked how many days should Migration occupy (including arrival and departure travel time), ~58% answered four; 29% answered only three. Only 13% answered five or more days. In addition to previously offered reasoning, with a total time preference of only four days, it’s unrealistic to expect pre-Migration activities (i.e., non-aviation, vacation-like activities like those offered during M11) to garner much interest. Most participants simply don’t want to be away from home for an extended period of time.

To draw some additional conclusions from this data, consider the following assumed scenario regarding membership attendance:

 Event registration = $380/member (and $330/spouse-partner)
 Lodging = $150/night (for double occupancy)
 Meals (3 breakfasts for 2 people) = $70
 Avgas = $5.75/gal.
 1-day spouse program = $50.

Starting with a budget of $2,000, that leaves money for only 125 gallons of fuel. Since that is a round-trip amount, the 1-way fuel expenditure is only ~63 gallons. For a typical SR-22 flying 170 kts. and burning 14 GPH, that implies a 4.5 hr. trip of 765 nm. Hence, to meet cost and total time constraints, a typical COPA member is willing to fly only ½ day each direction with a 1-way travel distance of 765 nm. (Note that this assertion also jibes with the membership’s desire for a 3-4 day Migration event.) While some members are certainly willing to fly further and spend more, most are not.


Scott, in my discussions with such an individual, the fee was in the $20-30K range.


Thanks for the thoughtful input! [:D]


Here’s this year’s Planning Team:

Planning Team.jpg


I’m going to have to bow out of this conversation for awhile. I have a telecon for the M14 Planning Team tomorrow and will also be spending much of the day doing some flight training. And, my personal schedule between now and next Wednesday when I leave for Lakeland, FL (CPPP & COPA Board meeting) is pretty busy. Somehow, I keep forgetting that I’m retired. You’d think that the lack of a paycheck and the abysmal stock market performance would somehow remind me…

Blue skies,



According to membership statistics (posted elsewhere) we have a significant number of NEW members to COPA. Time for another Migration survey?

I support another survey - seems that we had a pretty high first time attendance rate at M13 - (centrally located in the middle of the country) and this factor alone might help categorize responses and provide additional input going forward.



Given that we’re quite a ways downstream for M14, I think that we’ll wait until after Migration to do a survey. BTW you’re right - lots of new Migration attendees … probably due in part to lots of new COPA members. [:D]