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Cashing In on Events

As the real estate market cools, associations fear losing members . . . and their dues dollars. Can event revenue fill the gap?

Event: Free cocktail reception for affiliates only
Host: Greater Syracuse Association of Realtors®
Cost: $1,200 Profit: $25,000 – $45,000
PRIce to Attend: Free
Strategy: Create and mail one invitation to affiliates
Budget: minimal

Event: REALTOR® Rally Convention and Tradeshow
Host: Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors®
Cost: $280,000 Profit: $30,000 – $40,000
PRIce to Attend: $125 – $400,
depending on the number of courses taken
Strategy: Print and online advertisements,
announcements, flyers, posters, e-mails
Budget: $2,000 – $3,000

Why do some events generate big profits, while others flop? This article profiles two different, but profitable, Realtor® association events that generated as much as $40,000 in revenue (one a free cocktail reception, the other a full-blown trade show).

Here both associations share tips for attracting sponsors and vendors, as well as information on drawing attendees with creative marketing.

A “Thank You” with a Sales Pitch

The 1,500-member Greater Syracuse Association of Realtors®, N.Y., knows the value in making its affiliate members feel appreciated. The association holds a unique invitation-only free cocktail reception for its affiliates each October—an event to which no Realtors® are invited. According to Lynnore Fetyko, CEO of the association, “This gives affiliates the opportunity to network among themselves, which never happens because they are usually busy talking with Realtors®. They view the event as our ‘thank you’ to them.” Held after work hours, the cocktail reception attracts 40 of the association’s 180 affiliate members.

Although it’s an upscale event, total costs are minimal—approximately $1,200. “We hold it at a nice restaurant with a meeting room or a lounge that offers free food in exchange for the bar business. We buy them their first drink, but after that, it’s a cash bar,” explains Fetyko. All marketing and promotion (which consists of a single invitation mailing) is done in-house.

The event more than pays for itself. According to Fetyko, it has brought in $45,000 in sponsorship sales. So how does a two-hour blender generate that kind of money?

“During the event, we have information on sponsorship packages lying out on the tables. I make a soft-sell presentation on our two different levels of sponsorship: Platinum at $6,200 and Gold at $2,200. Affiliates can choose from up to 20 packages, offering them different types of exposure at events throughout the year,” Fetyko explains. For example, an affiliate at the Gold level might sponsor the dinner, drink tickets, or entertainment at the association’s annual gala. For their sponsorship, affiliates get exposure in the association’s membership directory, signage at the annual golf outing, a listing in the event program, and a verbal mention at the gala.

Fetyko says she uses a few techniques to add selling power to her pitch: First, let attendees hear from their peers. “As I go through the presentation, I ask a couple of current sponsors (whom I’ve called in advance and ‘planted’ in the audience) to give a testimonial on how the sponsorship worked for them, and how it was worth the expense.” This lets affiliates hear firsthand how becoming a sponsor can benefit their business.

Second, offer them options. “If affiliates don’t like one of our packages, they can customize their own. We also offer them a payment plan—agreeing to bill them in equal payments over 10 months.” This takes the pressure off attendees to provide the money at the reception. “We tell them—if you commit to one of our packages, we promise to never call you again for anything else in that year.”

Finally, timing is everything. “Many affiliate banks and businesses are budget-based. We hold the event in October of each year because it’s early enough for them to include our sponsorship in their following year’s budget.” If attendees don’t buy a package at the event, Fetyko follows up later.

Within a month of the cocktail reception, the association typically sells three-quarters of the packages, each of which generates 30 percent profit for the association. “This is our biggest generator of nondues income,” Fetyko says. “It works because affiliates want their name in as many places as we can plaster it. We make it easy—and enjoyable—for them to sign up.”

Give Them Their Money’s Worth

For the past 16 years, the 17,000-member Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors® (GLVAR) has held an annual Realtor® Rally, featuring educational offerings and a trade show that attracts 1,600 members and 220 vendors. Although the event started small, it—along with the profit—has grown over the years. At last year’s convention, GLVAR brought in about $40,000 after expenses.

“The event is popular because we give members so much education in a two-day period. It’s cost-efficient, condensed learning—and they like that,” says Robert Sadler, director of professional development.

Attendees choose from three or four designation classes, eight continuing education classes, and four postlicensing courses. They pay between $125 and $400, depending on the number of courses they take. This buys them a ticket to the exhibit hall as well as breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day. Vendors, on the other hand, pay anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on the booth location and the sponsorship package they choose.

“The vendor fees pay for all the on-site expenses,” says Education Director Wendy Divecchio, who spends a full year planning the event. “This allows us to profit from what we make on attendee fees.”
According to Divecchio, most of the marketing to vendors is by word of mouth. “We send them one letter letting them know when the event will be, but mostly they come to us. They want the exposure.”

Want to draw a crowd to your event? GLVAR offers this advice:

Don’t limit the type of vendors. Unlike many associations, GLVAR doesn’t limit vendor opportunities to Realtor® association affiliates. “We open up the event to all kinds of companies—and they all generate business from it,” she says. As a result, GLVAR basically has businesses beating down their door to get a booth. “In fact, this year we had to turn away 40 vendors because we didn’t have enough exhibit space to meet the demand.”

Use peer-to-peer marketing techniques. Although the association may not promote the event aggressively to vendors, it does market heavily to attendees—from printing advertisements in its in-house magazine, to hanging flyers and posters throughout its building, to sending e-mail blasts and posting information on its Web site. In addition, the association on members to publicize the event on its behalf. Divecchio explains, “We announce the event at all of our educational offerings, and ask people to spread the word. We also hand out stacks of flyers to new members and brokers, asking them to distribute the flyers at their offices.” Because the association does all the marketing and planning in-house, it’s relatively low-cost.

Bring in national speakers. “We learned long ago that we couldn’t use local speakers for our events,” explains Sadler. “Members want to see national speakers flying in for this event. They want power hitters.” GLVAR books national speakers far in advance, sometimes for as much as $6,000 per instructor. “We use photos and bios of the speakers in our marketing materials, and it pays off. Members think they are getting much more than their money’s worth,” says Sadler.


Plan a profitable event
We asked your colleagues to share the secrets behind events that bring in the bucks. Here’s what they said:

“Market the benefits that members and sponsors will receive. If you put the interests of the sponsors ahead of your own, you will have more success.”—Monika Dixit, business development director, Dulles Area Association of Realtors®

“Make the event worth the sponsor’s while. Give them some benefits—then they feel good about it. If you give them value for their sponsorship, it’s a win-win situation.”—Toni Wilson, membership program director, Bay East Association of Realtors®, Calif.

“Giveaways get people there. At our Vendor Showcase, each vendor is required to provide a door prize of at least a $50 value, so 50 members walk away even happier! To be eligible for the door prizes, members must get each vendor to initial their event ‘passport,’ which gives them face time with each of the vendors.” —Peggy Kayser, chief executive officer, Realtors®Association
of NorthWest Chicagoland

“Don’t get grandiose when first starting out. Start small and build—that way you won’t get hurt financially.” —Robert Sadler, director of professional development, Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors®

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