Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 07 2013

The Art of Making a Difference at an Annual Meeting

By David McMilin


When you think of a conference that unites more than 6,500 treasury and finance professionals to learn about short-term investments and money market funds, the first image in your mind probably isn’t of those attendees painting together. However, at the upcoming Association for Financial Professionals Annual Conference, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Those paintbrushes are part of AFPAware, and AFP attendees have been using them since 2010. Kristina Mechelis, CMP, Meetings Manager, Association for Financial Professionals, says the program ensures that when AFP attendees come together, they do quite a bit more than the typical CE earning, exhibit hall browsing and cocktail reception networking that happens at face-to-face gatherings.

“We wanted to create a way to give back to the communities where we’re meeting,” Mechelis says.

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That giving back includes a rotating pre-conference hands-on volunteer activity and an exhibit hall area called PaintFest where attendees can leave their mark on canvases that will eventually hang in hospitals around the country. Working with The Foundation for Hospital Art, Mechelis and the AFP send attendees’ artwork to 10 hospitals each year.

“Attendees love it,” Mechelis says. “The PaintFest area is always packed. They can stop by, relax, paint and network with other attendees.”

“Of course, our exhibitors love it, too, because it keeps the show floor crowded,” Mechelis adds.

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Around 100 attendees typically register to arrive early for the volunteer activities. Last year, the conference was in Miami, and volunteers worked with an environmental not-for-profit to clean up an island in Biscayne Bay. However, Mechelis recognizes that taking an additional day away from work can be tough for some attendees.

“It can be challenging to get people to come in early for an extra day,” Mechelis says. “You have to plan logistically for more time out of your schedule. For those that can’t make that adjustment, PaintFest fills the gap. When something is on the exhibit floor, it’s incredibly easy to contribute.”

Extending the Impact

Mechelis and AFP have extended their efforts to make a difference in the world well beyond the annual conference, too. Last year, the organization unveiled a new program that partners with general session speakers to donate to their specific charities. Last year, Michael J. Fox spoke at the conference, and AFP wanted to join his efforts to fund the work for a cure for Parkinson’s disease. For every membership renewal received, AFP donated $5 to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. This year, AFP plans to do the same with Colin Powell’s charity of choice.

“They know that they’re renewing their membership, but they also know that it’s philanthropic, too,” Mechelis says. “The donation makes the process much more than a simple business transaction.”

What kind of volunteer activities have you integrated into your conference? Share your difference-making ideas in the comments section below.

Photo copyright of Association for Financial Professionals

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