Make an estimate of the number of cavers you expect to attend. This estimate is the "key" to the success of the event. Use past events as a guide. Consider whether it's Spring or Fall (attendance varies). Anniversaries and other special events tend to attrack more cavers. Nice weather helps, too! Out-of-the-way locations offer variety, but tend to discourage people from attending.
Good communications is crucial to good attendence, and yet is often overlooked or left until the last minute. The best attended VARs have traditionally been the ones with the best advertising. Publicize early and often. The Region Record should be provided with full details (where, when, caving, speaker, other activities, etc.) along with a registration form. The VAR Listserv gives you a direct conduit to those most likely to attend, and Cave Chat and other caving boards provide additional channels. Use these channels to remind folks of upcoming deadlines, and to publicize new trips or events as they are scheduled. The VAR Webmaster will be happy to work with you to put up the details, or the sponsoring Grotto can create its own page for the VAR and have the Webmaster link to it. Either way, avail yourself and submit all the details to both the Region Record and VAR Webmaster AT LEAST 3 MONTHS prior to the event, and update the information as upcoming trips and speakers are finalized.
After you decide on the number you expect, then have a contingency plan if you find you are going to exceed that number as time for the event draws closer (Pre-registration helps to determine final attendance).
Prepare an event budget by using your initial estimate of the number of attendees. Some budget items to consider are:
Saturday evening meal. Include food, cups, plates and utensils. Don't forget the vegetarians!;
Saturday evening beverages. Beer goes without saying. Soft drinks and name-brand soda ARE NOT OPTIONAL! Children and many cavers do not drink beer!;
Optional coffee, tea, donuts, and/or bagels for Sunday morning;
Any site fees;
Port-a-potties if needed;
Publicity costs, printing, mailing, etc. (note that the publicity in the VAR Region record, website, and listserv is free);
Registration costs (paper, pencils, name badges, etc.);
Costs associated with direction signs;
Insurance (see below)
Any other anticipated expense;
Check the Past VARs page to get an idea of how many to expect, keeping in mind that attendance will vary with the location, amount of local caving, the weather, and the phase of the moon. Budget conservatively for less attendees than you hope for.
Using the figures, determine a cost per attendee. Set your initial fee at this amount plus a little extra for a safeguard.
Plan on a discount for children: For example, under 6 - free; 6 to 12 - half price, 13-16 the full price minus the $5 VAR fee. You may offer some incentive to register early - either a small discount, access to a guidebook, advanced caving trip registration, etc. - but otherwise there should be no other discounts. Workers and volunteers should all pay the full price. Grottoes can and have lost money because of giving discounts or free admission to too many. Don't get burned!
You will inevitably run into people who register, but have to back out for any number of reasons. You are free to set your own policy for how to handle this, but it should be made clear. The best policy is that to try to make refunds to those who could not attend, but not until AFTER the VAR is over. If you made a profit, refund their fees. If not, don't.
You must also collect $5.00 from each adult registration to be submitted to the VAR. This amount MUST be added to your initial calculated fee to arrive at the final registration fee. This amount MUST be turned over to the VAR Treasurer. Please note that the VAR considers an "Adult" an individual 17 years old or older. Registrants younger than 17 that wish to receive the VAR Region Record can do so by paying the $3.00 subscription rate.
If you run a joint MAR/VAR you should give registrants the option of registering for one or both of the groups. You must collect $5 for each VAR registrant and $4 for each MAR registrant, or $9 for both.
Many potential sites for VAR meetings apparently now require insurance. Since the VAR is an Internal Organization, coverage for VAR events is available through the NSS. The NSS wants 60 days advance notice, and current costs are about $150 if less than 500 participants are expected. This is significantly less expensive than most private coverage. The current NSS contact is Ted Kayes.
Open the meet on Friday night and stay open until the wee hours. Many attendees arrive late due to various reasons. Open again early Saturday morning.
Collect the registration fee plus the name and full mailing address (must include zip code) for each attendee. For one registration, each adult attendee receives four issues of the "VAR Region record". (Normally a year's subscription). Here is a sample registration form for you to start with.
This can be a financial gamble. Rarely will you sell out. This should be a grotto project and not part of the event budget. Selling t-shirts through pre-registration only can prevent financial losses.
Field Meet Site:
Publish a clear, easy to follow map showing how to get to the field meet site.
Post clearly-marked LARGE signs along the route to the site. (Make sure they will be visible at night. Neon colors work well. Take into consideration of possible inclement weather.) Flagging tape helps to draw attention to the signs.
Secure adequate camping to service the size of the group you expect.
Running water or some form of potable water, such as a water tank, is necessary and a must.
Showers are always nice. (Hot water is wonderful!)
A first aid station should be considered at the registration site.
Accessibility to a public phone is always helpful.
Food and Beverage:
A good meal should be planned for the mandatory Saturday evening meal. Please consider vegetarians in your planning as a alternative meal. This is where pre-registration is very helpful.
Beer and soda are now optional for the weekend. If you opt to serve beverages (beer and soda), have plenty of them available, including quality diet and regular non-alcoholic beverages. Beverages should be provided at least on Saturday if you choose to provide them, but Friday beverages are at your discretion. If you opt not to serve any beverages, this needs to be well advertised so attendees can plan to bring their own.
Coffee and tea on Sunday morning is a plus and should be considered.
Here are some ideas for activities at the field meet. You may have others depending on the time of year and the specific location of the site chosen.
Have guided cave trips. These can be personally guided or you can just supply good cave maps and directions to the caves. A Guide Book is a major plus and is becoming more common at events;
Cave cleanup, survey project, or a dig;
Speleobiking or Surface orienteering;
A geology field trip of the local area;
A slide program;
Invite an equipment vendor(s);
A guest speaker on cave related topics;
Door prizes are always a nice touch;
Auction of speleo items for conservancy fundraising;
Squeezebox activities or contests;
Have information available for laid-back or non-cavers. Consider one or more of the following activities:
Canoeing or Kayaking;
Visiting other local interests and attractions, etc.;
Some sort of program Saturday night after dinner is always welcome. It can feature a speaker, entertainment, a grotto anniversary celebration, or whatever.
Music is nice Saturday evening after the program, but the host group is responsible for keeping the peace late at night. Any loud activity should be curtailed by 1 AM at the latest.
Vendors MUST pay the registration fee for the field meet. However, they should not be required to pay a set-up fee.
Many vendors are happy to provide a door-prize if they are treated well.
If you have a commitment from a vendor, make it known in your publicity. It may draw more attendees, and not only is it fair to the vendor, but shows good relations.
Consider a vendor site in a highly visible area and let them know about the availability of amenities such as electricity.
Attendees have indicated that they wish to have as many vendors, as possible, at the VAR meetings. DO NOT offer or entertain demands for any vendor to be the only vendor at an VAR meeting.
Profit and Loss:
Careful planning is the "key" for a successful event. Carefully planned events have never lost money. If you lose money, the sponsor MUST absorb the loss.
Keeping the VAR $5 fee to offset a los is not an option!
After the Event:
Please have someone write a brief report about the event to include total number of attendees, menu, events/activities held, unusual happenings, weather conditions, etc. Publish this report in your local grotto newsletter. Whether it is published locally or not, it is required that you send a copy of the report to the editor of the "Region record" for publication.
To the keeper of the VAR addresses, send a list of the names and full addresses (including zip code) of the attendees for which you collected the $5 VAR fee. You may send the actual registration forms as long as it is clear which attendees are adults. The forms will be returned.
Ditto for MAR, if this is a joint MAR/VAR