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Make your meeting a family affair.

Youth programs at conventions boost attendance by improving member service.

Do you invite your members to bring their children to your convention? With a trend toward more dual-career couples combining business travel and family vacations, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Washington, D.C., does--and with good results. Your association, too, may be able to enhance member service and increase meeting attendance by offering a youth program at your next convention.

NWF has offered youth programs at its educational "Conservation Summits" since 1970. Approximately 500 people--64 percent of whom are adults--attend each of the three to four conferences offered each summer. During the past 12 years, our children's programs have become more structured--and more popular. In 1980, for example, NWF started an adventure program specifically for teens. In addition, we later added a half-day morning program for preschoolers and all-day child care.

Our results have been great. Teens account for 8 percent of attendance; youths, 24 percent; preschoolers, 3 percent; and infants, 1 percent. Two of NWF's three 1992 Conservation Summits were filled six months before the conferences, and both had a waiting list of more than 100 people.

Decide how to do it

There are several ways to design and offer spouse and youth programs. One method is to turn the family program over to a privately run destination management company. By shifting responsibility for the youth program to the destination management company, your conference planner can focus his or her full attention on the meeting.

If you find it difficult to find a destination management company in the vicinity of your meeting location, a second option is choosing a hotel or resort that offers its own youth and spouse programs.

A third choice is hiring additional staff or finding volunteers to run your family program. NWF, for example, hires directors for its teen, youth, preschool, and child care programs. In turn, the program directors--typically teachers of similar grade levels--hire additional staff, many of whom are also school teachers with expertise in environmental education. Teachers are willing to work for small honoraria because of our scenic conference locations and the chance to take part in adult educational sessions and field trips.

NWF staff work with each program director to set general learning objectives. The directors then meet with the teachers to develop a curriculum and daily itinerary. We sometimes ask a few instructors from the adult program to teach a modified class--on astronomy, geology, nature photography, or bird watching, for example,--to the youth or teen groups.

Design your program

If you offer a youth component at your association's next meeting or convention, consider applying the following guidelines.

Select an appropriate site. When NWF selects a site, it looks for facilities that offer a range of activities for all ages. We are interested in conference centers or resorts that have access to playgrounds, open fields for sports, gymnasiums, pools, horseback riding, bicycle rentals, volleyball, hiking trails, walking paths, tennis, and golf courses. We also look for nearby attractions such as museums, aquariums, zoos, state and national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and nature centers.

Develop a well-rounded youth program. The National Wildlife Federation offers a variety of outdoor and classroom youth activities that emphasize cooperation rather than competition. Outdoor activities include nature hikes; exploration of the local ecosystem (the seashore, mountains, forests, or lakes); and nature games and activities.

Classroom youth activities include nature crafts, educational slide shows or videotapes, storytelling, and theatrical presentations. NWF also provides children with journals and encourages them to record the names of their new friends, what they did each day, and what they learned.

Divide sessions and field trips by age group. Full-day field trips are appropriate for older youth and teens; half-day trips are better for children between the ages of five and nine. NWF keeps activities for children younger than age five on the grounds.

Maintain an appropriate instructor-to-youth ratio. The American Camping Association, Martinsville, Indiana, recommends these ratios for a day camp program: 1:5 for children ages five and younger; 1:8 for children ages six through eight; and 1:10 for children ages nine and older.

Negotiate special youth rates for planned meals and develop a menu that appeals to both adults and children. A children's buffet or theme dinner is helpful and fun. Ice cream socials are always successful with adults and children; be sure to offer a low-fat alternative.

Make sure the hours of the youth program coincide with the main educational sessions; however, allow plenty of free time for families to be together. The majority of NWF's adult sessions run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a few sessions extending to 5 p.m. The teen and youth programs operate from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. If parents want to attend an afternoon session, child care is available for all ages until 5 p.m.

Each day, NWF also offers one or more late-afternoon programs geared toward the entire family. These programs include nature walks, wildlife demonstrations, or other educational and interactive activities. Family fun continues each evening when programs are offered that provide entertainment or education--and often a combination of both. Popular evening activities include folk dancing with live music, storytelling, sing-alongs, nature and wildlife slide presentations, or theatrical presentations designed to teach participants about the environment. The closing-night program often includes a slide show highlighting the week at the NWF conference.

Have each teen complete an evaluation form at the end of your meeting. Parents can complete an evaluation form if they have children in the youth program, ages 5-12; the preschool program, ages 3-4; or the child care program, infants through age 5.

Pay attention to logistics

In addition to the preceding suggestions, you may find the following logistical tips helpful when operating your youth program.

* Enclose a list of necessary items and clothing in a preconference mailing.

* Have parents complete a registration form, waiver, and health information form that contains a release for emergency medical care. Seek legal counsel for the content and wording of these documents. Take a copy of each release form on field trips.

* Have children participating in your association's youth program wear color-coded name tags that identify their groups. Have children and staff wear an identifying T-shirt, bandanna, or hat on field trips to crowded areas.

* Print a master schedule of the youth program so that parents know what their children will do each day. During registration, hand out the schedule, with suggestions on how children should dress for the various activities and items they should bring.

* Make it clear that parents must notify instructors if their children will not attend a youth program during certain times or days.

If you decide to offer a youth program at your association's next conference or convention, it's well worth the effort. Involving family members in your meeting can increase attendance while fostering good member relations. And it's rewarding to watch parents and children learn and share new experiences together.

Sheri Sykes is senior coordinator in the Conservation Summits educational outreach division at the National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C.

The Marketing Plan

You've designed your association's first youth program but how do you market it to your members? The National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C., emphasizes a family vacation during which each family member learns about the environment at his or her own level and pace. NWF's most effective marketing tools are conference announcements in the magazines it sends to 2.6 million subscribers and conference program brochures it mails to past participants.

The association's programs are also mentioned in several books: Great Vacations With Your Kids, by Dorothy Jordan and Marjorie Adoff Cohen; Super Family Vacations, by Martha Shirk and Nancy Klepper; Eco Vacations: Enjoy Yourself and Save the Earth, by Evelyn Kaye; and The Guide to Academic Travel, by Shaw Associates. Also, articles appearing in Good Housekeeping, Parents, and Country Living have helped, as have occasional press releases and public service announcements.

We also have a high percentage of families that return to our programs. More than 50 percent of our attendees have been to at least one other NWF conference; of those attendees, 48 percent are families or adults, such as grandparents, who bring children with them.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; family participation in conventions
Author:Sykes, Sheri
Publication:Association Management
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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